Stripes (film)

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Stripes
Stripesposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Produced by
Written by
Starring
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Bill Butler
Edited by
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • June 26, 1981 (1981-06-26)
Running time
106 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $10 million
Box office $85,297,000[1]

Stripes is a 1981 American military comedy film directed by Ivan Reitman, starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P. J. Soles, Sean Young and John Candy. Several actors including John Larroquette, John Diehl, Conrad Dunn and Judge Reinhold were featured in their first significant film roles. Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas, Timothy Busfield and Bill Paxton also appear early in their careers.

Plot[edit]

John Winger is a cab driver, who, in the span of a few hours, loses his job, his apartment, his car, and his girlfriend. Realizing that his life is a failure, he decides to join the United States Army. Talking his best friend Russell Ziskey (a teacher of English to foreign students) into joining with him, they go to a recruiting office and are soon off to basic training.

Upon arrival at Fort Arnold, they meet their fellow recruits, and their drill sergeant, Sergeant Hulka. Moments after arriving, John offends Sgt. Hulka and is ordered out to do push-ups. He stands out as a misfit throughout the rest of basic training. Their commanding officer is the incompetent Captain Stillman. As basic training progresses, Russell and John become close to female MPs Louise Cooper and Stella Hansen. Not long before graduation, Sgt. Hulka is injured when Stillman orders a mortar crew to fire without setting target coordinates.

The men go to a mud wrestling bar, where John convinces Dewey "Ox" Oxberger to wrestle a group of women. When the club is raided by MPs and police, Stella and Louise cover for John and Russell. The rest of the platoon is taken back to base to face an irritated Captain Stillman, who threatens to force them to repeat basic training.

After partying with Stella and Louise, the buddies return to the barracks, and John motivates the platoon with a rousing speech and begins to get them in shape for graduation. After a long night of drilling, they oversleep and almost miss the ceremony. They rush to the parade grounds out of uniform and give an unconventional yet highly coordinated drill display led by John. General Barnicke is impressed when he finds out that they had to complete training without a drill sergeant, and decides they are just the kind of "go-getters" he wants working on his EM-50 project in Italy.

Once in Italy, the platoon is reunited with a recovered Sgt. Hulka and assigned to guard the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle. Bored with their assignment, John and Russell steal the EM-50 to visit their girlfriends, stationed in West Germany. When Stillman finds the EM-50 missing, he launches an unauthorized mission to get the vehicle back before his superiors find out it is gone. Hulka urges Stillman not to go, but is overruled.

Stillman inadvertently leads the platoon across the border into Czechoslovakia. Hulka, realizing where they are, jumps out of the truck just before it is captured. He makes a Mayday radio call, and John and Russell realize that the platoon came looking for them and that their friends are in trouble. John, Russell, Stella, and Louise take the EM-50 and infiltrate a Russian base where the platoon is being held. With some assistance from Hulka, they free everyone.

Upon returning to the United States, John, Russell, Louise, Stella, and Hulka are treated as heroes, each being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Hulka retires and opens the HulkaBurger franchise. Stella appears on the cover of Penthouse, Ox makes the cover of Tiger Beat, Russell recreates his firefight with the Russians for Soldier of Fortune magazine and rates them as "pussies", and John is featured on the cover of Newsworld (a parody of Newsweek). Captain Stillman is reassigned to a weather station near Nome, Alaska.

Cast[edit]

Notable cast members are listed in closing credits order.

Production[edit]

On his way to the premiere of Meatballs, Ivan Reitman thought up the idea for a film: "Cheech and Chong join the army".[2] He pitched it to Paramount Pictures and they greenlit the film that day. Len Blum and Dan Goldberg wrote the screenplay in Toronto and read it to Reitman, who was in Los Angeles, over the phone. The director, in turn, would give the writers notes. Cheech and Chong's manager thought the script was very funny; however, the comedy duo wanted complete creative control. Reitman then suggested to Goldberg that they change the two main characters to ones suited for Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, figuring if they could get Ramis interested and let him tailor the script for the two of them, he could convince Murray to do it.[2]

Ramis had already co-written National Lampoon's Animal House and Meatballs, but was relatively unknown as a film actor.[2] His best-known acting work prior to Stripes was as a cast member for the late-night TV sketch comedy Second City Television, which he had quit a few years earlier.[3] Columbia Pictures did not like Ramis's audition but Reitman told the studio that he was hiring the comedian anyway.[2] P. J. Soles reported that Dennis Quaid had read for the role of Russell and that Ramis was reluctant to appear in the film, but that Murray told Ramis he did not wish to work with anyone else and would leave the film unless he played the other principal.[4]

Casting director Karen Rea saw Conrad Dunn on the stage and asked him to read for the role of Francis "Psycho" Soyer in New York.[5] Judge Reinhold played Elmo, who was given the best jokes from the Cheech and Chong draft of the screenplay. Sean Young was cast based on her looks, and Reitman felt that her "sweetness" would go well with Ramis.[2] Soles tested with Murray and they got along well together. John Diehl had never auditioned before and won his first paying job as an actor. Goldberg knew John Candy from Toronto and told Reitman that he should be in the film; he was not required to audition.[2]

Reitman was a fan of the westerns that Warren Oates had been in and wanted someone who was strong and that everyone respected to control the film's misfit platoon. Reinhold said that during filming Oates would tell stories about working on films like The Wild Bunch and they would be enthralled. Reitman wanted "a little bit of weight in the center", and had a serious argument between Hulka and Winger.[2] It was not played for laughs and allowed Murray to do something he had not done before. During filming one of the obstacle courses scenes, Reitman told the actors to grab Oates and drag him into the mud without telling the veteran actor about it to see what would happen and get a genuine reaction. Oates' front tooth got chipped in the process and he yelled at Reitman for what he did.[2]

Every scene had some element of improvisation due in large part to Murray and Ramis. Much of the mud wrestling scene was made up on the spot by Reitman. Candy felt uncomfortable during filming, but Reitman talked him through it. The spatula scene in the kitchen of the general's house was filmed at three in the morning, after the cast and crew had been up the entire day. Murray improvised the "Aunt Jemima Treatment" sequence and Soles reacted naturally to whatever he said and did.[2]

Filming began in Kentucky in November 1980, then moved to California in December. Principal photography ended on Stage 20 at Burbank Studios on January 29, 1981. The production was allowed to shoot the army base scenes at Fort Knox, the city scenes in Louisville, and the Czechoslovakia scenes at the closed Chapeze Distillery (owned by Jim Beam) in Clermont, with a budget of $9–10 million and a 42-day shooting schedule. Reitman was amazed that they got the Department of Defense's cooperation.

Dunn remembered Candy inviting the men in the platoon to his house while filming was under way, for a homemade spaghetti dinner and to watch the famous Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Durán II No Más Fight (November 25, 1980). He recalled that he and Candy were the only two cast members who knew the lyrics to the song, "Doo Wah Diddy", and taught them the rest of the company. "I really enjoyed playing Psycho", he said.[5]

In 1993 Murray reflected, "I'm still a little queasy that I actually made a movie where I carry a machine gun. But I felt if you were rescuing your friends it was okay. It wasn't Reds or anything, but it captured what it was like on an Army base: It was cold, you had to wear the same green clothes, you had to do a lot of physical stuff, you got treated pretty badly, and had bad coffee".[6]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Stripes was released on June 26, 1981 and made $6.1 million in 1,074 theaters on its opening weekend, ranking No. 4. It eventually grossed $85 million in North America.[7]

Critical response[edit]

Stripes was well received by critics and audiences. It holds an 88% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 34 reviews.[8]

In his Chicago Sun-Times review, Roger Ebert praised it as "an anarchic slob movie, a celebration of all that is irreverent, reckless, foolhardy, undisciplined, and occasionally scatological. It's a lot of fun".[9] Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it "a lazy but amiable comedy" and praised Murray for achieving "a sardonically exaggerated calm that can be very entertaining".[10] In his review for the Chicago Reader, Dave Kehr praised the performances of Harold Ramis and Bill Murray: "the affable Harold Ramis, becomes its genuine dramatic center: his struggles to keep his buddy Bill in line have a strange urgency and poignance".[11]

Gary Arnold, in his review for The Washington Post, wrote, "Stripes squanders at least an hour belaboring situations contradicted from the outset by Murray's personality. The premise and star remain out of whack until the rambling, diffuse screenplay finally struggles beyond basic training".[12] Time wrote, "Stripes will keep potential felons off the streets for two hours. Few people seem to be asking, these days, that movies do more".[13]

Home media[edit]

An extended edition of Stripes was released on DVD in June 2005. Extra features include six deleted scenes; audio commentary by Reitman and Goldberg; an hour-long documentary titled "Stars & Stripes" that includes the reminiscences of the screenwriters, Reitman, Diehl, Laroquette, Murray, Reinhold, Soles and Young; and the original trailer.[14]

The optional extended cut expands on several scenes and includes an excised subplot in which Winger and Ziskey (who takes six hits of Elmo's LSD under the impression that it is Dramamine) go AWOL by stowing away on a special forces paratrooper mission. They become lost in a jungle and are captured by Spanish-speaking guerrillas. They are taken to camp and nearly shot before Winger saves the day by singing the chorus of Tito Rodriguez's "Quando, Quando, Quando", effectively winning over their captors. Winger and Ziskey then leave and rejoin the special forces unit as it is re-boarding the plane.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Stripes, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved March 9, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gillis, Michael (2006). "Stars and Stripes". Stripes Special Edition DVD (Columbia Pictures). 
  3. ^ Caldwell, Sara C., and Marie-Eve S. Kielson, So You Want to be A Screenwriter: How to Face the Fears and Take the Risks (Allworth Press, 2000), p. 77. ISBN 1-58115-062-8, ISBN 978-1-58115-062-9
  4. ^ Rabin, Nathan (May 14, 2010). "Random Roles: P.J. Soles". The Onion A.V. Club. Retrieved 2010-05-19. 
  5. ^ a b "Back to the 80s: Interview with Conrad Dunn". Kickin' it Old School. February 6, 2011. Retrieved 2015-07-16. 
  6. ^ Meyers, Kate (1993-03-19). "Hail Murray". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  7. ^ "Stripes". Box Office Mojo. 2007-12-11. Retrieved 2007-12-11. 
  8. ^ "Stripes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2015-07-16. 
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (1981-01-01). "Stripes". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-10-09. 
  10. ^ Maslin, Janet (1981-06-26). "Stripes and the Biggest Wise Guy in the Army". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  11. ^ Kehr, Dave. "Stripes". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  12. ^ Arnold, Gary (1981-06-26). "Low-Ranking Stripes". The Washington Post. 
  13. ^ "Rushes". Time. 1981-07-06. Retrieved 2009-04-14. 
  14. ^ Weinberg, Scott (June 7, 2005). "Stripes: Extended Edition". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2015-07-17. 

External links[edit]