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The film begins with a shot of a sign posted at the Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot in South Carolina, which reads: "Let's be damned sure that no man's ghost will ever say-`If your training program had only done its job.'" A film sequence follows, showing Jack Webb as the drill instructor at the end of a day of training, interviewing several recruits individually and haranguing them with machine-gun fast questions. The camera is placed to show the back of Webb and the faces of each uneasy recruit. The last recruit to be interviewed is "Pvt. Owens," played by Don Dubbins, who requests permission to go to sick bay and is harassed by Moore. After sending him away without permission, Owens turns to reveal a second officer hidden in the room, who shakes his head in disappointment.
Webb's opening credit, which reads "Jack Webb as Technical Sergeant Jim Moore," then appears before the title. The opening and closing credits are unusual: After the title card, Dubbins' opening credit appears, followed by the credits for Lin McCarthy, who played "Capt. Anderson," and the actresses in the film. After the last actress credit, the screen reads: "and the men of the United States Marine Corps." The credits then scroll, listing the names of nineteen Marines in order of their military rank who appear in the film. The only onscreen character name listed is Webb's. The actors' credits are followed by a traditional list of crew member credits. Ending credits, showing character names, are provided for Dubbins and ten of the Marines listed in the opening credits. Each credit is superimposed over a shot of the Marine in a sequence showing the Marines marching. The sequence ends on a shot of Webb, but no written credit. After the ending credits, an acknowledgment appears expressing "deepest gratitude" to the Marine Corps, "not only for their assistance in the making of this film, but for-Tripoli/Belleau Wood/Guadalcanal/Tarawa/Saipan/Iwo Jima/Korea." A May 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the Department of Defense and the Marine Corps had extended an "official endorsement of complete approval" to the film.
According to a March 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, portions of the film were shot on location at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, CA. Most of the male roles were played by actual Marines. Dubbins, according to a June 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, was a former Marine. Actress Jackie Loughery, who portrayed "Anne" in the film, was a former Miss USA and at the time of the production, married to Webb.
Some of the incidents within the film resonated with contemporary audiences. The Variety review suggested that "certain exploitation values accrue from headline stories out of Parris Island and the Marine training program during past couple of years, although plot-line in no wise latches onto any of these heralded incidents." The New York Times review stated that the film "bears no resemblance to the controversial `death march' of recent headlines."
The Hollywood Reporter review stated that The D.I. was "an oblique answer to the scandal and court-martial of last year when Marine recruits were killed in what many felt were excessively stringent training exercises," but that "the approach to the highly controversial subject matter...should not be considered the official view of the Marines."
The incident referred to in the reviews May have been one in which a drill sergeant, intent on teaching discipline, marched a platoon to a tidal stream on Parris Island late one night in April 1956, leading them into the water. According to a modern source, some men panicked upon reaching water levels over their head, and six recruits drowned in the confusion.
According to a 1962 history of the Parris Island Recruit Depot published by the Marines, a highly publicized court-martial was convened. The drill sergeant was acquitted of charges of manslaughter and oppression of troops, but convicted of negligent homicide and drinking on duty. Although the court of inquiry's investigation determined that both the recruit training program and the drill instructor training program were not at fault, the Marine Corps Commandant reorganized, creating a separate recruit training program at Parris Island under the supervision of a brigadier general who reported directly to him and appointing an Inspector General of Recruit Training to assist him in Washington.