The Great Santini

The Great Santini
   Reading time 10

The Great Santini

Every month I’m going to do a military movie review, but not just any old movie review. My reviews will be from the military or in my case, the Marine Corps POV.  The first movie is The Great Santini.

This movie is based on the 1976 novel of the same name written by Pat Conroy. The film is based on a U.S. Marine Corps officer whose success as an F-4 Phantom pilot contrasts with his shortcomings as a husband and father. Lt. Col. Wilbur “Bull” Meechum moves his family to the military town of Beaufort, South Carolina (MCRD Parris Island, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, and USNH Beaufort) in peacetime 1962 and struggles to be a warrior without a war.

Major cast members are:
Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Wilbur “Bull” P. Meechum – (Robert is a Veteran, serving in the Army for 1-year)
Blythe Danner as Lillian “Lil” Meechum
Michael O’Keefe as Ben Meechum
Stan Shaw as Toomer Smalls
Brian Andrews as Matthew Meechum
Paul Gleason as 1st Lieutenant Sammy
Julie Anne Haddock as Karen Meechum
David Keith as “Red” Pettus
Paul Mantee as Colonel Virgil “Virg” Hedgepath
Theresa Merritt as Arrabelle Smalls
Lisa Jane Persky as Mary Anne Meechum
Michael Strong as Colonel Varney

Notable Quotes

Bull Meechum: You’re probably wondering why I attacked you right?

Cpl. Atcherly: Yes, sir

Bull Meechum: What’s your name, Corporal?

Cpl. Atcherly: Atchley, sir.

Bull Meechum: Atchley do you realize that several Marines were killed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor while taking craps?

Cpl. Atcherly: No, sir.

Bull Meechum: A fighting man must be vigilant to surprise attack no matter where he is. The survival of our nation depends on the readiness of Marines all over the world. Also, more importantly, you only wiped yourself twice – grossly insufficient. Right now, germs with names you can’t even pronounce are preparing to launch a devastating attack that will render you helpless in the defense of your country… Do you read me?

Cpl. Atcherly: Yes, sir!

Bull Meechum: Good… now I’m Jones, Colonel John J. Jones I’m only here for the day. I fly around the country testing the readiness of troops for combat. This is a strictly confidential test, classified top secret, tell no one Atchley… and if you ever attack a senior officer again I’ll have you court-martial’d

Cpl. Atcherly: But you attacked me, sir

Bull Meechum: DISMISSED! Good luck in your career. Be proud Atchley, be proud of yourself and of the Corps… now get out!

Bull Meechum: Looking in a mirror: You silver tongue bastard, shame on you.

My Take On The Flick
The going-away party scene in the restaurant is classic, and unfortunately, there are many officers like the Navy CAPT that will march into the back room and throw their weight around and demand silence. As if their dinner is any more or less important than the party in the other room. Yeah, I get it and it is a restaurant, but it is also a banquet room for events and parties.

On moving day, getting up early and getting everyone up and ready so we can travel is so true for many of us (at least the Marines in the group). Singing songs in the cars and even the kids knowing Dixie or the Battle Hymn of the Republic is so long gone. Kids nowadays don’t even know the words to the National Anthem, well enough, Dixie or the Battle Hymn of the Republic. My kids are all grown and I can’t recall singing too many songs on a trip beyond things like Old MacDonald. I’m not sure about traveling in the sateen utilities in the 60s I know in the late 80s it wasn’t authorized, likely I would have been required to travel in Alphas. My son was born while I was in the late stages of my last tour, so he got some of the military disciplines in his daily life, but my daughter was born some four years after I got out. But both of my children are very disciplined compared to most children today, and my wife and I have received many compliments from others about that very topic. Both kids, know how to tell military time, know many of the customs and courtesies and that makes me very proud that others notice the efforts to make my children good responsible citizens.

I did take a little issue with the high school basketball game when the LtCol’s son is fouled and he comes on the court and threatens the ref and also his son. I have major issues with all that, and I have met parents that are like that, but it is just a high school game.

When Toomer Smalls died from being shot, in the next scene when Ben tries to tell his dad that Toomer is dead and he couldn’t get a word in edgewise. My father was like that but worse, you couldn’t say anything unless he told you to speak and don’t dare argue or back mouth him and you were allowed to have your own opinion or thoughts. But I do have to say that Robert Duvall played the part very well, of a type-A Marine with an ego and drinking problem. Too many Marines can’t turn off the Corps, it is too ingrained into who they are and those are the Marines that can’t integrate into the civilian world when they exit the Corps.

My observations
With each movie, I will detail the military (more specifically the Marine Corps) things that I notice were inaccurate or just wrong.

When transferring to Beaufort, LtCol Meechum is traveling in his utilities (Sateen’s), I’m not sure that was authorized in the late 70’s I know it wasn’t in the late ’80s. I know that the camouflaged (woodland) wasn’t introduced until 1981, two years after the release of this film.

There is a scene where LtCol Meechum is using a swagger stick, which would have likely been banned when this movie was released (Commandant Gen. Louis H. Wilson issued a directive banning the carrying of them while in uniform).

I never recall the Marine Corps, being authorized to wear a black mourning band, but everyone is wearing one at the funeral.

Terminology and Lingo
When Meechum attacked the Cpl in the head, I noticed how the head facilities themselves have never changed, they look like the head in every single Marine Corps base I have been on. However Col Hedgepath refers to the head as a latrine, the latrine is an Army term, and Marines and Sailors refer to it as a ‘head’. The way LtCol Meechum treats his children is a little harsh, but I have known many Marines that are that way to their children. I think I was not as strict with my children as my father was basically a “dick with ears” (and that is putting it mildly), and I didn’t want that for my children.

There is one scene when LtCol Meechum is reporting to Beaufort and the Marine behind the desk is a Master Gunnery Sergeant and Meechum refers to him as a “Sergeant”, which is an Army and Airforce thing. A Marine would have called him Master Gunnery Sergeant or “Master Guns”, “Master Gunny” or “Top”, but never just Sergeant, that is very disrespectful.

In the end, the funeral was very much spot on, for the time period. Today, they usually use a bugle sound device, unless you are a certain rank, which would qualify for a real bugle. The sad part is that the family has to move out and move on after the death.

It is one of the rare movies about the Corps that Hollywood seemed to pay attention to the uniform and haircuts.

The official movie poster looks like Robert Duvall and Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) had a love child.

The Great Santini Trailer


The Great Santini Movie Poster
The Great Santini Movie Poster
Average Jow Weekly Logo
Average Joe

Welcome to the Average Joe Weekly blog. This is basically my place on the web where I can help spread some of the knowledge that I have accumulated over the years. I served 10+ years in the Marine Corps on Active Duty, but that was some 25 years ago.

Avatar photo

By Average Joe

Welcome to the Average Joe Weekly blog. This is basically my place on the web where I can help spread some of the knowledge that I have accumulated over the years. I served 10+ years in the Marine Corps on Active Duty, but that was some 25 years ago.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.