Sergeant O.K. Deadhead (Frankie Avalon) does his best, he really does, but he always manages to mess things up. Take today when he has bought a large firework and tries to set it off on the parade ground of the U.S. Air Force base he stays on, only for it to fizzle out. When he moves in closer to examine the fuse, it explodes, covering him with soot and attracting the attention of stern Lieutenant Kinsey (Eve Arden) who admonishes his foolishness and sends him to the guard house to think over his misdemeanours. His fiancée Airman Lucy Turner (Deborah Walley) is most annoyed...
Not one of the most sensible films ever made, Sergeant Deadhead (for some reason his name is spelt differently in the titles with that added space) was an attempt by its studio A.I.P. to cast its Beach Party series regulars in something different now that franchise was winding down, indeed it only had one more entry to go and Avalon was nowhere to be seen in that, having hedged his bets with Vincent Price in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (Skidoo didn't do much for his career either). In spite of the military base setting, looking to have been chosen to remind audiences of then-current services inspired T.V. hits like Gomer Pyle, the sense of humour was just as ridiculous as usual.
And the format was just as similar with its high concept premise - Frankie is shot into space! - and collection of older guest stars filling out the speaking roles, including Buster Keaton in one of his last roles, indulging in some slapstick and not looking entirely out of place, if anything quite energetic. Deadhead's chief nemesis is the head of the base, General Rufus Fogg (Fred Clark) who is the officer who keeps on sending him behind bars (his cellmates who else but Harvey Lembeck and future A-Team producer John Ashley?). Lucy wants to get married, but her beau makes that difficult with his antics, which build to a head one night when he escapes from the jail by using an exploding pen (don't ask).
On the run, Deadhead hides in a nearby space capsule and promptly falls asleep, awakening when the pilot arrives and takes off with ground control unaware their experimental module has an extra passenger. Now, there has been a spot of plot foreshadowing in that Fogg has been discussing how a trip into space can alter personalities, a fact made up for the purposes of the movie as you'll soon see. Anyway, the big joke when the sergeant is in orbit is that his companion is a chimp (not a monkey as the characters insist on calling it) who is more capable than he is, but after fobbing off the public by making "we meant to do that" noises about the stowaway, the craft is brought back down to Earth and we discover they both have indeed evolved different personalities.
The chimp can now speak, a gag which they really should have made more of but is placed in a throwaway scene, and Deadhead is now a hyper-aggressive ladies' man chasing the female recruits around the base and not interested in Lucy anymore. This meant Frankie Avalon plays two roles time again as he also showed up as his exact double, Sergeant Donovan, which could have opened this up to a Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor run of humour, but they preferred to rely on the basic running about method of securing laughs. If they did make you laugh it would very much depend on your tolerance for idiocy because as so often with A.I.P. comedies the level of farce was truly fatuous, but if you were in a welcoming mood there were a few good chuckles here in its courting of stupidity. There were musical numbers too, a couple quite cute though Arden's tone deaf stylings were resistable, but really this was barely a step up from Disney. It might even have been a step down. Music by Les Baxter.