Cast & Crew
Cpl. Laurence C. Windsor Jr., Usmc
Pfc. Gordon L. Seiple Usmc
Pvt. Douglas E. Wilson Usmc
At the Parris Island Marine Corp Recruit Training Depot in South Carolina, Technical Sergeant Jim Moore has twelve weeks to turn undisciplined young men into strong, fighting team members. By bullying and barking orders, Moore pushes the recruits to achieve their best. Aware that what he teaches the recruits may later save their lives, he punishes them harshly for the least infraction or slip up. Despite his gruff exterior, Moore is a shrewd judge of character and sacrifices his personal life to "cultivate" the best in his charges. Moore has spent tremendous energy on one of his new recruits, Pvt. Owens, a spoiled whiner who Moore believes has the potential to become a "model Marine." Although Moore has faith in Owens, his superior, Capt. Anderson, fears that Owens will reflect poorly on the division and his own reputation, and gives Moore three days to straighten out the recalcitrant recruit or discharge him. During drills one day, Moore orders Owens' platoon to "take cover and freeze." As the men lay in the sand ready to fire, simulating an attack by an approaching enemy, Owens slaps a flea that is biting his face. Moore reprimands him, stating that the sound of a slap can signal the platoon's location to the enemy and result in their deaths. That evening, Moore accompanies a fellow officer to a nightclub frequented by the Marines, where a Marine taunts Moore about his failure with Owens. Moore is about to slug the man when he spots a purple heart pinned to the man's chest and respectfully backs off. When Moore orders tomato juice, the bartender introduces him to Anne, another patron who has ordered the same drink. Awkward around women, Moore soon quarrels with her, but then seeks her out to apologize. Anne is chatting to Joey, a fellow Marine who goads Moore into a fistfight. Once Moore leaves, Joey admits to Anne that he is jealous of him, because he is "one of the best." Joey also expresses his concern that Moore's devotion to the Corps will wear him out. At the base, Moore, trying to demonstrate to Owens that his actions can affect the entire platoon, orders the whole platoon out to search for and bury the flea he killed. While some of the men dig a deep pit, others sift through the sand. One of the men finds a flea, but Moore declares it is the wrong one and orders them to continue searching. Later, in their bunks, the exhausted men express annoyance with Owen, who is thinking about deserting. Moore enters and orders a rifle check, during which he discovers that Owens has failed to clean his weapon. As punishment, the whole platoon is ordered to run laps. Soon after, Joey visits Moore at his bunk to deliver a note from Anne, asking Moore to meet her at her shop the next day. Concerned that Moore is avoiding a personal life by taking refuge in the Corps, Joey urges him to see Anne and tells him that her boyfriend was killed in combat. The following day, Moore goes to the women's apparel shop where Anne works, but is uncomfortable waiting for her in the feminine surroundings. Summoning his courage, he follows her into the back room, kisses her and asks her out. That afternoon, Owens again slips up during a rifle drill and is ordered to deliver a lecture about the rifle's parts. That night, Moore and Anne meet at the nightclub, but find it has been shut down. They then walk along the shore, where she confides that her boyfriend was like Moore, in that he had no room in his life for anything but the Marines. Unwilling to be in that situation again, she leaves Moore standing alone in the moonlight. When he returns to the base, he is told that Owens is planning to escape. Following Owens to the shore, Moore finds the younger man contemplating swimming the channel to the mainland. Gently, Moore tries to explain how the Corps is like an exclusive club and Parris Island an initiation. When he says he hopes that Owens will change his mind about leaving, Owens accuses him of "riding him." Moore explains that he has given him more time and attention than the others and orders him back to his bunk. Because Owens' mates are grumbling about the punishment they receive as a result of Owens' blunders, Anderson is determines to discharge him, despite Moore's protests. Anderson confronts Owens about his dismal record: a high school honor graduate who has dropped out of medical and law schools and is now in danger of fouling up his chance in the Marines. Anderson has also discovered that Owens' two brothers died during the Korean War and shames him by suggesting he is a coward. Although Moore believes that Owens is the "best" recruit in the platoon, "when he puts his mind to it," the unconvinced Anderson tells Moore that Owens' discharge papers will arrive in three days. During that time, Owens continues to make mistakes. On the third day, Anderson and Moore are surprised by a visit from Owens' mother, who reveals that her husband, a Marine captain and close friend of their current commanding officer, died during the invasion of the Marshall Islands in World War II. Having lost a husband and two sons, she feels that she is a part of the Marines. Although Owens' letters to her have made it clear that he wants to leave the service, she demands that they rescind the discharge, fearing that if he fails the Marines, he will never be good at anything. She confesses that she made the mistake of "coddling" him, as he was all that she had left, and tells Moore to "rough him up." To Moore, she confides that her husband had a "breaking point," but when he finally grinned, she would know the crisis was over. Afterward, Anderson calls Owens to his office, tears up his discharge papers and orders him not to kill sand fleas. Relieved, Owens thanks Moore for not reporting his attempted escape, but Moore interrupts and scolds him for inappropriate familiarity. As Moore barks at him, Owens leaves, grinning. Pleased, Moore visits Anne at her store. After leading her to the back room, he tries to explain his feelings, but she stops him, saying that she can see what he wants to say in his eyes. Later, as the men prepare for a twenty-mile walk, Moore determines that Owens is ready to carry the flag.
Cpl. Laurence C. Windsor Jr., Usmc
Pfc. Gordon L. Seiple Usmc
Pvt. Douglas E. Wilson Usmc
Cpl. Charles M. Golden Usmc
Pfc. John T. Ahern Usmc
Sgt. Joseph C. Holmes Usmc
Sgt. Peter J. O'neill Usmc
Pvt. William E. Smith Usmc
T/sgt. Charles A. Love Usmc
Sgt. Paul E. Prutzman Jr. Usmc
T/sgt. Louis H. Lazarko
Sgt. Michael F. Gebbia
Sgt. Patton A. Wasson
Cpl. John R. Brown
Cpl. George Olivieri
Cpl. Thomas E. Richards
Cpl. George W. Thornton Iii
Cpl. James C. Willma
Pfc. Gary D. Bryan
James Lee Barrett
Jack M. Briggs
Corporal John R. Brown Usmc
Lieutenant Colonel Wyatt B. Carneal Jr. Usmc
Robert M. Leeds
Major Richard Mample Usmc
F. Bud Mautino
George Stevens Jr.
In 1950, aspiring writer James Lee Barrett was a recruit in the USMC boot camp, legendary for its grueling discipline, harsh conditions, and at the time, brutal drill instructors (until a 1956 drowning incident on the base forced a change in rules and behavior among the trainers). One of the ways these DIs, as they were known, pushed their over-the-top methods on new recruits was to forbid them to kill any of the nasty little bugs, whose lacerating bites can produce painful, red and itchy bumps. The idea was to "toughen" the troops up by forcing them to endure the pest, which is known to move in swarms that can drive anyone to distraction. Barrett happened to witness the "murder" of one of these bugs, after which the DI forced the perpetrator to dig a regulation-sized grave in front of his entire platoon and bury the tiny insect.
Later, as a student at Penn State, Barrett made the incident the subject of a two-act play he called "The Pine Box," which was eventually picked up and expanded into an hour-long show on the Kraft Television Theater series under the title "The Murder of a Sand Flea." The episode starred two former Marines who were breaking into acting, Lee Marvin and Hugh O'Brian.
The story captured the attention of Jack Webb, the popular TV star of the hit series Dragnet, a documentary-style police drama that debuted first on radio in 1949 and moved to television in 1951. Webb had been mostly a supporting player in films of the 1940s, but producing, creating, and acting in his own successful radio and TV series gave him enough clout to purchase the screen rights and get backing to produce, direct, and star in it himself.
Getting the rights proved to be no problem. The thornier issue was getting approval and cooperation from the Marine Corps. The Department of Defense was understandably nervous about any motion picture set on Parris Island ever since six recruits drowned in a treacherous stream during training in 1956. But when they reviewed the property Webb wanted to make, they reasoned that because "it deals with the character building of an emotionally immature young man, [it] would be more advantageous to the Marine Corps than many other recruit training stories." They also figured giving a quick green light to this project could derail any thought Twentieth Century Fox was giving to making a film based on the tragic deaths of the young soldiers. Webb and company got full cooperation from the Marines by February 1957, enabling them to move forward with script work.
The story's original creator, James Lee Barrett, was hired to adapt the script, his first big screen assignment. The project helped him kick off a successful screenwriting career that would include The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Shenandoah (1965), The Green Berets (1968), and Smokey and the Bandit (1977).
Charged by Webb's desire for accuracy and realism down to the last detail, Barrett and production assistant George Stevens, Jr., son of the director and a future producer of much note, went to Parris Island to take measurements for the sets and gather voice tapes and pictures for Webb and the professional actors in the cast to study in order to look and sound like real Marines. As it turned out, much of the movie's verisimilitude was achieved by hiring a number of real servicemen (out of almost 350 who auditioned) to play the troops. The use of these men, rather than professional actors, did not save the producers any money since in addition to housing and feeding them, they had to make a considerable reimbursement to the Screen Actors and Extras Guilds. According to Lt. Col. Wyatt Carneal, Jr., who was assigned by the Corps to be the film's technical adviser, using professional actors would have been a mistake because of their more mature appearance, unwillingness to get Marine haircuts, and inability to properly handle the heavy regulation weapons. Whether Col. Carneal's assessment was valid or not, it's clear the Marines were eager to have their men on camera.
In addition to Webb in the title role of The D.I., one of the few professional actors in the cast was Don Dubbins, who played the problem recruit who receives much of the DI's unwelcome attention. Dubbins was a former Marine who was trained on Parris Island in 1946. He appeared in several other military dramas, including From Here to Eternity (1953), The Caine Mutiny (1954), and Mr. Roberts (1955).
The DI's romantic interest was played by Jackie Loughery, crowned the first Miss USA in 1952. It was Loughery who suggested to Webb, when he started worrying about putting on some weight not appropriate to a fit-and-trim Marine sergeant, that he should wear a tight girdle under his uniform. Webb not only followed her advice until he dropped the weight, he also married her about a year after The D.I. was released.
No filming was ever done on Parris Island. Most of the movie was shot at Camp Del Mar, part of Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base in California, and a Corps Reserve Center in Pasadena.
Thanks to Webb's scrupulous focus on details and almost fanatical perfectionism (including 25 takes of a shot in which his character is handed a cup of coffee), the Marines were extremely pleased with the final product. Webb was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation and made an honorary DI. In May 1957, The D.I. was shown on Parris Island, prior to its general release, to more than 2,000 Marines and their families over the course of two nights.
Director: Jack Webb
Producer: Jack Webb
Screenplay: James Lee Barrett
Editing: Robert M. Leeds
Art Direction: Feild Gray, Gibson Holley
Original Music: David Buttolph
Cast: Jack Webb (Gunnery Sgt. Jim Moore), Don Dubbins (Pvt. Owens), Jackie Loughery (Annie), Lin McCarthy (Capt. Anderson), Virginia Gregg (Mrs. Owens).
by Rob Nixon
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.