AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Private Benjamin
Director: Howard Zieff (Dir)
Release Date:   1980
Duration (in mins):  110
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Cast: Goldie Hawn  (Judy Benjamin)
  Eileen Brennan  (Capt. Doreen Lewis)
  Armand Assante  (Henri Tremont)

Summary: At a Jewish wedding, Judy Benjamin and lawyer Yale Goodman pledge their vows and dance with family and friends. Leading Judy away from the party to the limousine, Yale complains of a headache and asks Judy to relieve it with oral sex. Later, Judy’s parents, Teddy and Harriet Benjamin, present the couple with a sizeable dowry. That night, Yale dies as he makes love to Judy, and, after the funeral, Judy is inconsolable. When she overhears her parents discussing what to do with her, Judy runs away to a motel. Talking on air to a radio talk show host, Judy confesses she has never been alone and a man calls the station, offering assistance. When Judy meets with the caller, she realizes he is Sergeant Jim Ballard, an army recruiter. Showing her a picture of yachts at Fort Ord in Monterey, California, Jim promises Judy that she will find a glamorous job in the service, possibly in Europe, with free housing and a paid vacation. When Jim assures Judy that she can quit at any time, she takes a pledge of allegiance and enlists. At Fort Biloxi in Mississippi, drill instructor Sergeant L. C. Ross finds Judy asleep on the bus and punishes her with push-ups. Later, in the barracks, Captain Doreen Lewis commends Private Wanda Winter’s tidy locker and feigns amusement at Judy’s complaints. After Judy points out that the toilet is unsanitary, Lewis orders her to spend the night cleaning it with her electric toothbrush and before she can sleep, Ross wakes the recruits for an announcement by post commander Colonel Clay Thornbush. As Judy struggles through training, her friends warn it is impossible to quit the army. That night, Judy is beaten by Private Tina Gianelli, a fellow trainee who chose the military over a prison sentence, and Judy decides to run away. When Ross alerts Lewis to Judy’s attempted escape, he finds his superior in an intimate embrace with Captain William Woolridge. As punishment for Judy’s infraction, Lewis orders the platoon to march circles in the rain and when Judy whines, the other recruits repudiate her. Ross calls Judy into a day room, where Teddy and Harriet wait for their daughter, angry that she disappeared for eight days. When Teddy suggests Judy is not competent to make her own decisions, she refuses to sign Lewis’s release form and remains in the army. Back in training, Judy displays a new commitment and gains the respect of Gianelli. Sometime later, Thornbush announces the start of the Biloxi war games and Ross assigns Judy and her team to guard a swamp. After getting lost, the girls build a campfire, smoke marijuana, and talk about sex. Judy confesses she has only experienced one mediocre orgasm and tells her friends about Yale’s death. The following morning, Judy’s group stumbles upon the rival team’s headquarters and seize control. They discover Lewis’s lover, Woolridge, making love to Winter, Lewis’s favorite recruit, and hold them as prisoners. Judy deceptively announces that the game is over, encouraging rival soldiers to come out of hiding, and wins the mock war by capturing them. Judy then exposes Woolridge and Winter, half dressed, to Lewis as the recruits cheer. Commending Judy for the victory, Thornbush offers her team a ride back to the fort in his helicopter and introduces them to his paratrooper “Thornbirds.” Later, as the girls celebrate with Ross, Lewis arrives at the barracks drunk, angry about her humiliation, and announces that she has been assigned to a new post. That night, Judy sneaks blue dye into Lewis’s showerhead and the next day at graduation, the captain is covered with makeup to conceal the color on her face. On leave, Judy and her friends go to a bar where she runs into an old friend, Selma Lemish, and is introduced to a handsome French gynecologist named Henri Tremont. Charmed, Judy leaves the bar with Henri and when they make love, she has an orgasm. Back at the fort, Judy learns that she has been appointed as the first female Thornbird. When Judy is afraid to make her first parachute jump, she is ambushed by Thornbush’s sexual advances, and leaps from the airplane. Later, Thornbush transfers Judy to a desk job in Greenland. Threatening to expose Thornbush’s indiscretion, Judy negotiates for a “procurement” job in Paris, but soon discovers that Captain Lewis is working at the same office and is withholding Judy's security clearance so she cannot advance in her position. Meanwhile, Judy renews her relationship with Henri, who has recently ended an affair with a woman named Claire, and learns that he joined the Communist Party for a week to impress her. After Lewis interrogates Judy about Henri’s suspicious party affiliation, General Foley says she will be released from the military if she continues to associate with Henri. Choosing to marry Henri, Judy calls her parents and prepares for her wedding. Henri notices Claire on the street in Paris, but later assuages Judy’s jealousy by telling her that he wants to have a baby. However, when Henri asks her to sign a prenuptial agreement, Judy questions his faith in their marriage and begins to resent her role as a housewife. After meeting her parents at the airport, Judy discovers the maid’s necklace in her bed and accuses Henri of having an affair. Henri complains that Judy no longer respects him and she apologizes. On their wedding day, however, Henri arrives late, claiming that he had to comfort Claire after she was beaten by her new boyfriend. Although Judy goes ahead with the ceremony, she remembers the dominating men in her life, including Yale and her father, and breaks up with Henri at the altar. When Henri admits to a one-night stand with the maid, belittles Judy’s service in the army, and calls her stupid, she punches him, throws off her veil and walks down the road to a new life. 

Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Howard Zieff (Dir)
  David Silver (Unit prod mgr)
  Henri Jaquillard (Prod mgr, French unit)
  Juliette Toutain (Unit mgr, French unit)
  Jerry Sobul (Asst dir)
  Louis Pitzele (1st asst dir, French unit)
  Ross Brown (2d asst dir)
Producer: Nancy Meyers (Prod)
  Charles Shyer (Prod)
  Harvey Miller (Prod)
  Goldie Hawn (Exec prod)
Writer: Nancy Meyers (Wrt)
  Charles Shyer (Wrt)
  Harvey Miller (Wrt)

Subject Major: Housewives
  Military education
  Military service, Voluntary
  United States. Army
Subject Minor: Bars
  Cultural elitism
  Death and dying
  Impersonation and imposture
  Military education
  Paris (France)
  Practical jokes
  Radio programs
  Snobs and snobbishness

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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