The Lords of Discipline
The Lords of Discipline (1983) was likely greenlit as a
feature film due to the box-office success of Taps
(1981). Both films are about trouble at military schools, but Lords
only ended up doing about a third of the business Taps
did. That's unfortunate. While I like both, I actually think The
Lords of Discipline is the better of the two.
Based on a novel by Pat Conroy, a Southerner who usually writes
about the American South and had three of his other novels turned into
feature films (Conrack, The Great Santini, The
Prince of Tides), The Lords of
Discipline is a riveting drama about institutionalized corruption,
refusing to be intimidated by bullies and standing up for what's
Will (David Keith), Pignetti (Rick Rossovich), Mark (John
Lavachielli) and Tradd (Mitchell Lichtenstein) are cadets at a South
Carolina military academy in 1964. The four are roommates about to
begin their final year. A new freshman class of cadets, nicknamed
"knobs," are also starting at the school, and it's expected that the
seniors intimidate and humiliate the knobs, especially during a yearly
hazing ritual called "Hell Night," which is supposed to quickly
weed out the weak ones who don't belong there in the first place. After all, military life isn't for
everyone. Those who can endure the punishment have my respect, but it's
no place for the individualistic or the sensitive.
One young man who certainly doesn't belong there is the visibly
frightened, overweight Poteete (Malcolm Danare), who can't stop crying, which
only increases the level of bullying aimed at him. The constant
in-your-face harassment of Poteete brings to mind the relentless
ridicule experienced by Vincent D'Onofrio's chubby "Private
Pyle" in Stanley Kubrick's 1987 classic Full Metal Jacket.
Like "Private Pyle," Poteete is a fish out of water, and you get the
feeling things aren't going to turn out good for him.
Another new cadet named Pearce (Mark Breland) is simply made an
outcast because he's the first black young man to attend the
school. With the passage in the summer of 1964 of the Civil Rights Act,
the school can no longer refuse admission according to race, but some are
determined to make life extra hard for Pearce in an effort to drive him
out. It seems there's a secret group of cadets at the school called The
Ten, who take it upon themselves to make sure "unworthy"
freshman such as Pearce and Poteete quit, even if it takes torture to do it.
One stogie-chewing superior officer named Bear (Robert Prosky)
admits to being a racist, but says he still wants Pearce to have a fair
chance. As a result, he recruits Will to be Pearce's protector.
Will, himself a product of the pre-Civil Rights racist south, doesn't initially
want the job, but his basic good-nature and sense of fair play win out.
The cruelty Pearce endures at the hands of The Ten is painful to watch.
The general running the academy (G.D. Spradlin of North
Dallas Forty and Tank), who always excels in roles of
arrogant authority figures, denies any knowledge of The Ten, but Will comes to
suspect someone in power is encouraging and protecting them.
Directed in effective workmanlike fashion by Franc Roddam
(who also directed The Bride with Sting and Jennifer
Beals and the mountain-climbing drama K2), The Lords
of Discipline has a cast filled with actors who eventually became more
well-known. In addition to Keith, who was hot off his role as Richard
Gere's ill-fated buddy in An Officer and a Gentleman, there's
Rossovich, who went on to play the doltish hunk instructed by Steve Martin in Roxanne,
Judge Reinhold, and as two of the meanest cadets there's Michael Biehn and
Bill Paxton, credited here as "Wild" Bill Paxton. The film
also marked the screen debut of Jason Connery, son of Sean.
The Lords of Discipline is much better than I remembered,
and keeps you engrossed for all of its 102 minutes. It's the
kind of intense movie with a good story and without gimmicks that we still
took for granted in February of 1983 when Lords
was released in theaters. It's not surprising that such a largely
forgotten movie is given merely a basic treatment by Paramount, but like Save
the Tiger, Hustle, Prime Cut and others, it's the
kind of film I'm just grateful to have a widescreen copy of. The 1.85:1
film has been given an anamorphic transfer enhanced for 16:9 TVs. The
sound is presented in Dolby Digital English and French
2.0 Mono. There are thankfully also English subtitles on this title,
which I used during some scenes to read some of the military slang used by the
characters. The sound is as good as can be expected for Dolby Digital 2.0
Mono, but the picture has some grain noticeable in a
few scenes. Sadly, though, there are no extras to speak of, not even
the original theatrical trailer or original TV spots, which are always
appreciated, even on cheaply-priced DVDs.
- Chuck O'Leary