by Sam Juliano
This is a continuation of a long dormant series that will examine films from the 1970′s and 1980′s that were either forgotten, undervalued or misunderstood at the time of their release, but now seen in a far better light by critics and/or audiences.
Originally shown on HBO under the title The Ace in early 1979, what was originally seen as a conventional television drama, eventually morphed into a big-screen release re-titled to conform with the novel that spawned it. Indeed, Pat Conroy’s autobiographical The Great Santini was an acclaimed work that expanded on an eulogy given for his own father, one that bluntly asserted that “the children of fighter pilots tell different stories than other kids do.” But unexpectedly, and with little initial fanfare, it gave celebrated actor Robert Duvall one of the best roles of his career, one that brought him an Academy Award nomination in the year that Robert DeNiro prevailed for Raging Bull. Duvall’s electrifying macho turn as “Bull Meechum”, a marine-training pilot, who works out of Beauford, South Carolina in 1962 is a wholly charismatic portrayal that play’s to the actor’s strengths. Meechum’s war-time sensibility is hardly attuned to peace time domesticity, and with a ferocious rage he treats the members of his family as if they were recruits for an exacting even oppressive commando training. Yet, he’s an inveterate drinker and practical joker, one who’s as adverse to protocol as he is for strict enforcement of rules in the dictatorial management of his household. But Bull Meachum is no kin to the inhuman characters portrayed by Lee Emery in Full Metal Jacket nor Mark Metcalf as cadet commander Doug Niedermeyer in Animal House. He’s painted by Conroy and director Lewis John Carlino as a larger-than-life mountain of hubris and twisted priority, a flawed character whose inner sensitivity is hidden behind a facade of misguided self-assurance and inflated bravado, one who calls everyone “sports fan,” issues “direct orders” and fully expects to be addressed as “Sir” at all times. He’s a slightly altered variation of Duvall’s own Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore from Apocalypse Now. (more…)