Heartbreak Ridge (1986)




Director:     Clint Eastwood.

Starring:     Clint Eastwood (Gunnery Sgt. Tom 'Gunny' Highway), Marsha Mason (Aggie), Everett McGill (Major Malcolm A. Powers), Moses Gunn (Staff Sergeant Webster), Eileen Heckart (Little Mary Jackson), Bo Svenson (Roy Jennings, Palace Bar Owner), Boyd Gaines (Lieutenant M.R. Ring), Mario Van Peebles (Corporal 'Stitch' Jones), Arlen Dean Snyder (Sergeant Major Choozoo), Vincent Irizarry (Fragetti), Ramón Franco (Private Aponte), Tom Villard (Profile), Mike Gomez (Private Quinones), Rodney Hill (Private Collins), Peter Koch ('Swede' Johanson).

 Reagan sends in the Marines to save American medical on the Caribbean Island of Granada



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Scenes from newsreels of the War in Korea.

1983. Gunnery Sgt. Tom 'Gunny' Highway is in jail and telling war stories. A large man comes over and tells "Gunny": "I don't like soldier boys." Gunny tells him not to mess with him or he's gonna get hurt. The fellow makes some stupid comment and Gunny says he thinks war's just been declared. He gets up and hits the man about four or five times knocking him to the ground. Gunny goes back to sit down. The prisoner now pulls out a knife to do battle with Gunny. Gunny smacks him around again.

The judge warns Gunny that this is the last chance he is giving him. His punishment is a $100 dollar fine.

Major Devin wants to see Gunny ASAP. The Major complains that Gunny is requesting a transfer to a Fleet Marine Force unit. And this is the very unit Gunny got busted out of for insubordination and conduct unbecoming. Gunny is being transferred, but to the Second Recon Battalion, Second Marine Division.

The action is over at the Wagon Wheel Saloon. A black fellow called Stitch Jones gets up on the stage with his guitar. A couple of big red-necks don't like his music so they pick him up and carry him off the stage.

Stitch flags down a bus on which Gunny is riding. He's wet from standing out in the rain and the only seat available is right next to Gunny. Gunny doesn't care for the fellow from the start and tells Stitch: "Shut your face, hippie." Stitch tells him it's been a long time since there were any hippies around.

In the morning Gunny and Stitch are at the Halfway House Cafe. Gunny keeps threatening to hurt the fellow if he doesn't stop talking so much. The bus comes around. Gunny tells Stitch to tell the driver to wait for him. Stitch says he'll pay for the meal. Gunny gives him $2 dollars for the tip.  As soon as Gunny is in the restroom, Stitch takes the $2 dollars, tells the waitress Gunny is paying for the meal, grabs Gunny's bus ticket and heads out for the bus. The bus takes off. Gunny comes running out of the Cafe, but the bus is already gone.

Gunny reports to base to start his work. The Sergeant Major is happy to see Tom. He says Tom is back where he belongs. The uptight Major tells the sergeant major to bring Sgt. Highway over to see him.

The Sergeant Major says that Gunny saw action in the Korean War, the police action in the Dominican Republic in 1965 and three tours in Vietnam. The lieutenant says he has a excellent record so far in the military and he wants to keep it that way. He does not want Gunny to be involved in any public fighting or insubordination to civilian authority.

The lieutenant says that this is the new Marine Corps and characters like Gunny are anachronisms. Highway is assigned to the reconnaissance platoon. The lieutenant says he asks for marines but they keep sending him relics like Gunny. He adds that he wants those wayward fellows in recon to be whipped into shape.

Gunny runs into Lt. Ring, his platoon leader. Ring is much friendlier than the other officer, but Gunny says the man is playing the part of a Marine.

Gunny arrives at the Recon Platoon. Gunny is going to have to fight a bunch of disrespectful, wise-ass, lazy fellows. He turns off the music in the building and a fellow turns the music back on. So Gunny tosses the music box across the room breaking it into pieces.

Gunny starts telling the guys that he's in charge of recon platoon now put here by Major Powers. Coming out of the shower is none other than Stitch Jones. Stitch takes a big gulp when he sees Gunny again. Gunny tells the fellows to go out tonight and have a final blow-out because tomorrow morning at 6, their asses belong to him.

Gunny grabs Stitch by the ear and walks him across the street to the barracks so the sarge can recover the money stolen from him. The Gunny leaves. The guys start plotting against Gunny. They say when the Swede gets back, he'll take care of Gunny.

Gunny goes over to a bar called the Globe and Anchor. The older woman bar tender knows him and comes over to give him a big hug. The woman tells Gunny that Aggie is in town. Gunny says she better not be looking for more alimony. She says Aggie is cocktailing over at the Palace.

Later Gunny goes over to the Palace Inn. He sits down at the bar and sees Stitch Jones come up on stage to perform. Aggie comes over to get an order from the new customer and is shocked to see it's Tom Highway. She asks him what he wants and he says a beer.

The two exes don't start off well and the owner of the place, Roy Jennings, comes over to ask if there's a problem. Aggie introduces him to her ex.

Stitch gets into a little dispute with other marines and Roy comes over wanting to bust everybody's head. Gunny comes over to put a stop to this. He asks Roy: "You get off on rousting Marines?" Stitch tries to smooth things over, but Roy fires him.

Aggie is really upset at Tom for making a scene. She escorts him out of the place. She says he's trying to ruin something she has going with Roy. Tom says he expected better from his ex-wife.

Gunny goes in to see his platoon leader. The lieutenant asks where did Gunny go to college? Gunny says, Heartbreak Ridge. Gunny leaves. The lieutenant shakes his head and says he's never heard of that school.

Gunny really starts to work his men hard. They can't get away with anything when he's around. Gunny has the men running and then comes up behind them firing an AK-47 into the sand. It scares the hell out of the men.

Gunny has the men busy at the firing range, but one of the men is a real goof-ball and he manages to put his weapon on automatic and fire it straight down the line behind the other troops at firing practice. It scares the hell out of the guys down the line.

So now the Major is making Gunny's group do extra marching for the mess-up. The offender has to run around the whole platoon repeatedly while the platoon continues marching.

Gunny watches as Roy and Aggie get off work. He says he will follow behind her car until she gets home.

Now that Swede is here the guys are acting really tough. Swede takes a swing at Gunny but Gunny grabs his arm, bends it around painfully and then hits Sweden right in the face with his right hand. Swede is down and out!  And now all the guys run out into the street when Gunny tells them to fall out. Swede gets up and tells Gunny that he will wait outside for the MPs to pick him up. Gunny tells him no. Swede is going to become a proper Marine starting right now.

Gunny's platoon has to play the enemy for the Major's elite corps of men to practice their skills. Gunny doesn't like it one bit. So Gunny decides to set up an ambush of the Major's elite corps in a different area. And when the Major comes along he and his men are totally shocked when they are ambushed at a different location and all their electronic buzzers go off indicating that they are all dead. The Major is pissed.

The Major balls Gunny out, but Gunny says something really true: "If we go into combat tomorrow, you'll plant half those men." Gunny's platoon leader tells the Major that he gave Gunny permission to free-lance his men. The Major sends the platoon leader out of the room. The Major now says he is going to run Gunny out of the Marine Corps. "I'm going to enjoy watching you fall."

The Sergeant Major comes in the bar to talk with Gunny. The guys talk until the bar tender says that their C.O. called. Their battalion just went on red alert. The two pros rush out of the bar.

The platoons have to put all their gear on. Everyone gets into position just to hear that the alert has been canceled.

Gunny demands to know from Stitch were is Aponte? So Stitch takes Gunny over to Aponte's place. He has a wife and children. He says he has to work a second job because he doesn't make enough money from the Marine Corps. Gunny gives him some of his own money, but says Aponte will pay it back in time. The wife gives Gunny a kiss and Gunny and Stitch leave.

Gunny goes to see his ex. She lets him in, but starts balling him out for making her almost lose the only job she can find. Gunny starts asking her questions about what went wrong between them. He's been thinking about the past and his mistakes.  He starts giving her a neck massage. She gets angry and starts screaming at him that he is trying to outflank her with a new tactic. She chases him out of the house.

Stitch gets mad when he doesn't win the talent contest at the Palace Inn. So he gets thrown into jail. He finds Gunny in his cell drunk as a skunk.

Aggie posts bail for Gunny and he and Stitch walk out of the police station.

Aggie tells Gunny before they go any further, he has to know that she cannot put up with a marine. So she explains how she feels about how he treated her with his always going away to another war. She slaps him hard across the face twice.

The Sergeant Major explains to Stitch that Gunny got the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Heartbreak Ridge.

The platoons are going out on war exercises. Recon platoon has its men jump out of the back of a helicopter. The goal of the exercise is to be the first platoon to reach the Bear Pit. The Major is with his favorite platoon and they are near the Bear Pit, but Gunny thinks his men can out run the other platoon. Recon just does get there first, but the Major tells the referee that he has to call 1st Platoon the winner. The referee says no, but there will be a "matchup" between the two platoons.

The men wrestle with each other in the water. The idea is to push the other side out of the water. Recon wins! But the Major says 1st Platoon wins because Stitch grabbed the balls of two of the guys to incapacitate them. So the Major and Gunny have to fight it out. As expected, Gunny wins that contest.

The Major wants statements from the men of Gunny's platoon because Gunny used live ammunition with unauthorized weapons on the training exercises. The guys, however, won't cooperate. The 1st Platoon sergeant has to go away empty-handed.

Gunny and the Sergeant Major go to a party for the NCOs. While there Gunny decides to sneak out the back door. He is stopped, however, with the arrival of Aggie. She asks him to dance with her and off they go. Aggie tells Tom that Roy has asked her to marry him. Tom wants to know what Aggie's answer was?

There is an interruption and a speaker says: "The 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit's alert status has just been upgraded. All officers and staff NCOs will immediately return to their units."

Gunny is with his platoon and a lot of other Marines on board an aircraft carrier. He tells his men: "We're going to the island of Grenada to rescue American citizens there." Lt. Ring says Grenada is a Caribbean island 86 nautical miles northeast of Venezuela, South America. The men will be taken by helicopter to a small bay and they will do reconnaissance in advance of the units arriving later.

The guys get on the helicopter and off they go. Other Marines are being transported to the island by amphibious landing boats. As the low-flying copter nears the beach the platoon members start jumping into the water. Some of the amphibious landing craft land on the beach.

Gunny and his men run into a firefight. After awhile, the amount of fire coming from the platoon is too much fore the Grenadan defenders and they run out of there. The men slowly start going after the enemy.

Gunny shoots a couple of the enemy. He says it was a three-man recon group and there will be more in the area. The men spread out and advance.

By a bridge there is an enemy check point. Another firefight begins. Gunny tells Stitch to get into the piece of highway building equipment, a front-end loader, and knock over the machine gun nest. The guys follow behind the piece of equipment.

The enemy quickly runs away, except for a few who are killed. Now the fight is for the bridge. A grenade launcher tosses a grenade and takes the machine gun nest out at the other end of the bridge. One of the American soldiers examines a dead body and asks for forgiveness. A woman steps out of a shower naked. When she sees Stitch she quickly puts her towel around her. (brief nudity)

The unit finds where the medical students have been staying and get a warm response from the students for saving them.

When Major Powers arrives Gunny tells him that they met resistance from Cuban regulars with Russian rifles. Powers is not impressed. Powers gets a message to recon a nearby hill. He tells Gunny to do it, but he is to wait for Foxtrot Company before beginning any assault.

Trucks filled with students pull out to head for the ships. At the hill the Cubans attack the Americans partly using a tank to hide behind. The Americans use a nearby concrete structure from which to fight the enemy. Gunny tells his men that it's not a good idea to be using the building as a defensive position. Their radio man has been wounded and is unconscious. The lieutenant tells Gunny that it was he who brought them into the building. Gunny tells him it's okay, but just don't make the same mistake twice.

Gunny goes outside to put down markers for any help coming their way. The tank explodes a shell in his vicinity and Gunny goes down. The lieutenant leads the men outside. They are pinned down. Now the helicopters arrive and fire their rockets at the enemy.

Gunny turns out to be okay. The lieutenant tells the devil dogs to take the hill. The troops take the little town on top of the hill. They head over to an old defensive position complete with old fashioned cannon. They use their grenades to blow a hole into a building where they hear Cubans speaking Spanish.

The Cuban soldiers give up and come walking out peacefully. Gunny has a Cuban cigar and lights it up. Major Powers arrives saying Gunny disobeyed a direct order. When the commander arrives by helicopter he praises Gunny and balls the hell out of Major Powers.

The troops arrive back at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina by transport plane. When they get off the plane Stitch tells Gunny that he's going to stay in the Marines. The wives and families are there to meet and greet the men.

No one is there for Gunny. That is, until he sees Aggie in the reviewing stand. The two walk off together.



Enjoyable film with the great Clint Eastwood.  Interesting story about an old "relic" of the Marine Corps who is a bit out of touch and out of sorts in peace-time America.  He is near to retirement and gets a transfer back to his old base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  There he is assigned to whip a recon unit into shape.  And the recon unit is a real mess with almost no discipline.  The tough Gunny sergeant, however, is much tougher than all the enlisted men in the unit put together.  Sometimes he even has to use his fists to establish his authority in the unit.  He's a rough, tough, gruff man, but he also is tired and wants to end his career on a high note, accomplishing something good before he goes out.

The fight with the recon unit isn't half as hard as the Gunny's other problem: his ex-wife.  Gunny has to read up on how to treat a woman right and not like just another marine, but prettier.  Gunny does, however, work hard on changing his attitudes and actions toward women. 

The last part of the film deals with the crisis in Grenada.  US President Ronald Reagan sends  in the troops to rescue the American medical students down there.  As always, Eastwood is great.  Also great was Mario Van Peebles (as Corporal 'Stitch' Jones).  Honorable mention goes to Marsha Mason as the ex-wife Aggie. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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