ONE STAR – Celebrates Immorality
Portraying a world in which deceit, lies, addiction and exploiting others is admired, “Sgt. BILKO” is a destructive film. The fact that it is a comedy and we should be able to “take the joke” is a rationalization much like the belief that violence on our televisions and movie screens is not effecting the lives of our children.
Nostalgia for the old 1950’s TV show is not enough to redeem this film. In the 1950’s version which starred Phil Silvers, Sgt. Bilko was an exaggeration of every savvy platoon leader who knew how to work the system. In this 1990’s version, Sgt. Bilko (Steve Martin) celebrates an immoral lifestyle.
The most disturbing aspect of the film was the introduction of a young soldier into Sgt. Bilko’s command who had values, morals and a sense of duty, but by the end of the film he was reinforced for doing a criminal act to cover the illegal activities of Sgt. Bilko. This young soldier is applauded by his peers and Sgt. Bilko actually cries in an inverted pride at his willingness to break the law.
The Bible, as well as most major religions teach that there is a deadly regression when immorality becomes the prevalent way of life within any group.
The process begins with immorality being something we ourselves try not to do but we spend time with those who do. Next we move to a place where we begin to excuse the immorality of our friends. Finally immorality becomes something we admire in others and begin to emulate ourselves. In this final inverted state we actually become people who mock morality and ridicule people trying to be good, as we cover our own shame and guilt.
The setting of the film is an army base in which Sgt. Bilko is in charge of the motor pool. Having dreamed as a child that one day he would grow into the operator of “the largest illegal gambling operation on a military base,” he has fulfilled his dream. Using the army, deceiving and manipulating his superiors, fixing fights, setting up pigeons, he is a comic yet disgusting character.
In unison with such public immorality, Sgt. Bilko is also a charlatan in his relationship with his girlfriend. Having known her for nine years, he literally leaves her standing at the altar and then entices her to continue her dysfunctional relationship with him by gambling. The disrespect for her as a person and as a woman leave the humor empty with more nervous giggles from the audience than laughter.
In the weak plot of the film the antagonist of Sgt. Bilko is an officer who years ago had his career ruined by his own hatred and Sgt. Bilko’s machinations.
When his old nemesis, now a Col. inspecting the base to see if it should close discovers that Sgt. Bilko is there, he sets the stage for his own revenge and ultimate humiliation at the hand of Bilko.
This is another disturbing message of the film. The leaders in the army and the spiteful Col. are all portrayed as either idiots who are easily fooled and controlled or as mean-spirited moralists who deserve to be destroyed.
With predictable deception and sardonic superiority, Sgt. Bilko and his followers are able to deceive everyone.
Though we hesitated to comment on this film since it is of little value in anyone’s life either as humor or cinema, it is such a spiritually distorted film that we are disappointed and saddened.
In the early days of cinematography, the producers of movies helped one another take responsibility for the moral messages their films portrayed. It was an expectation and even a requirement at some stages of the movie industry’s development that all films would show the destructive nature of immorality.
Though we do not favor censorship, we do believe that the people who create movies can use their abilities to either enrich human beings or devalue us. The millions of dollars of creative genius and human effort used to create Sgt. Bilko was a waste which causes those who work on such a project to throw away their talent and their creative gifts.