The D.I. (1957)
User ReviewsReview this title
I was at Camp Pendleton undergoing infantry training when Webb brought his crew down to film some outdoor scenes and our company was asked to participate. It took about two or three days as best I can recall.
Webb and Don Dubbins were serious and businesslike.
During the filming of our short scene--which seemed to take forever to an 18 year old--Webb was very conscientious about getting things (Marine things) right and he did a good job with one exception--that scene where a recruit was wearing sunglasses. Never happen for a host of reasons.
I have a video of the movie and will bore my grandkids anytime I can make them sit still for a few seconds as I show them their Papaw when he was a young stud and part of the world's greatest fighting force (no brag, just fact).
What amazed me then was how well the real Marines carried out their acting roles. That was before I realized that DIs have to have some acting genes to get their job done.
The only film I've seen since that is the equal of the DI is the first half of Full Metal Jacket and that part is superior only because of the foul language. When the DI was made, cursing wasn't allowed on screen.
Despite the lack of profanity, it's still a great movie to rent.
Semper Fi, Do or Die
We did not remotely expect the movie to portray everything we experienced in boot camp but we were all pleasantly surprised at how well done the movie was. The idea of using real Marines in the movie was a great idea (I believe they were all real Drill Instructors too). As good an actor as Jack Webb was, he just couldn't "call cadence" like a real Marine Drill Instructor.
All of us got a laugh when the "problem" recruit's mother came to boot camp to talk to the Captain. Never in a million years would this have happened, but that's Hollywood, and we didn't let that episode keep us from enjoying the movie.
I went through boot camp at MCRD in San Diego during the summer of 1956, and at that time there was virtually no limits as to what the D.I.'s could do to you. The "Ribbon Creek" event at Parris Island had not yet affected boot camp, at least not at MCRD - San Diego.
I agree with what a lot of the other reviewers have commented on concerning Sgt. Moore's "stiffness" around his girl friend. I believe this was just Webb's acting style, and although they could have deleted this part of the movie, it didn't really hurt the production that much.
One minor note, the character (uncredited) of "Pvt. Rodriguez" was played by one of my Drill Instructors, Sgt. Peter J. O'Neill. Sgt. O'Neill used to tell us that some day he wanted to be an actor. We secretly laughed at this, but he surprised us all. He was a great Drill Instructor, and I thought he did well in his bit part. Also, he really did enjoy throwing knives. He often demonstrated his skill to us that summer in boot camp. I have often wondered if he is still alive.
Although we hadn't been there long enough to even think about seeing a movie, we could hear those that were laughing. It's one of the many indelible memories of my thirteen weeks at PI.
At some later date, I got to actually see it in a theater. I'm still convinced that, to date, it remains the most realistic portrayal of the experience in the late 1950's ever done. No one has done it better than Jack Webb...
1) Only three of the men in this film were professional actors; Webb, Dubbins and Lin McCarthy, and Dubbins had been a Marine. All the others were actual Marines, and Webb elicted memorable performances from most of them.
2) It was shot in a breathtaking 23 days in March of 1957.
3) To make the summer release date requested by Warner Bros., Webb edited as he shot. By the time principal photography wrapped, he had two reels cut and scored.
Yet, Webb is laughed at as an actor, and dismissed as a director? See this film and ask yourself, WHY???
FACTOID: The film was based on a KRAFT TELEVISION THEATER presentation called "Murder of a Sand Flea." Lin McCarthy played the same role in both productions.
So as I ramble along here, let me clarify some of what has been questioned in previous entries as best I can. "Cuff Daddy" was commenting about the ability of our Platoon to yell "Yes Sir" without moving and etc,, Yes we did the yelling for the Sound Guys, and it was while shooting the scene. As you fellow Marines remember, when the DI or who ever started to ask a question and before they completed it, you had already taken your breath of air enabling you to yell at the top of your lungs the proper response. That is how it was done.
"74Sooner" commented about walking through the same building at Paris Island, however, as I mentioned earlier all the scenes were shot in Studio City, CA . They were built from photos taken at Paris Island and from on site trips and Marine advisers from Paris Island. Sorry, you were in the real buildings, not the sets.
"schappe1" brought up many good points, but, about the incident with the platoon at Paris Island at the time all that jack Webb said to us was, "The movie came about because of the accident, and the Marine Corps didn't want to put out anything that would impact any of the family members of the Marines that died that night. Although, the Marine Corps would provide any Marines and assistance needed for a movie answering to the public why a Marine DI does what he does".
As mentioned by a few of you, I also at the time we were shooting the scenes caught my self thinking this dialog has been cleaned up to much and obviously isn't how it goes down in real life. Back in the 50's,that is how it had to be done.
One story I would like to pass on is about the interaction that occurred between us Marines and the Movie Crew, and between the Movie Crew and Jack Webb. From the start by custom the Marines replied "Yes Sir" to anybody that moved. Going into the second week it was getting more common to hear "Yes Sir" coming from all directions. On stage someone would bark out a request for something to be done with the lighting and from out of nowhere up on a catwalk above the set a reply of "Yes Sir" would sound out. To all of this at one of our informal gatherings, Jack Webb stated. "If I had known that I would have gotten this much respect from this crew, I would have brought you guys up here years ago." There was a Lt. brought up from San Diego to play the role of the DI from the other platoon and the one Jack Webb fights with, but during one shooting secessions He was up to take number 32, and still Webb kept trying to work him through how he wanted it done and didn't show any lack of patience with him. The next day they used the Paris Island adviser who was a DI Sgt. from Paris Island and He worked out fine.
At the time I was somewhat of a camera buff and got to know the Still Camera Man to get some pointer from him and as it turned out He would give me still shots and some of the 35mm film of the daily shooting that were not going to be used. Those film strips I cut up and made slides out of them. After the movie came out in VHS tape (The DI, 11706 B&W/106 min.) my kids and the grand kids have a blast when they try to se who can find me the most times on the screen.
Web and company got it as right as they could in '57. Boot, in '59, was more like, in fact, exactly like, the Boot Camp shown in "Full Metal Jacket" - Yes. A black recruit, in my training platoon, was called "Snowball." I was called "Stick," because I was skinny as a rail. Every recruit had a nickname, some rather vile, that stuck with him through his service in the Corps. Getting smacked, or knocked on your ass, when you screwed-up was SOP. "Drop, and give me fifty," got to be ho-hum. Then, it turned into,"Drop, and give me two-hundred!"
The D.I.'s were a bunch of sadistic bastards, but it was a controlled sadism, and with a primary purpose of keeping us stupid MoFos alive when we hit combat. 200 years of experience was ingrained in that "sadism," and everything the D.I. did, or said, had a purpose geared to his mission.
A bad D.I. gets grunts killed. A good D.I., though seemingly the world's biggest asshole, keeps 'em alive. You can't kill the enemy if you're dead.
In case you didn't know, the Marine Corps has one primary mission: Kill the enemy. PFD.
Everything else is pure bravo sierra.
MstGySgt WHT, USMC (ret)
There is relatively more explanation provided by this D.I. as to the purpose of his instructions to the men that one would normally expect. It's obvious that a soldier's rifle is his best friend and that punishment of the entire unit for a rifle is designed to promote peer pressure to "shape up and teamwork to get the job done". The concern over the "Murder of a Sand Flea", (the original title of this story when presented on Kraft Television Theater with former Marines Hugh O'Brian and Lee Marvin), is explained as an attempt to get the men not to respond to insect bites because to do so might alert an enemy of the presence o the men in real war. Somehow I doubt that D.I.s do as much explaining as we see here.
Part of this emphasis on the "why" of things may be what actually happened at Parris Island on April 8, 1056, only a few months before this film began production. Staff Sergeant Matthew McKeon ordered his platoon in the middle of the night to march though a nearby tidal stream called Ribbon Creek. Six of them drowned, creating a huge scandal that called into question Marine Corps training methods. From my reading there were extenuating circumstances. Apparently McKeon was an inexperienced D.I. who had seen other D.I.s call for such "disciplinary night marches". The platoon contained several men who were at best novice swimmers. It also contained more than the usual number of "Screw-ups" who provoked the incident by sticking nervous recruits with sticks and thrashing about in the water, creating a panic that caused the drownings. McKeon was "the first one in and last one out" trying to save his men but was pilloried as an example of mindless, uncaring Marine discipline. Another factor was the attitude of the chief drill instructor, who was allegedly looking forward to retirement and lax in his discipline and another DI tried to play the "good guy" and allow the men to breach discipline without reporting it. When the survivors were interviewed years later, all but one expressed admiration for McKeon.
It's made clear several times in the D.I. that Webb's Jim Moore cares about his men very deeply and sees being rough on them as necessary preparation for battlefield conditions. it would be easy for him to give up on Dubbins but he sees potential there and doesn't want to lose even one potential Marine. He's looking for the degree of focus only an organized mind can produce and the type of teamwork that will be necessary to survive. Military drill itself is a relic of the musket era- when soldiers had to march in formation, under fire close to enemy positions and fire a coordinated volley due to the inaccuracy and poor range of the weapons. Modern wars aren't fought like that. But the discipline instilled at a place like Parris Island is still essential to success- and survival- in warfare. Somebody has to instill it- somehow.
The Marines looked at this film as a way to launch a comeback from the terrible publicity of the Ribbon Creek incident and they were delighted to cooperate. A weakness of the film is that it does nothing to acknowledge the incident or deal with it's causes. It would be interesting if the other DI's varied somewhat in their attitudes or levels of competence and if they discuss what happened at Ribbon Creek and their determination to overcome it. But the Marines apparently didn't want any mention of it at all. Webb does have a rival DI that he slugs over a girl but there's nothing about different approaches to the job here. The closest thing to a reference to the incident is when Dubbins tries to go AWOL and Webb catches him at the swamp that surrounds the camp and warns him against trying to wade through it. The actual story of the Ribbon Creek tragedy would have been a fascinating story to have done in this movie but it wasn't what the Corps or apparently Webb were looking for at this juncture.
There has been some discussion of the D.I. played by actual D.I. R. Lee Ermey in the film "Full Metal Jacket" 30 years after this. He actually makes a speech in that film praising Lee Harvey Oswald and what he learned about marksmanship in the Marines. He's trying to turn the men into "killing machines" and succeeds as one of them kills him in what much have been the fantasy of some recruits. Here is what George McDonald Fraser, in his book "The Hollywood History of the World", says about "Full Metal Jacket": "Half of it is devoted to the training of Marine recruits, the chief aim of which seems to be to degrade and dehumanize them, consisting as it does of head-shaving, subjection to the filthiest kind of verbal abuse, physical assault from their demented instructor, the chanting of imbecilic slogans and other ritualistic charactures of discipline. Of real soldiering they are taught virtually nothing, except how to go over a childishly simple assault course: obscene screaming and tough talk are what pass for instruction- and I just don't believe that is all the US Marines teach their recruits, although it is all we see here." Well, that's not all we see in the D.I. Webb may not have been an actual D.I. like Ermey but his men were actual marines, (even Dubbins). And I think his platoon would have outperformed Ermey's in just about anything.
More than most, this movie is a product of its time period and its producer-director, Jack Webb. No one on screen was more in thrall to authority and authority figures than Webb, whether it be cops, DA's, or DI's, as is the case here. But then, his personality was well suited to play such authority figures.
Here, he's perfectly cast as the emotionally stifled drill sergeant. So, whether shouting commands or snarling insults, he's convincing to a rare degree for any Hollywood performer. On the other hand, the role's not likely to win him many female fans. For example, catch those softer scenes with Annie (Loughery); they're almost painful to watch. Nonetheless, it helps the movie that his macho character is, at least, willing to admit his difficulties.
The production itself amounts to an artifact of the 1950's. Overall, there's no hint of criticism of the military or its methods. After all, the country was coming off glorious victories in Europe and Asia, while the recent truce in Korea was more or less shoved under the rug. So, while we may chafe at some of Sgt. Moore's and the Marine Corps' harsh methods, we understand the purpose. At the same time, I think it's to Webb's credit that in no way does he try to make Moore likable. Of course, aspects of training, e.g. bad language, could not be shown because of the restrictive Production Code of the period.
Dealing with the narrative's problem character, Pvt. Owens (Dubbins), presented the screenwriter with a number of choices. He could have made him a mixed-up kid, a budding criminal, or a rebellious James Dean (as one reviewer astutely notes). Instead, writer Barrett makes what I think is a wise choice that resonates even in today's cultural climate. The kid's a quitter. He refuses to finish what he starts, whether it's professional schools or the Marines. Thus, without some kind of turnaround, he's headed for failure regardless of his life choices. Even so, Owens' eventual turnaround is a bit sudden and under-motivated given that he's insisted the discharge papers be put through.
Anyway, I like the way tradition is worked into the story with Pvt. Owens' mother (Gregg). Tradition is a large part of the military's mystique and here it is used in plausible fashion to keep Owens from washing out of training. (Note how director Webb has actor Webb suddenly become a mute bystander during Gregg's powerful scene. Even in the Dragnet series, Webb was willing to slide out of the spotlight when the drama warranted.)
Then there's the movie's centerpiece-- the hilarious sand flea burial. It registered with audiences of the time and, I expect, still does. It's a moment of comedic inspiration that also drives home its combat lesson. Note how the entire platoon is made to pay for one man's (Owens) mistake. That way, Owens' fellow trainees have as much stake in his conduct as the DI and thereby intensify the lesson. It may not be fair, but it is effective.
On the movie's downside-- did they have to make Moore so irresistible to women; then again, maybe it was the be-medaled uniform, which was considered a definite attraction at the time. That scene in the dress shop, however, with an over-weight and leering Barbara Pepper is hardly amusing and badly misjudged. Whatever Webb's assets as a moviemaker, he was no matinée idol, so those scenes are more than a stretch.
All in all, the movie's an interesting portrayal of Marine training for its time. Whatever the film's shortcomings, they're as much a part of the popular culture of the 50's as they are of the movie itself, and would only show up in such later training films as Tribes (1970) and Full Metal Jacket (1987). It's probably also telling that Webb's effort at reviving Dragnet (1967- 1970) in the face of the emerging counterculture failed to catch on with the original Dragnet's broad audience. Times had changed, and many younger folks were unwilling to accept an uncritical view of either authority or authority figures. Webb's time had passed, but the film's still worth watching for its important glimpse of the past.
First of all, the positives: The film crackles and rolls with energy in the scenes of Jack Webb as Sgt. Miller, the D.I., training his green recruits. And he is a holy terror. Jack Webb, as director, shows surprising zest and energy in these scenes. The camera pans and glides emphasizing the action without distracting the viewer. The dialogue--or rather, Webb's monologues--to the recruits is great and seems genuinely authentic, although with the codes in place at the time, there could be no profanity. This is the strongest part of the film, and feels authentic (Webb took advantage of USMC advisors for the film). Webb is great as the D.I., and his direction is a lot more interesting than I would have thought.
Now, the negatives: Like most war/military films of the period, the creators have to drag in this subplot involving Sgt. Miller's love life. Webb is just not a very good actor in these scenes, and there is no fire between him and the actress who plays his love interest. And the dialogue between the two exhibits some of the worst of Barrett's screenwriting qualities. Cornball, very cornball.
In fact, nearly every other scene BESIDES the training sequences strike a very false note: interplay between Miller and the other sergeants, interplay between Miller and girlfriend, interplay between recruits, all hampered by the screenplay and the actors (most of whom were not professional actors but Marines), and all of this detracts from the meat and potatoes of the story: the brutality and toughness of Marine training, and the struggle of one recruit to make it through boot camp.
Overall, I'd say worth watching if you are like me and love military movies. Appreciate the film's excellent depiction of Parris Island boot camp circa 1957, and try to endure the other 50% of the film.
Nearly 50 years after it was made, some of the movie is pretty campy, to be sure. The movie only had three or four professional actors in it; the real-life Marines who are cast as the other boots actually do a pretty credible job, especially the two who play their ethnic stereotypes to the hilt--the Hispanic kid and the "hillbilly." I still don't know what to make about Don Dubbins performance as screw-up Pvt. Owens. He did get the hang-dog, chastened look down very well as he continues to screw up and Sgt. Moore gets down on him harder and harder. The movie does a good job of humanizing him though and you learn why he has been a quitter and his ambiguity about the Corps---his father and brothers were all Marines who died in battle and he has been coddled and protected by his mother.
There are several stand-out scenes in this movie besides Jack Webb's dead-on butt-chewings of the recruits in their barracks. The scene with Pvt. Owens' mother when she convinces the company commander and Moore to keep her son in training and go harder on him was very effective. The C.O. at first doesn't want to make the time for her but is taken aback when he learns that Mrs. Owens' is a war-widow and gold star mother. In many ways she is the toughest and proudest "Marine" in the entire story.
I also enjoy this movie because Sgt. Moore's love interest, Jackie Loughery, is such a babe. It is no surprise to read that she was the first Miss USA---zowie! She later married Jack Webb so I presume that is what got her into the movie. But she does a very good job.
The theme of the movie I think is about sacrifice and loyalty. There isn't a major character in the film who hasn't paid a tremendous price due to their association with the Marine Corps----Moore, the C.O. and other D.I.s certainly have all lost friends in combat; Owens and his mother have lost three members of their family in combat; even Annie, Moore's girlfriend, has suffered loss because her previous boyfriend had died in battle. Yet despite the terrible price they've all paid, they remain fiercely proud of the Corps and in the end, Pvt. Owens proves that far from being a screw up, that he is actually the best recruit in the platoon.