Thursday, January 31, 2008


The goings-on during an eventful couple of days at a Southern military college, seen mostly through the eyes of a freshman (George Peppard) and focused on the behavior of Jocko (Ben Gazarra), a sadistic bully who terrorizes students and faculty alike. The film opens with Gazarra and his dimwitted buddies (Pat Hingle and James Olson) barging in on Peppard and his dork roommate (Arthur Storch) one night after hours for a poker game. When Storch gets slapped around (as a hazing event, apparently), a cadet next door (Geoffrey Horne), the son of one of the schoolmasters, hears the commotion and reports them. They manage to clean things up and act innocent, but Gazarra punishes Horne by beating him up, forcing-feeding liquor down his throat, and throwing him down some stairs, so when he's found the next morning, it is assumed that Horne got drunk and battered by falling on his own. Horne is expelled, but his father (Larry Gates) discovers evidence that incriminates Gazarra. However, when he confronts Gazarra, the boy manages to turn things around and provokes Gates into hitting him, a punishable offense. This act, overheard by several cadets, is the turning point for Gazarra, and Peppard gets Hingle, Olson, and a dozen others to hold a sort of kangaroo court during which punishment is meted out to Gazarra.

This film is based on a play, "End as a Man" by Calder Willingham (which was itself based on a novel), and until the end, little attempt is made to open it up. Since practically all the scenes in the first two-thirds of the movie take place in small cadet dorm rooms, an appropriately claustrophobic atmosphere is maintained. Supposedly the play had a much stronger homoerotic subtext, which here is pretty much limited to two characters. The aforementioned Storch, who plays one of the most unpleasant characters I've ever encountered in a movie, is mostly an uppity, nerdish, chickenshit little twerp, and there is a brief reference to his apparently willful inexperience with women when Gazarra tries to foist him off on a hooker. However, the cadet called Cockroach (Paul E. Richards) has a perverse hero-worship crush on Gazarra, who refers to him as "a three-dollar bill"; he also has "artistic" leanings, and is writing a novel about Gazarra, calling his character Nightboy. There is one steamy scene in a group shower in which the naked Gazarra grabs the naked Richards, who refuses to shut up about his idealization of Gazarra, and soaps his head up, but aside from this moment (and, of course, the all-male surroundings), any homosexual element has to be read in by the audience. The performances are all good, especially Gazarra (who originated the part on Broadway) and Peppard in their movie debuts. Gazarra has the showier part, but Peppard is equally good (and quite handsome) as the passive observer, as is Olson in the smaller role of a dumb galoot of a jock--hard to reconcile this Olson with the father character I know him better as in RAGTIME 20 years later. Most of the actors look a bit old to be playing college-age men, especially Hingle who was over 30 at the time, but since they all look about the same age, it's not a bothersome element. Interesting mostly for its performances. [TCM]

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