“The Boys in Company C” is the first in a trilogy of Vietnam War films by director Sidney Furie (the others are “Under Heavy Fire” and “The Veteran”). It was released in 1978, the same year as “The Deer Hunter”, “Coming Home”, and “Go Tell the Spartans”. And one year ahead of the similarly structured “Apocalypse Now”. The first half of the movie is the boot camp section and the rest of the movie takes place in Vietnam. The movie has its fans and is sometimes mentioned on lists of the best Vietnam War movies.
The story begins in 1967 at an Marine base for boot camp. Our heterogeneous unit of recruits arrives. Alvin (James Canning) is a budding writer and will keep a diary and be the narrator. The other members are also stereotypes. Vinnie (Michael Lembeck) is the scheming, ladies’ man because he is Italian-American. He is from Brooklyn, of course. Washington (Stan Shaw) is the belligerent urban black. Brisbee (Craig Wasson) is the hippie. Billy Ray (Andrew Stevens) is the gung-ho cracker. Hair cutting scene. In the barracks it turns out that our crew is dysfunctional, but the movie does not follow up on this. They are trained by Staff Sergeant Loyce (R. Lee Ermey). (According to legend, Stanley Kubrick was not aware of this when he hired the supposedly green Ermey to play the same role in “Full Metal Jacket”.) Ermey is actually Drill Instructor lite compared to Master Sergeant Aquilla (Santos Morales) who gets the scene chewing reamings. Training montage. Trips to the brig. Before shipping his charges off to the Nam, Loyce tries to convince Washington to step up into a leadership role. I assume he looked at the rest of the men and decided the best he could do was a ghetto thug.
|"I want you to lead this unit into combat and trust|
that you will not try to smuggle large quantities of drugs"
On the troop ship headed for Vietnam, their CO trains them in Viet Cong tactics by likening the war to a soccer match. Clumsy foreshadowing of the climax of the movie. The commander is an incompetent buffoon, naturally. The movie now proceeds into a series of vignettes proving that the war was a farce meant to advance the careers of American officers and the fortunes of South Vietnamese leaders. They go on patrols, they get ambushed, they frag a general’s trailer. The usual stuff. Meanwhile, the man Loyce tabbed as the leader is working out a deal to smuggle drugs back to his homies in body bags. Vinny and Alvin are doing their imitation of Rivera and Friedman from “A Walk in the Sun”. This all builds up to the climactic soccer match against a loathsome ARVN general’s squad. If they take a dive, they will be taken out of combat. To avoid going to Khe Sanh, all these Americans have to do is the one thing Americans cannot do – play to lose. (The scenario is similar to that of “Victory”.)
As I mentioned, this movie is highly regarded by some people I respect. However, I do not see where they are coming from. “The Boys in Company C” is a truly terrible war movie. The acting is bad. The cast is too sincere. Plus it is a second rate cast. Most of the actors were unknowns and tellingly, most remained relatively unknown. Ermey went on to build on his performance and Stevens had a nice career, but the rest were appropriately forgotten. They were not helped by the lame and heavy-handed script. The characters are shameful clichés and the scenes are predictable. The dialogue is cringe-inducing. As a tutorial on the war, the movie is poor. The tactics are the reflection of a screenwriter who knows little of the war. The unit exhibits no fire discipline and no security while on missions. A claymore is used to blow up the general’s trailer. Do some research please!
|"Use your feet to kick the ball!"|
The movie would be tolerable if it did not devolve to one of the worst endings of any war movie. The soccer match is a blot on both the sport and war movies. As a soccer coach, I can assure you nothing about the match is based in reality. You do not need to be a fan to know that a baseball player (no matter how good the athlete) like Billy Ray is not going to go one-on-eleven against more talented players and score a goal. Keep in mind that the rest of the American team consists of nonathletes who have never played soccer . At least in “Victory”, the screenwriter put soccer stars on the team and put the only dufus (Sylvester Stallone’s Yank) in goal. At least in “MASH” the culminating football game was intentionally funny. To make matters worse, the ridiculous soccer match in “Boys” leads into a culminating scene that is laughable and ends any chance for the movie to go out with its head held high.
1978 was a great year for Vietnam War movies - in spite of the release of this piece of crap. It reminds me a lot of "Siege of Firebase Gloria". Both have R. Lee Ermey in them and both have fans. I love R. Lee, but I can not put either movie in the top ten Vietnam War movies. In fact, both are among the worst movies set in that war.
GRADE = F