The Great Santini
|The Great Santini|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Lewis John Carlino|
|Produced by||Charles A. Pratt|
|Screenplay by||Lewis John Carlino
|Based on||The Great Santini by
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Editing by||Houseley Stevenson Jr.|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. & Orion Pictures|
|Release dates||October 26, 1979|
|Running time||115 min.|
|Box office||$4,702,575 (USA)|
The Great Santini is a 1979 film which tells the story of a Marine officer whose success as an F-4 Phantom military aviator contrasts with his shortcomings as a husband and father. The film explores the high price of heroism and self-sacrifice. It stars Robert Duvall, Blythe Danner, Michael O'Keefe, Lisa Jane Persky, Julie Anne Haddock, Brian Andrews, Stan Shaw and David Keith.
The film is set in 1962 before widespread American involvement in the Vietnam War and is based on the novel of the same name by Pat Conroy. In the novel Conroy makes the point that Santini is a warrior without a war, and in turn is at war alternately with the service that he loves and his family.
The script was adapted by Lewis John Carlino from the novel, with assistance from an un-credited Herman Raucher. Carlino directed the film. The title character, Lt. Col. Wilbur "Bull" Meechum, aka "The Great Santini", was based on Conroy's father.
The story, for the most part, follows the book. The movie's major divergence is the absence of Sammy, Ben Meecham's Jewish best friend. The spelling of the family's name was also changed from Meecham to Meechum. Also changed is that in the book Meecham flies and commands a squadron of F-8 Crusaders while in the film the fighters shown are F-4 Phantom IIs.
The film was shot in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but was only produced in that ratio in the LaserDisc format. Both the VHS & DVD releases are in 1.33:1 also known as full screen or pan & scan. To date the film has not had a release in the Blu-ray Disc format.
Warner Bros. executives were concerned that the film's plot and lack of bankable actors would make it hard to market. It made its world premiere in Beaufort in August 1979 and was soon released in North Carolina and South Carolina to empty houses. Believing that the film's title - giving the perception that it was about circus stunts - would be the problem, it was tested as Sons and Heroes in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as Reaching Out in Rockford, Illinois, and The Ace in Peoria, Illinois. As it tested better in Peoria, The Ace stuck, though even with its new title it was still performing poorly. Orion Pictures eventually pulled the film and sold cable rights to HBO along with the airline rights to recoup its losses.
Producer Charles A. Pratt still had faith in the film and raised enough money, some coming from Orion, to release The Great Santini in New York under its original title. It ended up getting great reviews and business was steady, but two weeks later debuted on HBO, and audiences stopped coming. Orion executive Mike Medavoy blamed the film's box office failure to a lack of a traditional release: screening it first in New York and expanding markets due to word-of-mouth.
The film was well received. Roger Ebert wrote that "Like almost all my favorite films, The Great Santini is about people more than it's about a story. It's a study of several characters, most unforgettably the Great Santini himself, played by Robert Duvall...There are moments so unpredictable and yet so natural they feel just like the spontaneity of life itself."
- Medavoy, Mike and Young, Josh (2002). You're Only as Good as Your Next One: 100 Great Films, 100 Good Films, and 100 for Which I Should Be Shot (p. 105-107). New York City: Atria Books
- http://books.google.com/books/about/Roger_Ebert_s_Movie_home_companion.html?id=clLhkwBlA_8C; The Great Santini; at p. 153