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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Military > The Lords of Discipline

The Lords of Discipline


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Film: B+



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 right.  


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


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