29 May 2005 | thelist-2
Real Sailors, Warts and All
Ever since 9/11, you hear a lot of fluff in the press about our "heroes" in the armed services. Typically they are portrayed as wide-eyed, short hair enthusiasm and commitment machines. It's a nice image, but the real version is much more human, much more interesting and much more likable.
I was a naval officer for seven years. The best part of my service was the wonderful opportunity to get to know the many men and women who make up the enlisted ranks of our armed services. They tend to be from the rural towns of the south and Midwest or the inner city ghettos. Most of them were average students with limited financial prospects. The ones who succeed in the ranks enough to stay for 20 years do so because the Navy is the first place where they belong. And because they enjoy the job. They get good at it and they believe that what they are doing is much more rewarding and challenging than their friends back home.
They also love to party. To drink and to chase skirts and raise hell. They feel entitled to and they are almost always out for a good time without hurting anyone. They also love to mentor the younger sailors to show them how to survive and how to enjoy the time in.
The details of this movie are wonderful. The dreary time in transit, ironing uniforms and staring at the walls. Wanting to be at sea, something that few people can imagine until they've done it. The thrill of a few days per diem to blow in bars. The resignation of being a lifer and above all the nature of Navy friendships.
Jack Nicholson's character and Otis Young's are not natural friends. They probably wouldn't have time for one another in any other line of work, but having the shared experience of being First Class Petty Officers at the same base is enough for them to be comfortable with one another and to enjoy each other's company. They also both take to the young kid and they both know how to treat him because they've been doing it for so long.
I can't tell you how real these characters were to me. I can's say "Oh Jack reminds me of GSM1 So-and-so and Otis reminds me of QM1 Whatshisname". IT's too real for that. They both remind me of many, many people I had the good fortune to work with.
And they are flawed. They lack the guts to spare Randy Quad from this injustice. They don't even stick together on the way back to Norfolk, probably because they know they did something less than wonderful to the young man. They are indoctrinated but not inhuman.
I also enjoyed seeing shades of Jack's work in "One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest". Bad-ass is kind of a rough draft of his McMuphy. This is Jack at his finest.
Randy Quaid's performance made me feel a little bit sad. Not just for the character, but for the actor. He had so much talent back then and somehow he got pigeon holed playing big dopes. He certainly has as much talent as his younger brother but not the leading man looks. I don't think I'll ever see him in the Vaction movies without cringing. He should have become so much more. (Of course his other work is entertaining but it's never touching or through provoking as it is here.) And Otis Young was terrific too. I'm not sure why he never got more good roles, but this is something to be proud of.
In short, this is the most realistic navy movie I've ever seen. If you're thinking about enlisting, or if a loved one is, this is not a bad way to see what the navy does to a man-good and bad. And it's funny that they do this without ever setting foot on a vessel.
I want to find the poster and hang it on my walls next to my commission.