One of the first major studio films to deal with the Vietnam War after the war was over, “The Boys in Company C” was released near the beginning of 1978. The film got mixed reviews at the time and whatever notice it got was overshadowed by the double punch of Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter” (released at the end of 1978) and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” (released in the summer of 1979).
It’s a real shame that “The Boys in Company C” has been shuttled to the sidelines over the years, because it’s a really good movie. Admittedly, it’s uneven at times (at one point, it shifts from a war movie into a sports movie). But the film is extremely ambitious, attempting to tackle several important subjects (combat, drugs, racism). And the film boasts several terrific performances, specifically by Stan Shaw, Andrew Stevens, Craig Wasson, Michael Lembeck, James Canning, R. Lee Ermey, James Whitmore Jr., Noble Willingham, and Scott Hylands.
This was R. Lee Ermey’s first acting role and it’s very reminiscent of his role in Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” which many people mistakenly believe is his debut. Ermey plays the same hard-ass drill instructor we all know and love (and — gulp! — are deathly afraid of), but in “Boys in Company C,” there’s also a humanity that’s missing from his performance in Kubrick’s film. The scene above is a compilation of Ermey’s entire performance, but the part you really need to watch is the scene that starts 3:10 into the clip. This is Ermey and Shaw having an intense discussion about boot camp, Shaw’s struggles with being company leader, and Ermey’s explanation of what he needs Shaw to do. It’s a powerful scene, wonderfully acted by Ermey and Shaw. Please note that because it IS Ermey playing a drill sergeant, the language is beyond rough and extremely politically incorrect.
And not to slight Shaw. Most people remember Shaw as the doomed Toomer from “The Great Santini,” but his performance as Washington is outstanding, and in a film that’s basically an ensemble piece, Shaw is the lead of the film. Had this film come out a few years later, Shaw arguably may have had the career Denzel Washington had. His performance in “Boys in Company C” demonstrates he has the talent and charisma to have gone all the way.