Your Mother Wears Combat Boots (1989)





Way back in the summer of 1987, a couple of friends and I were out backpacking in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest up in Northern California. Several days into a week-long trek through the mountains, one night we were hiking along a ridgeline (sorta lost-ish, not my fault) when we looked up into the clear starry night to see three bluish orb-like objects traveling across the sky at considerable altitude in a triangle pattern. They were moving silently and slowly (so it seemed, but distances and speeds are difficult to determine without references) from right to left high in the sky and continued out of sight over the next ridgeline. Now, we were totally out of contact with civilization (pre-cell days) and at least two days' hike from the nearest town, so the three of us were left to wonder alone just what the heck we had just seen. Over the next couple of days we talked about what we thought those lights were, coming up with every possibility from nuclear missiles to UFOs to hallucinations. As we were in the region of Mount Shasta, a noted UFO hotspot, we eventually convinced ourselves that we had just seen three anti-grav transport ships delivering supplies to the Reptilian Gray aliens inside the mountain from their home planet in the Crab Nebula. Of course, once we got back to town we learned that it was just a satellite burning up in the atmosphere (or so the guv'mint told us...DUMDUMDUM!!!), but for a few days I was 110% convinced that we were not alone in the universe and that our blue marble was being visited by extraterrestrials on a regular basis. Before then I couldn't have cared less, but a single night's experience was enough to spark a life-long interest in UFOs that has continued to this day.

Why am I telling you all this? Is it to inform you of my beliefs on ETs? Well, maybe, but it's mostly because I'm killing time because I have almost nothing to say about Your Mother Wears Combat Boots. It's just a fluffy, forgettable made-for-TV comedy from 1989, starring former 1960s television star Barbara Eden and directed by Potsy from Happy Days. There just isn't much there worth writing about, but it is a welcome change from zombie invasion flicks.

Of course, this is a movie based on a grade school insult which, while it was last heard spoken in public in 1943, its last confirmed effective use as a zinger was in 1881 in a schoolyard in London when little Archibald, the future Third Earl of Cotswold, used it as a come-back foil against his classmate Fredrick, of the noted Thurstwell family of royal esqueqers, who started the whole thing by insinuating that Archie's uncle Colonel Burtonwood-White of the 4th Queen's Own Hussars was not shot dead while battling Zulus at Rorke's Drift in 1879, but had in fact "died elbow-deep in a sheep". Archie's retort about his mother's questionable choice of footwear left Freddie so stunned and disillusioned of his family's social status that he never met his potential and ended up dying in a Plymouth brothel in 1903 as a broken man.


"My mother wears combat boots? Oh, you have indeed stung me with your rapier wit, jolly good show, old chap."

I really really really wanted to hate this movie for its phony ooey-gooey chipperness and its nonsensical plot, but I just couldn't pull the trigger. Barbara Eden is just a wonderful human being, showing the same girl-next-door honesty and sexy-librarian cuteness as in her I Dream of Jeannie days, and her sheer bubbly personality and pervasive smile keeps this film flying when it really should come apart at the seams and crash in flames into a bus filled with handicapped nuns.


Love the hair.

Eden plays a single mom from Iowa whose just-turned-18 son is resisting her pushing him off to some fruity liberal arts college where he will be safe from paper cuts and skinned knees. For all his life he's been coddled by his mother, Ray Romano-style, and he's now (comically) frustrated with her meddling in every single last detail of his life. Once his mom leaves for a new job in the town of Stockfootagia, Alaska, the son ditches college and enlists in the US Army. He doesn't tell her about it until he's already through basic training and about to enter Airborne parachute training down at Fort Benning in steamy Georgia.


Embarrassing her son at college, not going to help him with the ladies.

Mom freaks out and drives all the way to Georgia in her clunky Chevy station wagon (she won't fly). Once there, in a series of hijinks, sight-gags, and pratfalls, she assumes the identity of an AWOL soldier named "Susan Zimmel" and ends up a buck private in Airborne training. Her plan is to pose as a real soldier long enough to find her son and convince him to drop out of the Army and come home so she can darn his socks and make him tomato soup.


Blue is the new camo.

I know, I know, but you just have to roll with it, don't worry about this perky 50something woman running around on post (it's "post" not "fort", mister director) and getting away with it, it's all just "movie magic". Forced to play the role of soldier, she does her best. See her do push-ups, see her do field runs, see her do all the airborne training while dashing out witty one-liners and keeping her hairdo high and teased. She does practice jumps, wire runs, hook-up run-throughs and low-level jumps, all the time giggling and cracking jokes about nail polish. And while there is much comical squealing and hand-waving, "Susan" does it all to varying levels of satisfaction, and even shows some serious progress, much to the chagrin of the Drill Sergeant in charge of her squad.


She ends up in the messhall, of course, giving cooking advice.

Gravely-voiced Hector Alonzo plays the long-suffering comic-foil Drill Sergeant with a heart of gold (unicorn...). While he rants and raves about Susan's lack of skills, he's complacent in her goofiness and the most he ever does is assign her to KP and cleaning duty while rolling his eyes and making exaggerated sighing noises.


Drill Sergeant.

Clearly, this movie was made with the active participation of the fine folks with M-16s at Fort Benning. It really doesn't make the military look bad, just silly, and might have even inspired a few inbred teenagers from Seepage Wells, Kentucky to run down and enlist in the Army in the hopes of finding women with all their teeth. The training scenes are especially well done, giving a pretty accurate (if condensed) presentation of Airborne basic training. These training scenes are made even more believable by the fact that Barbara Eden is in really great shape for a 55-year old woman. She's not just faking it for the movie, she really does act and look 15 years younger than her age. While she's lost some of those sultry curves from her I Dream of Jeannie days, she's still pretty smokin', if I do say so myself.


Had to fall in the mud at least once, it's in the Official Rulebook of Movie Comedy.

Oddly, there's not the expected weapons range training scene where Susan proves to be an expert marksman and/or shoots off the Drill Instructor's toe in an amusing way. Nor is there a scene where she drives a tank into downtown Columbus to go shopping for clogs. Perhaps this has more to do with the film's agreement with the Public Affairs Office at Fort Benning than anything else, which might have said something along the lines of you can film soldiers and buildings, but not weaponry or vehicles. Still, a loss.


Photoshops provided by MMT's crack Research Intern Jack.

Eventually the son finds out his mom is here with him and there's some funny exchanges between flabbergasted son and eternally cheerful mother. After refusing to listen to reason, Susan bets her son that she will do the final jump at the end of the training, and if she does, then he will quit the Army. The son will then, of course, be required to hand over his ball sack to the US government and wear a dress for the rest of his life. Susan further emasculates her son by defending him from a drunken redneck in a Georgia bar while on leave, assuring him nightly beatings and teabagging from his barracks mates for the rest of his time there.


Talking with her son, who looks like Alex P. Keaton's hulking twin brother.

Mingling through our plot at various points is a female soldier, a former nun posing as a biker chick (don't ask) who befriends Susan and helps her get through the harder parts of the training. There is some nice witty banter between these women, which might be the best parts of the movie if it weren't for the woman's screamingly fake Jersey Girl accent.


She doesn't like women with nail polish, they scare her with their girliness.

Once our heartstrings are firmly tugged by learning that Susan's overprotectiveness comes from her husband dying in a parachute accident in Vietnam, we gain a new perspective on her willingness to endure so much to see her son safe and happy. The last act is predictably sappy, but we'd feel totally screwed if it didn't end this way. On the qualifying jump from altitude, the son musters up his pride and jumps, now with his mother's blessing to stay in the Army in memory of his father. With a satisfied nod from the Drill Sergeant, Susan faces her own fear of heights and jumps as well as the credits roll.


Why would anyone jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Look, the wings are still attached.

In the 1990 sequel, Your Mother Wears Combat Boots II in 3-D, Barbara Eden reprised her role as Private Susan Zimmel. In it she is sent with the 82nd Airborne Division to invade Panama. While there, she gives hair care tips to local women and then kills both Noriega and Castro while riding a robotic llama with machineguns. Directed by a young Michael Bay, it was best known for having the largest number of exploding bananas in all of American cinema, a record eclipsed only by Bay's own Transformers: Electric Boogaloo from 2017. [Editor Pam: I swear, Nate, you need to stop writing about movies and start making your own.]


Yeah baby!


The end.

Written in November 2009 by Nathan Decker and edited by Pam Burda.



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