Private Benjamin is a 1980 American comedy film starring Goldie Hawn. The film was one of the biggest box office hits of 1980, and also spawned a short-lived television series. Private Benjamin ranked 82 on the American Film Institute‘s 100 Years…100 Laughs list, and 59 on Bravo’s list of “100 Funniest Movies”.
Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn), a 28-year-old Jewish woman from a sheltered wealthy upbringing whose lifelong dream is to “marry a professional man,” joins the U.S. Army after Yale Goodman, her new husband (Albert Brooks), dies on their wedding night during sex. Adrift, Judy tells her story on a radio call-in show and meets an Army recruiter, SFC James Ballard (Harry Dean Stanton), who leads her to believe military life will provide the “family” she seeks. He also pitches the service as a glamorous getaway, comparing it to a spa vacation, but Judy has a rude awakening upon arriving at basic training. She wants to quit almost immediately, but is astonished to find out, contrary to the assertions of her recruiting sergeant, that she cannot leave.
Army regulations and the continual disapproval of both Captain Doreen Lewis (Eileen Brennan) and SFC L. C. Ross (Hal Williams), the drill sergeant, frustrate Judy—but when her parents (Sam Wanamaker and Barbara Barrie) arrive at Fort Biloxi to take her home, she decides to stay and finish basic training, which she does with distinction after a war games exercise in which her squad exposes an affair between a member of her training platoon and a rival company officer (with whom Lewis was also having an affair), and takes the leaders of both sides hostage. Upon completion of basic training, Judy and her friends spend the weekend on leave in New Orleans, where she meets Henri Tremont (Armand Assante), a French doctor there for a medical conference. After a brief romance, Henri returns to Paris and Judy begins training with an elite paratrooper unit, the Thornbirds.
Judy quickly discovers she was chosen for paratrooper training because the unit’s commander finds her attractive; after the other trainees have jumped from the plane, he attempts to sexually assault her. When Judy refuses to comply, he attempts to have her transferred far from Biloxi as soon as possible. Rather than accept what she sees as an undesirable post in Greenland or Guam, Judy negotiates an assignment to SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) in Belgium, and meets up with Henri again on a visit to Paris. He proposes marriage and she accepts, but when Captain Lewis discovers that Tremont is a communist, Judy is forced to choose between the Army and love.
After she chooses Henri and gets engaged, he reveals his childish, controlling nature. He tries to “remake” Judy, and also insists she sign a prenuptial agreement (in French) to protect his centuries-old family home. Finally, when Henri sleeps with the house maid and also makes it obvious that he hasn’t gotten over his ex-girlfriend Clare, Judy has a change of heart. On her wedding day, in the middle of the ceremony, she realizes she is on the verge of a huge mistake. Judy abandons Henri at the altar and heads off into the unknown, empowered by her newfound freedom and excited about what may lie ahead.