The Great Santini (1979)

PG  |   |  Drama  |  26 October 1979 (USA)
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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?


David Keith's film debut. See more »


Bull Meechum meets his old buddy, Virgil Hedgepath, and they wrestle each other in Hedgepath's office. In the background, you can see a couch. As Hedgepath gets Meechum in an arm lock, on the floor, you can see that the floor has been raised: in the background, the couch is noticeably higher, and you can see the side of the platform that the actors are on, directly below Robert Duvall's face. Filmed in a 4:3 ratio, the raised floor was cropped out for the 1:85 theatrical release. 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.
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Referenced in The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Episode #20.114 (2012) See more »


Goodnight, Sweetheart
Music by Ray Noble
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User Reviews

Memorable character study of a warrior without a war
10 June 2002 | by (New York, NY) – See all my reviews

Robert Duvall is magnificent as a classic warrior without a war who moves his family from town to town. Blythe Danner is an excellent match as his wife. And Michael O'Keefe deserves all the kudos he received plus more as Duvall's put-upon son. Lisa Jane Persky strikes a nice balance as the sarcastic-yet-still-loving daughter. Stan Shaw, Paul Mantee, Paul Gleason, and David Keith are flawless in edgy supporting performances. There's perhaps one scene that's slightly overdone which causes me to give it a 9/10 rather than a 10. Otherwise, The Great Santini is an utterly riveting family portrait from start to finish.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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