Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The D.I.

TCM is putting the spotlight on Jack Webb as director tomorrow morning with three of his movies, starting at 8:00 AM with The D.I.

Webb, who was director and head of the production comapny Mark VII, was unsurprisingly able to get himself cast in the titular role, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jim Moore. Moore is stationed at Parris Island, SC, as a drill instructor, whose job it is more or less to put the new Marines through the Marine equivalent of basic training. The sergeant is good at what he does, yelling out orders and getting in the recruits' faces when they screw up, because as we'll learn in one scene later in the movie, even the tiniest screw-up could be fatal. There's only one problem. One of the privates in the newest group of recruits, Pvt. Owens (Don Dubbins), is spectacularly incompent. Well, perhaps spectacular is an overstatement, but he's certainly not shown himself to be good at any part of being a Marine. Sgt. Moore thinks there's something in the kid, though, despite everybody else's opinion to the contrary. And dammit, Sgt. Moore is going to prove it.

The rest of the movie is Sgt. Moore trying to prove that Pvt. Owens can make a good Marine, with Owens more or less gumming up the works every time he's given a chance. A good example of this comes in a scene where the recruits are training in a sandy area and Owens has a sand flea crawling across his face. It itches terribly, so Owens does what any normal human would do: he tries to swat it. That may be fine for a normal human, but Marines aren't normal human beings -- they're supposed to be held to a higher standard. Or to put it another way, if you slap yourself while hiding out from the enemy, there's a good chance they'll hear that slap and will be able to determine your location. It's a variation of the old movie trope of people trying to hide and be silent and one of them suddenly sneezing. So to punish Owens, he has the entire platoon go out and look for the exact flea that was walking across Owens' face. The use of collective punishment is supposed to get the rest of the group to get the scofflaw to get back in line without having to appeal to authority, but punishment like this just shows why I'd never make it in the military.

There are two women who play importanr roles in all of this. One is Annie (Jackie Loughery). She's a woman Sgt. Moore meets at the local off-base watering hole, and her purpose in the plot is to soften Sgt. Moore just enough so that we can see there's actually a real human being underneath the tough exterior that Moore has been presenting to the outside world all these years. Sgt. Moore has given his life to the Marines, to the point that he's totally awkward wround women. You'd think he at least slept with a couple of whores during World War II or something, but a movie like The D.I. would never discuss a topic like that. The other woman is Pvt. Owens' mother (Virginia Gregg), who gets one key scene with Sgt. Moore toward the end of the movie to help explain why her son is the way he is, but also to give the Sgt. hope that the kid really can shape up and won't have to ship out.

It's that scene between Sgr. Moore and Mrs. Owens that best typifies the Jack Webb style of having extremely bright lines between the good people and the bad guys, and beating you over the head with it. It's also the sort of scene that makes me like the movie quite a bit less. Now, I'm not that into military movies in the first place, but for the most part, The D.I. is quite well made. Indeed, all of the retired Marines who have commented about the movie on IMDb have very good things to say about it, mostly that it really gets Marine life accurate. Camp Pendleton in San Diego was used for some scenes, not Parris Island, and Webb hired a bunch of Marines to play the recruit parts, which probably helps the realism. I'm not a huge Jack Webb fan, but The D.I. is a film that I think quite a few people will like.

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