Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The D.I. (1957) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Jack Webb plays the title role in THE D.I. (1957), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Webb also directed this film, from a screenplay by James Lee Barrett. He plays Sgt. Jim Moore, a tough as nails drill sergeant tasked with turning a platoon of young men from disparate backgrounds into Marines.

The thorn in his side is Private Owens (Don Dubbins), who frequently requests to go to sick bay and doesn't seem to want to be there. Sgt. Moore uses every trick in the book to try to toughen up the young man and keep him from washing out, but nothing seems to be working.

In his rare spare time, the sergeant romances Annie (Jackie Loughery), a local store clerk who's attracted but tries to discern if the sergeant really has room in his life for anything but the Marines. Offscreen, Loughery was married to Webb from 1958 to 1964.

I love Jack Webb and his style and have watched many of his movies and TV shows, but I found this one somewhat tough going. I've read numerous reviews that it's a realistic depiction of '50s Marine Corps training, but it's not very pleasant to watch Webb and his men yelling at the top of their lungs through most of the movie. It's a little hard on the ears after a while!

Similarly, I know that his tactics were meant to turn the men into a cohesive unit who would support each other and respond to orders without question, helping to ensure their survival in combat, but at times I thought "There must be a better way than this sheer, utter misery." Incidentally, most of the Marines in the film were actual Marines, not actors.

The scenes which took place away from the recruits were the best in the film for me, including moments as simple as the sergeant pouring himself coffee, when we see him differently, alone and exhausted. His desire to connect with Annie and have a relationship is touching, as the normally loud-mouthed man grapples for the words to explain himself.

Another nice break was provided by Monica Lewis as a bouncy nightclub singer. Her couple of scenes have little to do with the rest of the film, but Webb appreciated good music and perhaps he knew the audience needed a break from the yelling! It also gives Webb a chance to show the sergeant's "human" side, enjoying a night out.

Webb "regular" Virginia Gregg has a scene with a chance to shine, playing Private Owens' mother, who has lost her husband and two sons in war but wants her son to follow through on his commitment to the Marines.

There's a neat ending to the film, thanking the individual Marines who appeared in the movie and thanking the Marines for their cooperation; additional cards then thank the Marines for a long list of names such as Tripoli, Tarawa, and Iwo Jima. Despite my reservations, in some ways it was a nice patriotic film to watch on the 4th of July!

P.S. Regarding the plaque seen at the start of the film -- the Marines needed a proofreader!

THE D.I. was filmed in black and white by Edward Colman. It runs 106 minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD is a nice widescreen print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

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