Jul 13, 2005

Movie review 

"Rodriguez, if you woke up this morning and you were completely surrounded by an enemy force of 500 men, what would you do?"

This is a question posed by T/Sgt Moore to one of his recruits - and the subsequent (and only correct, I might add) answer given by that recruit in the opening act of 1957's, "The D.I."

Thirty years before R. Lee Ermey would crystallize the image of what a Marine DI looks like in the American mind, Jack Webb would give us this classic rendition that's a little more family friendly... hey, it was 1957. No cussing, no blood, no guts... but there's some chain-smoking going on like you wouldn't believe.

Webb, best known as police Sgt. Joe Friday on TV's "Dragnet," not only starred in this film, but directed and produced it, as well. If you're only familiar with Webb from "Dragnet" don't think for a second that he has acting range - the man is virtually wooden... and that's what's great about him. His delivery is rapid fire and right between the eyes. Perfect to play a DI.

The story is fairly straightforward: T/Sgt Moore (yes, you read that right - Technical Sergeant - a rank that we don't even have in the Corps anymore, equal to Gunnery Sergeant) is the best of the best at creating Marines. But he has a major headache: Pvt Owens could be great, but he's a constant screw up, and wants out of the Marines.

Watching Webb go to work on his recruits brings some funny moments (like when one husky recruit tells him he joined the Marines because the submarine service wouldn't take him... his lungs were too big), and some flashbacks... or so I'm told... I've never personally had to conduct a burial detail for a sand flea, but I've talked to guys who have.

Aside from the obligatory musical number - which seems to plague every film Hollywood made between about 1920 and 1959 - and the minimal role of a love interest for Webb, the film stays pretty focused on the Marines and the mind games played on them by the DIs. And towards the end, I don't want to give it away, but I'll just say that you can tell that the film was definitely made in a time long gone... well before parents ran around whining about how recruiters were trying to kidnap their kids.

From top to bottom, this story bleeds scarlet & gold, and red, white, and blue. With every member of the platoon being played by real, active duty Marines (except for the two main characters of T/Sgt Moore and Pvt Owens), this film is about as true to the spirit of the Corps as you can get. A classic Marine Corps movie that should be seen by anybody that's a fan of the first half of "Full Metal Jacket."

"The D.I." is not available on DVD as far as I can tell, so finding it at your local Blockbuster may be a problem. But VHS copies can be found at Amazon or on EBay. It's a little spendy for VHS: upwards of $40 for new copies. But some used copies on EBay are going for as low as nine bucks... not a bad deal for a great Marine Corps film.

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