Hollywood hasn’t been eager to make movies about Vietnam, maybe because the studios fear that the divisions opened up in our society by the war still haven’t healed. Only one feature was actually released during the war -- John Wayne’s hawkish “The Green Berets” (and how long ago it seems when “hawks” and “doves” were emotionally charged words). Three movies about returned Vietnam vets have been released, or will be soon: “Heroes,” “Rolling Thunder” and “Coming Home.”
But Sidney J. Furie’s “The Boys In Company C” is the first movie since 1968 about actual combat in Vietnam (Francis Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” will be the second, if it ever completes its interminable post-production). Furie’s movie is, in other words, a “war movie,” a member of a genre that seemed more brave and thrilling in the days of World War II and Korea, when John Wayne was storming up hills.
And it’s being attacked on just those grounds: The newsweeklies charge that it takes the old Hollywood clichés arid simply transplants them to Southeast Asia. I don't agree. I think the movie is, first and best, a thrilling entertainment that starts by being funny and ends by being very deeply moving. But I also think it reflects an attitude about Vietnam that wouldn’t have been possible in a war movie of the early 1940s.
Vietnam just wasn’t like other wars, and you can sense that in the movie’s first scenes, as a company of Marine recruits awkwardly tries to find its way through boot camp. If there’s an esprit de corps here, it’s one the Marines have to find by themselves, and on their own. The hard-as-nails, tough-talking drill instructors (cast, by the way, from real life) don’t mention duty or patriotism much, but there’s a lot of talk about how these guys had better learn to save their asses or they’ll come back in body bags. The Marines are seen as a pragmatic instrument to send trained infantry to where they’re needed; you don’t hear anyone singing “From the Halls of Montezuma.”