I have been thinking about how Hollywood occasionally helps military recruiting in the post-Vietnam and all-volunteer era.
Back in World War II Hollywood Moguls signed on to further the war effort with films which were entertaining but also inspiring to those on the home front. Films like Wake Island, they Were Expendable, Destination Tokyo, The Fighting Sullivans, the Flying Tigers, The Memphis Belle (1943), and Thirty Seconds over Tokyo all helped bolster the war effort. Stars like Jimmy Stewart served in combat. These were the high tide of patriotic war films. In the post war era more films about the war were made until Vietnam made war films a riskier proposition for studios. With the exception of The Green Berets and a few Second World War themed films such as The Longest Day, In Harms Way, The Battle of the Bulge and Patton war films became much more anti-war and often anti-military. Such films as Catch 22, M*A*S*H, Go Tell the Spartans, Kelly’s Heroes showed this while films like Platoon, The Deer Hunter and Coming Home showed the dark side of Vietnam.
In the 1970s some films like Midway began the return of film makers to more positive looks at the military. After the election of Ronald Reagan Hollywood began to produce more military themed films. Some were fully endoresed by the Department of Defense and others not. Some were designed to make the miltary look good and well, some which were not intended to do so had the opposite effect.
The most successful of these films dealt with the Navy and Marine Corps, those dealing with the Army and Air Force were not as successful, though the Iron Eagle series with Louis Gossett Jr. had a pretty good run. Films like Top Gun thrilled young audiences with both the story of Naval Aviators, a great musical score and some really hot and sensual scenes. The Hunt for Red October was another thriller in which Tom Clancy made the Navy look great. An Officer and a Gentleman had some of the most memorable Drill Sergeant scenes of any film, with Louis Gossett Jr. in the role of Gunnery Sergeant Foley destroying and rebuilding a class of OCS candidates led by Richard Gere.
Once again a good story well acted and some great love scenes and musical score made this appeal to the younger generation. I was across the Puget Sound when this was being filmed having my own ass ripped by an Army Special Forces, Ranger and Vietnam veteran Drill Sergeant. I could relate to Richard Gere crying “I’m not going to DOR, I’ve got nowhere else to go.” Thank you Sergeant First Class Harry Ball for making me a better person by destroying all preconceptions that I had about myself and rebuilding me. Judy when she first saw the movie asked if I had a Puget Sound Deb but alas, I did not. I was too busy cleaning latrines with a toothbrush for any extra-curricular activities even if I was so inclined. Clint Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge was a positive portrayal of a Marine taking over a Recon Platoon before going into Grenada.
A Few Good Men was not supposed to be a film that made the Marines look good. Director Rob Reiner attempted to get permission of the Marines to film at Guantanamo Bay but was unable to do so because of the script. The film turned out to be a cult classic among many Marines. Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Colonel Nathan Jessup became a hit. The line You ant the Truth, you can’t handle the truth!” followed by the rest of the speech is classic. The character that Nicholson was based on was a real CO of Gitmo. He was relieved after about a year into his two year tour. A former CO of mine who served under that man at another duty station said that officers and enlisted alike lived in fear of him. More recent films such as Saving Private Ryan and the Band of Brothers HBO mini-series brought positive attention to the men of the greatest generation. Films about Iraq have varied. Perhaps the best is Taking Chance with Kevin Bacon playing a Marine LtCol. escorting the body of a young Marine killed in action home.
So it is interesting to see how Hollywood sometimes helps and sometimes hurts recruiting. We’ll have to see what the next batch of war films turn out to be like.