Sunday, November 16, 2014


(July 1982, U.S.)

It's really a wonder that Taylor Hackford's AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN got any recognition or popularity at all during a summer than meant going head-to-head with blockbusters like E.T.-THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN and ROCKY III. This type of drama would have likely fared better at the box office as a Fall release, after all the summer hype had died down. Even its star Richard Gere could not be considered a big star yet, having only a few films under his belt prior to this one. Even though the man will likely go down in history as being remembered best for films like PRETTY WOMAN (1990), PRIMAL FEAR (1996) and CHICAGO (2002), AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN is by far his best screen performance, in my opinion. When we first meet Gere's character of Zack Mayo, his appearance is that of a tatoo-wearing bum with no hope for a future in the Navy's Aviation Officer Candidate School. His father, who's not that much more of an improvement, even tells him that he's not officer material. So already, we're en route to rooting for the underdog who wants to fly jets for his country. Still, his character is that more of the anti-hero; a man whom we know to be good at heart and will do the right thing in the end, but one who will also break the rules and come into conflict with those who would make his life less than comfortable. Thus, enter drill instructor Foley (played by Louis Gossett, Jr.).

Before proceeding any further, having mentioned the character of Foley, let me share with you, for a moment, a discussion I once had about this film with a friend during the latter years of my college youth. In the Fall of 1987, some months after Stanley Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET had been released, my friend accused Kubrick of writing practically the entire first half of his film by ripping off Foley's character and his harsh treatment of the officers candidates. At the time, his accusations may have been on target. However, after a little research (in a time before the internet), I discovered that Foley's character was not only based on, but also influenced under the consulting role of former United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant and actor R. Lee Ermey, who also played Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in FULL METAL JACKET. So you see, even though AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN was released five years prior to FULL METAL JACKET, the character of Foley was inspired by "the man" himself who would later go on to play his own persona in Kubrick's classic Vietnam tale. And that, my friends, is how I prove my former college friend's accusation to be incorrect and, in effect, exonerate Mr. Kubrick from any ripping off of anybody or anything!

Predictably, as Zack Mayo conflicts more and more with his drill instructor and bears the butt of his "master's" rage and abuse, the more his true heart and character is revealed. Zach Mayo (ridiculed as "mayonaise" by Foley) is, at heart, a man of honor, principles and friendship. He's also a man who can fall in love, if he only gives himself the chance and doesn't run away from it's possibilities. When he meets one of the local girls Paula (played by a very young and hot Debra Winger, whom we get to see naked, by the way!), it's easy to see how quickly she's capable of falling in love with him upon first meeting him. But as much as Zack is determined to avoid the mature responsibility of love and commitment, she, too, keeps her distance so as not to turn into one of those local girl reputations, as they've been known to do whatever they have to in order to land themselves a naval aviator husband, even if it means allowing themselves to get pregnant in order to trap the poor bastard! But this, of course, is the shit that happens to "other" people and not the two we want to see come together. It happens to Zack's best friend Syd and Paula's best friend Lynette and the complications of this relationship and her false pregnancy ultimately lead to Syd's suicide. I point out that little spoiler alert only to stress the impact that this tragedy has on Zack and his feelings of true friendship toward Syd, as we've also learned that Zack's mother committed suicide when he was a boy.

Bearing in mind that in the end, like most people, I'm a real sucker for true love that rings true in the end, this full-blooded heterosexual male can't help but get a little choked up when Zack finally comes through at the film's climax and shows up at the paper factory to claim the woman he loves (AWWWWWW!!!). Those of us who remember this film well when it was new and popular in the early 1980s can clearly recall that great and final image that freeze-frames with Gere holding Winger in his arms and exiting the factory just as she puts his officer's hat on her head. We may also recall how annoyed we got having to hear Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes sing "Up Where We Belong" over and over again on the radio! AAAUUGGHHHH!!!!!!!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Emil Foley: "Now why would a slick, little hustler like you wanna sign up for this kind of abuse anyway?"
Zack Mayo: "I wanna fly jets, sir!"
Foley: "My grandmamma wants to fly jets!"
Zack: "I wanted it since I was a kid!"
Foley: "We're not talkin' about flyin' here, we're talkin' about character!"
Zack: "I've changed! I've changed since I've been here!"
Foley: "The hell you have!"
Zack: "I've changed, sir!"
Foley: "No. You just polished up your act a little bit. You just shined it up! Don't tell me what I wanna hear! I want your D.O.R.!"
Zack: "No, sir!"
Foley: "I want your D.O.R.!"
Zack: "I ain't gonna quit!"
Foley: "Spell it! D.O.R.!"
Zack: "I ain't gonna quit!"
Foley: "Yes, then you can be free and you and your daddy can get drunk and go whore-chasin' together, huh?"
Zack: "No, sir!"
Foley: "D.O.R.!"
Zack: "I ain't gonna quit!"
Foley: "Alright, then you can forget it! You're out!"
Zack: "Don't you do it! Don'! I got nowhere else to go! I got nowhere else to go! I got nothin' else. I got nothin' else."

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