The Boys in Company C (1978)

 

 

Director:  Sidney J. Furie.

Starring:  Stan Shaw (Pfc/Sgt. Tyrone Washington), Andrew Stevens (Pvt. Billy Ray Pike), James Canning (Pvt. Alvin Foster/Narrator), Michael Lembeck (Pvt. Vinnie Fazio), Craig Wasson (Pvt. Dave Bisbee), Scott Hylands (Capt. Collins), James Whitmore Jr. (Lt. Archer), Noble Willingham (Gunnery Sgt. Curry), R. Lee Ermey (SSgt. Loyce), Santos Morales (SSgt. Aquilla), Drew Michaels (Col. Metcalfe), Karen Hilger (Betsy, Billy Ray's Girlfriend), Peggy O'Neal (Nancy Bisbee), Claude Wilson (Roy Foster), Chuck Doherty (George Pike)..

The film follows a young group of Marines from the boot camp in San Diego to the fighting in Vietnam. They become increasingly cynical about the war as they seek out the elusive Viet Cong.  

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the film.  And a curse word. 

The film starts with the arrival of a number of new Marine recruits, some drafted and some enlisted.  As is typical of American war movies, the group that are to become Marines are from all over the United States and from different ethnic/racial backgrounds.  We follow the group as they are trained to become an effective fighting unit.  We see the usual tough drill instructors as they pound the young men into real Marines.  The main emphasis is placed on a black man from Chicago named Tyrone Washington who sold drugs to earn his livelihood.  He is a bit of the stereotype of the angry black man.  He does everything his way and refuses to accept the Marine emphasis on teamwork.  He is very contemptuous of the young men of the unit who he thinks are a bunch of "fuck-ups."  His drill instructor had to really work on him to get him to become a team player.  Washington comes into conflict with Billy Ray Pike who enlisted in the Marines. Another theme is the close friendship between the Italian-American Vinnie Fazio and the budding writer Alvin Foster.  And then there is David Bisbee who probably should have become a conscientious objector or a medic since he does not want to kill any of the enemy in Vietnam.

The fellows graduate and become Marines officially.  Half the group is sent to sea duty and the other half is sent to fight as infantry in Vietnam.  Their company commander is Capt. Collins, who, because of his overweening ambition to get himself promoted, is a very poor leader.  The unit's first assignment is to escort some vital supplies to men on the fighting line.  They are caught in an ambush and two of their men are killed.  Bisbee discovers that the "vital" supplies are really a bunch of luxuries being sent for the birthday of an American general.  Bisbee really protests to the lieutenant, who says that he didn't know. 

The unit is sent through a vast area of rice paddies.  Washington, being punished for taking the initiative by himself without orders, has to be out front.  He steps on a pressure mind and has to freeze.  It is Pike who is sent to rescue him.  Washington foolishly tells him to get away from him, but Pike tells him to shut up; Washington is making him feel nervous.  Pike places two ammo boxes on the mine and Washington is able to escape the mine's blast without even getting wounded. 

The poor leadership of the lieutenant and his callousness toward the Vietnamese villagers causes a great deal of conflict between the men and their commander.  For instance, the lieutenant calls down an artillery barrage on a village.  Washington becomes so angry at the lieutenant that he actually tried to kill him with machine gun fire.  He failed.  (Amazingly, he is not really punished for this act.  He just had to walk point.)  Pike and Bisbee also get into arguments with the lieutenant.  They are punished by being given the assignment to patrol a rice paddy area that the Viet Cong mine constantly. 

All the emphasis in Vietnam is on getting a high body count of enemy dead.  To get this high body count the lieutenant takes unnecessarily risky steps to get his men to the areas where the enemy are located.  The sergeant, an older veteran, decides to give the lieutenant his high body count.  He has it reported to the artillery and air command that a whole battalion of the enemy are attacking on a nearby hill.  The hill is bombarded by artillery and from the air.  All the men in the company sunbathe while they watch the show.  Then the sergeant reports that the company with the help of the bombardments wiped out the entire enemy battalion. 

To get them out of more combat, the unit agrees to take the assignment of being the Marine Corp's soccer team to play against teams composed of South Vietnamese troops. But when the men take the assignment they are informed during the game that they must lose in order to built the confidence of the South Vietnamese.  The guys, already mad at their commander, are further infuriated.  They make a joke of the game (like falling down and totally missing kicks) to let the Vietnamese team be one goal  ahead of them.  But then Pike gets so mad that he gets his comrades to win the game.  This makes their commander and the higher officers of both the American and the Vietnamese forces become very angry with the unit.  But before any punishment can be doled out to the unit, the Viet Cong launch an attack.  The company commander is killed.  Bisbee is killed when he fires at and kills a high South Vietnamese officer and others and a South Vietnamese soldier returns fire.  (Bisbee held them responsible for killing two young Vietnamese orphans he had befriended.)   Alvin jumps on a grenade to save some Vietnamese children and dies.  Washington and Pike survive.  (They send Pike home on a trumped of charge of a bad concussion.)  Washington helps form up the company and they march off the field. 

 

This is a pretty good movie about the Vietnam War.  The part about basic training was pretty much the usual, except the angry Washington gave it more oomph.  The dissatisfaction of the troops is stressed; a dissatisfaction that mirrors the unrest at home over the Vietnam War.   The emphasis on body count was very typical of the Vietnam War, even though these figures were usually unreliable.  Andrew Stevens as Pvt. Billy Ray Pike was nominated for a Golden Globe Award, but I thought Stan Shaw as Washington was better. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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