War Movie Mondays: ‘The Boys in Company C’

1978’s The Boys in Company C, along with Go Tell the Spartans, was one of the first Vietnam films to be made after the war. Directed by Sidney J. Furie, the film follows a group of young Marine recruits from Camp Pendeleton, California in late 1967 through the horrific Tet Offensive in January 1968.

The film stars Stan Shaw (Tyrone Washington), Andrew Stevens (in his golden globe winning performance) (Billy Ray Pike), James Canning (Alvin Foster) and Michael Lembeck (Vinnie Fazio). It also stars Craig Wasson (Dave Brisbee), Scott Hylands (Capt. Collins), James Whitmore Jr. (Lt. Archer) Noble Willingham (The Gunny), and R. Lee Ermey in his first major role as, you guessed it, as Drill Instructor Sgt. Loyce.

The film serves as a combat diary with Pvt. Alvin Foster as the film’s narrator. The five inductees form a strong bond of friendship with one another as they turn from raw recruits, into battle hardened Marines. The film is considered a drama, yet has very comedic elements to it. In one scene when the inductees take their oath as Marines, they are then sent to the barber where they are given their new regulation haircuts.

Brisbee (Wasson) is a pacifist who Ermey refers to as “Jesus” because he actually looks like Jesus. When they are filed into the barber a few at a time, Loyce (Ermey) tells one of the barbers to “Do a good job on Jesus for me.” Brisbee and the others then look in horror as to their new “high and tight” hairstyle.

As the film progresses, the five Marines are appalled at the ineffective leadership of their company commander Capt. Collins and his “Gung Ho” bravado which involves getting his men into a series of futile firefights with the enemy because he can’t read a map correctly, or he offers his company as convoy protection for their Army counterparts who are depicted as a bunch of heroin junkies.

Collins had told the company on their way over to Vietnam that it was only likely that two men in the company would die in actual combat. While protecting the U.S. Army General’s precious convoy which consists of a mobil home and many mod cons, the convoy falls under attack by the V.C. (Viet Cong) who kill several Marines in a short skirmish.

Brisbee tells Collins in disgust “Captain you’ve got your two dead men.” Once they arrive at the Army barracks, Brisbee gets even by placing a claymore mine under the General’s “mobil whorehouse” to blow it up.

The film offers a very cynical look at the war and just how corrupt and pathetic our Vietnamese allies were. Colonel No Long Dong, that’s right…”No Long Dong” is a high ranking official with a provincial police force, who is conspiring to traffic heroin down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He approaches Washington (Shaw) after he is arrested in a bar while trying to smuggle drugs back to the states. The Colonel hopes to do business with Washington and hopes to gain another strong American ally.

Ambushes, deceit and the overall insanity of the war begins to take its toll on the men as they find out quickly that war isn’t all its cracked up to be. Captain Collins has a plan to enter his men into a soccer championship with “The Dragons,” a team of South Vietnamese players. If they play their cards right, the men can spend the rest of their tour of duty behind the lines and possibly on tour playing in Japan or the Philippines.

The only catch is, they have to lose as to not show up their corrupt Vietnamese allies who are expected to beat the rag tag Americans for morale purposes. In a match, the Marines are expected by Collins to begin losing towards the second half and to basically lie down and let The Dragons win. In defiance of Collins and his superiors, pride gets in the way and the Marines have no intention of losing anything.  The end result is that nothing is as it seems in the chaos of Vietnam.

The Boys in Company C is a unique war film in that like I said, it has a lot of comedic elements which make it a war film that has always stood out among other films at the time which portrayed characters who were either trying to put the war behind them, or that they were unable to adjust to civilian life (e.g. Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, Taxi Driver).

Andrew Stevens’ character of Pike was so well played, that he was nominated for a Golden Globe. The Boys in Company C was always a latent kind of war movie which never really got much notice, but it is a film which truly shows the insanity and blind arrogance that America believed it could win a war against a tough, undefeated, and determined enemy.

The Boys in Company C is available on DVD through Hen’s Tooth Home Video, can be purchased through Amazon.com, or rented via Netflix.  

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