A family movie about relationships between adults and children. Any reasonable adult is going to have a problem with children. They never look or act entirely human. For a while I entertained the notion of a medical model to explain their condition -- childhoodosis, the chief symptom of which was neoteny. Ordinary human traits were still discernible but nascent, not quite formed. It seemed that childhood was a disease with which otherwise normal adults were born, and that the disease underwent spontaneous remission during maturation. I have the proof of that theory right here in my back pocket but the world isn't ready for it.
The half-grown cadets at Sheridan Military Academy are no exception. We can see those human traits alright but only in the rawest form. One of them is a whiner, another a spoiled brat, another a fatty, and so on. Major Barney Benson (Charlton Heston) is in hot water with the Army for being too hard on his men, so he's assigned to the academy and ordered to bring these tykes up to snuff and get them through the upcoming ROTC inspection.
Now, admittedly that doesn't sound too promising. Positively emetic in fact. But actually it's cute and it's funny. We don't associate Heston with comic roles but he handles this one quite well. He's no Cary Grant, but the role doesn't require a particularly deft touch from the actor. What the role requires is Moses reduced by comic circumstances to a smaller set of ambitions than delivering the Ten Commandments. Maybe parting the Red Sea but then getting stuck in the mud and throwing a fit of pique.
The script sets it up nicely, even if it follows the necessary formula, and all of the performances are almost exactly suited to the template. The dialog is amusing too. When Heston first is taken through the academy, Mother Redempta points out a portrait, identifies the subject, and adds that he was canonized. "Too bad," says Major Benson.
What's the movie about? On the surface it's about a tough Army guy making these inept and spoiled brats shape up. Beneath that, it's kind of an interesting demonstration of compromise on the part of both Heston and the cadets.
Heston applies the book and rags the cadets constantly, for instance, until they finally win the football trophy that they've never won before. Instead of elation the kids feel nothing but sadness because football hasn't been fun. The kids hate him. Heston is deflated like a punctured football. He hates the kids.
Angry and resentful Heston decides to sneak away to Los Angeles. At the bus station he runs into one of the cuter but more annoying of the tots, also trying to run away from the school. Heston bonds with the kid and actually learns a lesson. Not just something as banal as "you can't run away from yourself," but that the book when indiscriminately applied becomes an obstacle rather than a tool for greater efficiency.
If you want to increase teamwork, you take into account the characteristics of the individual and address their unique set of strengths and weaknesses. You don't act like a robot enacting a set of rules but more like a judge of human nature, differently for each problem. In sociology this is sometimes known as sub-institutional behavior.
What do the kids learn? Well, in a way, they learn the opposite -- respect and appreciation for the system to which they owe their allegiance. They change from slackers to military cadets. And in doing so, they save Heston's bacon.
That is to say, there's compromise on both sides. Each has something to learn from the other, even if it means giving up some part of their earlier taken-for-granteds -- sloppiness for the kids, unbreakable will for Heston.
Well, it sounds as if this is a slow, dull movie with too much of a moral dragging behind it, but it's not. It moves at a sprightly pace, is efficiently directed, and has some perky characters and snappy dialog. The family ought to get a kick out of this. It's one that both adults and children might find amusing and at times touching.
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