The Boys in Company C (1978)

Boys in Company C

The Boys in Company C is one of those Vietnam war movies you either like a great deal or not at all. I was surprised to find myself among those who really like it. It isn’t a masterpiece because it’s a bit patchy and the acting is not always stellar, but it has a fittingly pessimistic tone and some great scenes, which I appreciated a lot. Besides it was interesting to see the precursor of movies like Full Metal Jacket.

Vietnam movies are commonly divided into four sub-groups: allegorical-epics, veteran movies, revisionist movies and grunt/ensemble movies. The Boys from Company C is clearly a grunt movie or infantry combat movie. And it contains all the clichés of grunt movies, notably that we get to see a group of diverse people from various backgrounds and that each of them is more like a type than a real character. This is a weakness of the movie but, in a way, it wasn’t important to create characters, as the goal of the movie was another one.

Like a few of the more famous Vietnam movies it has two parts. A boot camp part and a part that takes place in Vietnam. The most interesting aspect is that the same actor, R.Lee Ermey, who plays the evil drill-inspector in Full Metal Jacket plays the drill-inspector here. He’s not as crass as in Full Metal Jacket but he sure is an unlikable character here as well.

After our group of grunts has survived the boot camp at Fort Bragg they are sent to Vietnam. There are a few combat scenes but more than anything we see how surprised our guys are when they realize that things aren’t exactly as they were told.

What are they fighting for really? And is there a justification to this war at all? There isn’t any moment in the whole film in which anyone thinks they are fighting for a good reason. Plus there’s the criticism of the military command. Officers sacrifice soldiers just to get a promotion. They order them to take hills although its impossible. They kill Vietnamese civilians to raise the body counts. The Vietnamese are shown to be just as corrupt.

The ending of the movie is unfortunately quite corny and the football game episode, which is meant to illustrate how futile and corrupt  the war is, isn’t exactly a movie highlight.

Still, this is one of the early films and it’s one of the most unambiguously anti-war. It’s dark and pessimistic. There’s no heroism, no glorifying of any acts. It’s overall very sober, has hardly any feel-good moments, hardly any music. No jungle scenes.

Sometimes I can appreciate a movie for its intentions and for its consistency.This is one of those. In my opinion, while not an artistic highlight, it’s still a must-see.

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6 thoughts on “The Boys in Company C (1978)

  1. Actually might be one of the best war movies I’ve ever seen

  2. the war movie buff says:

    I love your classification of Vietnam War movies. Well done!

    You are certainly right about how polarizing this movie is (similar to “The Siege of Firebase Gloria”). I respect your opinion, as I do with other war movie reviewers who agree with you. However, put me down on the other side of the fence. I have seen it three times and I remain convinced it is a bad movie. Interestingly, it came out the same year as the much superior “Go Tell the Spartans” – a movie that is much stronger on the anti-war theme.

    People like to excuse it’s poor production values, poor acting (B movie actors playing clichéd characters), and ridiculous scenarios ( as a soccer coach, the soccer match makes me want to puke) by saying that it was an early take on Vietnam. In fact, it came out the same year as Coming Home and The Deer Hunter (a movie that one war movie reviewer laughably claimed was inferior to “Boys”!). I am no big fan of either of those films but it seems obvious why “Boys” flopped at the box office. “Apocalypse Now” came out one year later.

    By the way, it was seeded #11 (out of 16) in my recent Vietnam War movie tournament. It lost to “Casualties of War”.

    Sorry, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

    • I know your opinion on this and I’m glad you write about it here. Because this is one of those movies that’s in equal parts good and not good, somehow. I’d never compare it to any of the superior movies from a purely cinematographic point of view and, yes, that soccer thingy is meh . . . But the movie is so absolutely unambiguous in its message. I still remember the first time I saw Apocalypse Now. I truly wondered whether this wasn’t glorifying the war. I’m mean Wagner . . . I thought it was gutsy that this movie had almost no music.
      I think the intentions behind this were good. The actors are not but overall the movie isn’t a drag at all. I really expected some Marine Raiders type movie. It’s not.

  3. I’m going to agree with the War Movie Buff ;)

    While still a watchable movie it is very cheesy at times and has far lower production values than the classics of the Vietnam War genre.

    My biggest gripe or puzzlement is how R Lee Ermy was allowed to plagiarise himself a few years later in Full Metal Jacket and no-one batted an eyelid! Maybe its because most of them haven’t seen The Boys from Company C!!

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