Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Heartbreak Ridge:" This is where Clint starts getting to be an old man

Title: Heartbreak Ridge
Released: 1986
Genre: Military humor and heroics
Notable for: The script pissed off the U.S. Marine Corps enough to cancel cooperation
Coolest thing Clint does: Smashes up a thug while spending a night in the drunk tank, then tells him, "Why don't you sit there and bleed a while."

Anyone who thinks Clint emerged in the 1970s as The New John Wayne should know the vast database of The Clint Eastwood Project reveals "Heartbreak Ridge" was the first time Clint played a member of U.S. military forces in a war movie.

His character was on loan to the Brits in "Where Eagles Dare." He was AWOL all through "The Beguiled." "Kelly's Heroes" was an anti-war movie where Clint made friends with Nazis at the end. And "Firefox" was a spy story with Clint playing a military veteran pressed back to duty for a secret mission.

We conclude Clint did not much care for war movies, and he made an odd one when he finally gave it a whirl in "Heartbreak Ridge."

Andrew finds "Heartbreak Ridge" entertaining and judges it "not the best, but pretty good." Brad thinks it is mostly stupid because it is two different movies crammed unconvincingly into one.

Clint plays a tough Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who has a habit of getting drunk and finding trouble. The makeup people put scars on his face and Clint put extra gravel in his voice.

He is assigned to lead a platoon of young Marines who are complete screw-ups. One actually talks a little like Gomer Pyle. The rest behave, ludicrously, as if they can ignore commands. No wonder the Marine Corps withdrew its support.

The first part of the movie is basically a comedy where Clint whips the screw-ups into shape. It has some fine moments. Clint runs around growling about how he's drank more beer, pissed more blood and banged more quiff than anyone alive.

"Heartbreak Ridge" is set in the early 1980s and Clint's character is a veteran of Korea and Vietnam. He is a little frustrated to have no wins on his war record. At first, the young Marines think he is a crazy old man. His asshole major calls him a relic.

"This is the new Marine Corps," the major says. "Characters like you are an anachronism." It sounds exactly like the crap Dirty Harry took from his superiors.

Comedy stops abruptly with 30 minutes left in the movie. Clint's Marines are put on alert and sent to invade Grenada. From then on it's all blood-and-guts battle scenes that show what a wonderful job Clint did making his guys combat-ready.

Victory is sweet for Clint, who savors his first war win. It seems inconceivable that anyone who fought in Korea and Vietnam could put Grenada on the same level, but Clint does it anyway.

The film ends with a glorious homecoming as a band plays "Stars and Stripes Forever." As far as we know, that exhausts the film library of Grenada Invasion stories.

"Heartbreak Ridge" may be most notable in the annals of Clintdom because it is the first film to address head-on the fact he was growing old. Clint was 56 in real life. He appeared in great physical shape for the movie, but he could no longer pass himself off as a youthful hero. He played a character his real age, a dude struggling with the approach of mandatory retirement.

Unlike some action stars we could name, he was man enough to accept the truth. And some of his most celebrated roles were still ahead.

Next up: "The Dead Pool."

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