The Great Santini (1979)

PG  |   |  Drama  |  26 October 1979 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 4,276 users  
Reviews: 38 user | 20 critic

As he approaches manhood, Ben Meechum struggles to win the approval of his demanding alpha male father, an aggressively competitive, but frustrated marine pilot.



(novel), (written for the screen by), 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 3 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Lt. Col. 'Bull' Meechum
Lillian Meechum
Mary Anne Meechum
Julie Anne Haddock ...
Karen Meechum
Matthew Meechum
Toomer Smalls
Arrabella Smalls
Red Petus
Paul Mantee ...
Col. Virgil Hedgepath
Col. Varney
Bennett Liss ...
Cpl. Atcherly
Joe Dorsey ...
Coach Spinks
David Frankham ...
Capt. Weber
Jan Stratton ...
Mrs. Weber


In 1962, the Marine Corps family, the Meechums - parents Lieutenant Colonel Wilbur "Bull" Meechum and Lillian Meechum, and their four children Ben Meechum, Mary Anne Meechum, Karen Meechum and Matthew Meechum - are moving like they do most years, this time to Beaufort, South Carolina. Bull - nicknamed "the Great Santini" - is known as a great pilot, but has gotten into much trouble in the past for his sophomoric behavior. He runs his family much as a military commander, where they are all to obey his orders without question. Everything he does within the family context he reasons is to build character, but in reality everything ends up being about him. The oldest Ben, approaching manhood, is the one of his offspring who has the greatest issue with his father. Ben wants his respect, but isn't sure if he really loves him. As Ben goes through his senior year in high school, his attempts to play varsity basketball and an incident between black Toomer Smalls - his friend and their cook ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The bravest thing he would ever do was let his family love him.




PG | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

26 October 1979 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Great Santini  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


During the basketball game, Pat Conroy's mother Peg, the woman with the short blonde hair, is seated directly behind Blythe Danner. Pat's brother, Tom, who tragically committed suicide at the age of 33, is #32 on the team, the player wearing glasses. See more »


In the opening dogfight sequence you hear the lead pilot call "Okay, it's Marines verses Navy"; and you see a F-4J Phantom with the word Navy on the side. However, the squadron designation is VMFA-251. At the time, only Marine Phantoms carried the "VMFA" designation, Navy Phantoms were "VF" . The "Marine" squadron was in fact VMFA-251 Thunderbolts, who now fly the F/A-18C. See more »


Ben Meechum: You know what Toomer? This is terrific. There's a shooting star.
Toomer: There's no star boy. That's the tear of infant Jesus falling on such a sinful, hateful world. This is sure one fine night, isn't it buddy boy?
Ben Meechum: Yep, this is one fine night Toomer.
See more »


Referenced in Kicking & Screaming (2005) See more »


Music by F.D. Marchetti
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User Reviews

a wonderful movie with wonderful performances
21 October 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Imagine a man who considers winning to be absolutely everything. He is like the coach of a sports team, yet he encompasses a far greater reach of authority. And yet, he wants even more authority and always seems to be getting it, because of his natural air of authority and others' natural air of backing down in the fright of his presence. He is a coach, a military man, a patriot, abusive, and to make things even more shocking: a father who just doesn't really know how to be one except his own way. And you have a picture of the type of character that Academy Award-winning actor Robert Duvall plays in this film. He got another nomination for the Academy Award in this film, although he unfortunately did not win it.

"The Great Santini" is a dramatic film near to perfection and one of the finest great movies of the 70s. Majority of the screen time is devoted to the relationship between Robert Duvall and his screen son, portrayed by Michael O'Keefe, also in an Oscar-nominated performance. The whole point of this is that O'Keefe is the oldest out of four children who have spent their whole life being raised, bullied, and commanded by Duvall. He runs their lives like a boot camp. There is no mercy, no generosity, and all you get for a good job, is a slap on the back. Duvall is trying to raise them in the best way he knows. He wants them to succeed in life, but the only method he knows that is effective is to be rough. And O'Keefe's character has decided he's had enough of being treated like a soldier in war.

Every aspect in "The Great Santini" is developed and executed perfectly to a magnificent entertaining level. The varsity basketball game depicted in the film is just like watching a real high school ball game. It's not full of tough, imaginative lines. Nothing remarkable happens during it, and yet it is a powerful sequence and highly entertaining, almost as if you were sitting with the cheering and jeering friends and family members of the characters. There are also powerful messages about racism and violence in the film, performed through a friendship between the characters portrayed by Michael O'Keefe, Stan Shaw, and David Keith. It is an excellent subplot that is the next-to-most-important aspect of the story and it involves pretty much all of the characters in some way, shape, or form. It's not just an in-the-background tragedy.

"The Great Santini" plays out as a magnificent story, mostly revolving around the character played by Robert Duvall. As we see him, he goes on an off with his temper and general-like behavior, and we come to like and dislike him over the course of the film, respecting him as if he were a real person before us. While he's really nothing more than a fictional character being portrayed by a magnificent and talented actor, he is in his own way, one of the greatest heroes of film history. And he just wants everybody to see things his way.


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