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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

THE D. I. (1957)

As star & director, Jack Webb brings his distinctive flat, staccato DRAGNET style to this by-the-book service meller about a tough-as-nails marine Drill Instructor (guess who) who can’t get thru to the major screw-up in his unit. Prepare to be unsurprised. Turns out, the kid (Don Dubbins) fucks up or plays sick in a desperate attempt to get out of the Corp when he really wants to succeed in what turns out to be the family business. Webb rides him for all he’s worth, but what finally does the trick is a one-shot dose of Psych 101 indirectly received from Mom! And, speaking of things Freudian, Webb’s 40-Yr-Old (Emotional) Virgin has gone a’wooing, only to find he’s got commitment phobias of his own. (There’s an unintentional suggestion for an interesting tangent storyline about the possibility that love & contentment will leave the Sarge tame & ineffective, but no one follows up.) For cinematic pizazz Webb throws on a few low-angle shots & transitions that have him walking straight into the camera. He even lets some of the real-life marines in the cast make with the comic relief. But the main feeling you get is that Webb never figured out that his tv shows worked by opposing his signature rat-a-tat-tat police tactics against the quotidian routine of the outside world. The contrast was particularly effective when DRAGNET returned to tv for a second run in the late ‘60s, plopping an increasingly anachronistic Webb in the middle of the culture wars. But here, on a military training base where everybody’s working to the same rhythm, things quickly turn monotonous.

DOUBLE-BILL: For a modern version of these tropes, you can catch Colin Farrell going thru all the basic training clichés before reaching manhood in Joel Schumacher’s TIGERLAND/’00.

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