Heartbreak Ridge theatrical poster
|Directed by||Clint Eastwood|
|Produced by||Clint Eastwood|
|Written by||James Carabatsos
Mario Van Peebles
|Music by||Lennie Niehaus
|Cinematography||Jack N. Green|
|Editing by||Joel Cox|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release dates||December 5, 1986|
|Running time||130 minutes|
Heartbreak Ridge is a 1986 American war film, produced, directed by, and starring Clint Eastwood. The story involves the actions of a small group of Marines during the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada. A portion of the movie was filmed on the island itself. Mario Van Peebles, Marsha Mason, and Everett McGill appear in supporting roles.
Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway (Eastwood) is nearing mandatory retirement from the Marine Corps when he finagles a transfer back to his old unit. On the bus trip to his new assignment, he meets fellow passenger "Stitch" Jones (Van Peebles), a flashy wannabe rock musician who borrows money for a meal at a rest stop and then steals his bus ticket, leaving him stranded.
When Highway finally arrives at the base, he finds that his new Operations Officer, Major Malcolm Powers (Everett McGill), is an Annapolis graduate who transferred over from Supply and has not had the "privilege" of combat. He sees Highway as an anachronism in the "new" Marine Corps, and assigns him to shape up the reconnaissance platoon, which is made up of undisciplined Marines who had been allowed to slack off by their previous platoon sergeant. Among his new charges, Highway finds none other than Corporal Stitch Jones. Highway quickly takes charge and starts the men on a rigorous training program. They make a last-ditch attempt to intimidate Highway with "Swede" Johanson (Peter Koch), a large, heavily muscled Marine just released from the brig, but their plan fails and they eventually begin to shape up and develop esprit de corps.
Highway repeatedly clashes with Powers and Staff Sergeant Webster (Moses Gunn) over his unorthodox training methods, such as firing live ammunition from an AK-47 over his men's heads to familiarize them with the weapon's distinctive sound. Powers makes it clear that he views Highway's platoon as only a training tool for his own elite outfit. Major Powers goes so far as to script and make the Recon platoon lose in every field exercise. However, Highway is supported by old friend Sergeant Major Choozoo (Arlen Dean Snyder) and his nominal superior officer, the college educated but awkward and inexperienced Lieutenant Ring (Boyd Gaines). After Highway's men learn that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor in the Korean War, they gain respect for him and close ranks and support him against Powers and Webster.
Highway also has more personal problems. His ex-wife Aggie (Marsha Mason) is working as a waitress in a local bar and dating the owner, Marine-hater Roy Jennings (Bo Svenson). Highway attempts to adapt his way of thinking enough to win Aggie back, even resorting to reading Cosmopolitan magazine to gain insights into the female mind. Initially, Aggie is bitter over their failed marriage, but tentatively reconciles with Highway before his unit is activated for the invasion of Grenada.
After a last-minute briefing in the hangar bay of the amphibious assault ship Saipan, Highway's platoon mounts their UH-1 Huey, and are dropped by helocast into the water in advance of the rest of the Battalion Landing Team. While advancing inland, they come under heavy fire. Highway improvises, ordering Jones to use a bulldozer to provide cover so they can advance on and destroy an enemy machine gun nest. They subsequently rescue American students from a medical school. Later, when they are trapped in a building by enemy armor and infantry, radioman Profile (Tom Villard) is killed and his radio destroyed, cutting them off from direct communication. Lieutenant Ring shows previously unexhibited leadership qualities and comes up with the idea of using a telephone to make a long distance call to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to call in air support. Later, despite Powers's explicit orders to the contrary, the men take out a key position and capture enemy soldiers. When Powers finds out, he chews them out and threatens Highway with a court-martial, before his commanding officer, Colonel Meyers, arrives and reprimands Powers for discouraging initiative and fighting spirit.
When Highway and his men return to the United States, they are met by a warm reception. Aggie is there to welcome him back, and to Highway's dismay, Jones informs him that he is going to stay and make a career for himself in the Marines, while Highway takes his mandatory retirement.
- Clint Eastwood as Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway
- Marsha Mason as Aggie
- Everett McGill as Major Malcolm A. Powers
- Moses Gunn as Staff Sergeant Luke Webster
- Eileen Heckart as Mary Jackson
- Mark Mattingly as Franco "One Ball" Peterson
- Bo Svenson as Roy Jennings
- Boyd Gaines as Lieutenant M.R. Ring
- Mario Van Peebles as Corporal "Stitch" Jones
- Arlen Dean Snyder as Sergeant Major Choozoo
- Vincent Irizarry as Lance Corporal Fragetti
- Ramón Franco as Lance Corporal Aponte (as Ramon Franco)
- Tom Villard as "Profile"
- Mike Gomez as Corporal Quinones
- Rodney Hill as Corporal Collins
- Peter Koch as Sergeant "Swede" Johanson
- Richard Venture as Colonel Meyers
Screenwriter James Carabatsos, a Vietnam veteran of the 1st Cavalry Division, was inspired by an account of American paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division using a pay telephone and a credit card to call in fire support during the invasion of Grenada, and fashioned a script of a Korean War veteran career Army non-commissioned officer passing on his values to a new generation of soldiers. Eastwood was interested in the script and asked his producer, Fritz Manes, to contact the US Army with a view of filming the movie at Fort Bragg.
However, the U.S. Army read the script and refused to participate, due to Highway being portrayed as a hard drinker, divorced from his wife, and using unapproved motivational methods to his troops, an image the Army did not want. The Army called the character a "stereotype" of World War II and Korean War attitudes that did not exist in the modern army and also did not like the obscene dialogue and lack of reference to women in the army. Eastwood pleaded his case to an Army general, contending that while the point of the film was that Highway was a throwback to a previous generation, there were values in the World War II and Korean War era army that were worth emulating.
Eastwood approached the United States Marine Corps, which expressed some reservations about some bits of the film, but provided support. The character was then changed to a Marine (this raised some conceptual difficulties, given that the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge primarily involved the U.S. Army. This is explained very briefly in the film when Sergeant Major Choozoo tells some of the younger troops that he and Highway were in the 2nd Infantry Division at the time and "joined the Corps later"). The Marine Corps first cooperated with the film project by allowing much of the filming to be done at Camp Pendleton. The Marines planned to use it to promote its "Toys for Tots" campaign, but upon viewing a first cut, quickly disowned the film because of the language. Marines who viewed the film cited numerous issues with the way they were portrayed. Highway's commanding officer is repeatedly shown disparaging and insulting him. In reality, this would have been extremely unlikely, given Highway's Medal of Honor. Much of the "training" done before the Grenada invasion was highly inaccurate and Highway's Marine Recon unit did not have a Navy Corpsman (the Marine Corps are lent by the Navy medical personnel in a TAD/TDY status) to deal with his men when injured, when in real life Marines usually have Navy Corpsman (Fleet Marine Force Sailors equivalent to an Army Combat Medic) with them to take care of the Marines that get injured in combat. Even on a relatively small budget, the technical advice was poor. The US Defense Department originally supported the film, but withdrew its backing after seeing a preview in November 1986. Eastwood was paid $6 million for directing and starring in the film.
The sequence involving the bulldozer is based on a real event involving Army General John Abizaid, former commander of US Central Command (July 2003 - March 2007). "In the U.S. Invasion of Grenada in 1983, Abizaid improvised an attack on a Cuban bunker by having his unit take cover behind a charging bulldozer".
The scene in which Lieutenant Ring must resort to using a credit card in order to communicate with his commanders was also based on real-life events involving Army paratroopers.
Music and soundtrack
The score for the film was originally composed by American saxophonist Lennie Niehaus and Desmond Nakano. The music score was mixed by Robert Fernandez and edited by Donald Harris. The sound effects in the film were supervised by Robert G. Henderson and Alan Robert Murray. The mixing of the sound effects were done by Bill Nelson.
The final scene of the movie in which GySgt Highway's platoon returns to the United States features the 1st Marine Division Band (a fact which betrays the reality that the scene was filmed on the west coast, not at Cherry Point where the scene is intended to take place).
Reaction to the film was generally positive. Among reviews, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times, gave the film three stars and noted how the movie, "has as much energy and color as any action picture this year, and it contains truly amazing dialogue." Ebert also complimented director Eastwood mentioning how he "caresses the material as if he didn't know B movies have gone out of style." Paul Attanasio of the Washington Post solidly agreed saying, "Those with an endless appetite for this sort of tough-man-tender-chicken melodrama will enjoy watching Clint go up against these young punks and outrun, outshoot, outdrink and outpunch them, in the process lending an idea of what it means to be a . . . Marine." Another Washington Post staff writer Rita Kempley, offered a different view commenting, "always fun to see misguided machismo properly channeled into service of God, country or the National Hockey League.–Isn't that the trouble with combat movies these days? From Top Gun to First Blood to Clint Eastwood's entertaining action drama Heartbreak Ridge, the empty-foxhole syndrome makes for non-endings." The Variety staff at Variety Magazine, added to the encouraging reviews exclaiming, "Heartbreak Ridge offers another vintage Clint Eastwood performance. There are enough mumbled half-liners in this contemporary war pic to satisfy those die-hards eager to see just how he portrays the consummate marine veteran." Vincent Canby of The New York Times expressed his satisfaction with the film too. He mused, "As the gritty, raspy-voiced sergeant, Mr. Eastwood's performance is one of the richest he's ever given. It's funny, laid-back, seemingly effortless, the sort that separates actors who are run-of-the-mill from those who have earned the right to be identified as stars."
In terms of negative feedback, reviewer Derek Smith of the Apollo Movie Guide voiced his opinion saying, "there is not enough substance to Gunny to make him interesting enough to be the central character of a film, and since the movie offers nothing new or fresh, it just feels dull and uninteresting."
The film won the BMI Film Music Award for Lennie Niehaus and the Image Award in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for Mario Van Peebles. The film also received a nomination, from the Academy Awards for Best Sound for Les Fresholtz, Dick Alexander, Vern Poore and Bill Nelson.
At its widest distribution in the U.S., the film was screened at 1,647 theaters grossing $8,100,840 in its opening weekend. During that first weekend in release, the film opened in second place behind Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Revenue dropped by 41% in its second week of release, earning $4,721,454. During its final weekend showing in theaters, the film grossed $1,040,729. It went on to take in a total of $42,724,017 in ticket sales during a seven-week theatrical run and a worldwide total of $121,700,000. It ranked 18th at the box office for 1986.
The film was initially released in VHS video format on April 1, 1992. The Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on October 1, 2002. The widescreen edition of the film was released on Blu-ray in the United States on June 1, 2010.
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- At Least Some Marines Are Gung-ho For 'Ridge' - Los Angeles Times, 3 December 1986
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- Kempley, Rita (December 5, 1986). 'Heartbreak Ridge'. Washington Post. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
- Variety Staff, (January 1, 1986). Heartbreak Ridge Film Review. Variety Magazine. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
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