I don't think I have ever said this before but one of the things which is wrong with "The Secret War of Harry Frigg" is Paul Newman because he can't do silly or dumb. It's because his role in this movie as a fake 2 star General is basically one which requires being dumb and silly it kept me thinking how good this could have been if it was a British movie starring either Norman Wisdom or Stanley Baxter as this is a character very much in their wheelhouse. In fairness Newman isn't the only problem with this movie yet it is still entertaining, seemingly more entertaining now than when the professional critics reviewed it on its release back in 1968.
When 5 allied Generals are captured by the Germans in a Turkish bath they are taking to the mansion of the Countess Francesca De Montefiore (Sylva Koscina) to be held prisoner in the style their rank deserves. Unfortunately with them all being one star Generals they cannot agree on anything from who is in charge to how to escape. Months go by and with no sign of them even trying to make an escape the military back in America come up with a plan, to promote the wayward Pvt. Harry Frigg (Paul Newman - Hombre) as he is an escape expert and have him captured in Italy and taken to the mansion to take charge. The trouble is what when Harry gets to the mansion he meets Countess Francesca De Montefiore and finds himself wanting to improve himself rather than get the Generals out.
The first 20 minutes or so of "The Secret War of Harry Frigg" is a bit of a struggle for the simple reason the first 20 minutes shows Paul Newman's at his worst. To put it simply Paul Newman gives it his all but can't do dumb, he certainly can do comedy and charm but doing stupid, the face pulling and quirky mannerisms is not his thing. Fortunately his character developed but during those first 20 minutes the character seems perfect for the likes of Norman Wisdom and Stanley Baxter, even Steve McQueen would have been more adept at this sort of humour.
The good news is that after those first twenty minutes "The Secret War of Harry Frigg" improves not only by the amusing set up of these 5 one star generals bickering but by Frigg arriving and instead of trying to find away to escape tries to delay things so he can get close to the Countess. It is full of laughs from Frigg having the Generals try to get in shape, learn Italian and so on why he himself tries to improve his laid back New Jersey ways by learning about wine and so on to impress the Countess. None of it is necessarily clever but it is fun with Paul Newman working well with the pleasant Sylva Koscina.
The thing is that whilst doing daft is certainly not in Paul Newman's natural armoury being crafty is and so Newman's performance improves the longer the movie goes on as his character changes. But in the end it is the supporting cast which help distract from Newman's surprising failings with Tom Bosley, Charles Gray and Jacques Roux all delivering good laughs as the Generals.
What this all boils down to is that I have a feeling that "The Secret War of Harry Frigg" has got better with age although unfortunately Paul Newman's performance is a struggle when it comes to the dumb comedy side of things.