14 July 2009

The Boys In Company C

US/Philippines – 1977
Director – Sidney J. Furie
Pacific Family Entertainment, 2002, DVD
Run time - 2 hours 5 min.

And so, my friend Daniel and I continue our brief foray into semi-obscure Vietnam War films.
This one was something of a myth when I first started studying the Vietnam War 10 years ago. Nobody gave a shit about Vietnam, and nobody gave a shit about a low budget indie feature about Vietnam. This movie wasn’t available anywhere which was tragic to a history nerd because it was supposed to be the earliest (fiction) movie that tackled the GI experience in the war. I couldn’t find it until years later on this low quality DVD that looks transferred from VHS, since then a newer and presumably nicer DVD has been released.

Boys In Company C predates Full Metal Jacket by a good 10 years, but you might think you’re watching an early screen test of the latter as a group of dumb kids line up and get their asses handed to them by a bunch of Marine Corps drill instructors led by R. Lee Ermey.
Each of the recruits is a narrow stereotype, and Ermey quickly gets them in line by sticking up for loner Tyrone Washington. Before induction Washington was a “street-wise” pimp who got drafted and now plans to ship heroin back to the States in body-bags (presaging American Gangster by a good 30 years.)

The boys all end up in Vietnam where each scene plays out as the height of irony, with all the legendary futility of 'Nam encapsulated in every scene. The men are nevertheless pitted against their distant, self-interested officers and resort to typical war movie stoicism. Alas, with all the ironic or wacky vignettes too little time has been devoted to generating much sympathy for any of them.
If it doesn’t have much new to offer the war genre, it is the first cinematic release to apply those clichés to the unique cultural milieu of Vietnam. Boys In Company C is if nothing else a historical hinge upon which the American war film turned from patriotism to cynicism. Its themes are nothing new, the men are still everyday heroes and victims of the “system”; only the system is no longer implicitly “good”.

In this way it might also be compared to some extent with Robert Altman’s 1970 classic M*A*S*H* (which was also a dig on Vietnam), for it tries with all it’s might to capture some of the same camaraderie and war weary insanity of its predecessor, right down to the big game at the end. In this case it’s a soccer game in which the boys are told to intentionally lose in order to make their South Vietnamese opponents feel good. For this humiliation they will earn their way out of combat into a plush multi-game circuit, but at the last minute tragedy strikes again in the form of more clumsy stoicism squeezed out under duress.

This gem was executive-produced by Raymond Chow, who founded Golden Harvest Pictures after he split with Shaw Brothers in 1970. Since then he has produced such classics as the China O’Brien series and the first three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films among numerous Chinese titles.
Director Furie has done a few other war films including the Iron Eagle series and another ‘Nam picture called Going Back.

In addition to coat-tailing a line from the MASH marketing scheme, this poster seems to be trying to appeal directly to Vietnam Veterans with the sub-script.

A nice 1 sheet from Movieposter.com with images from the film.

US VHS box art, the 2008 DVD, some other thing, A Spanish DVD, and a UK DVD.

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