The Pentagon Goes Hollywood

Filmmakers and the military enjoy a profitable partnership

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Some services are pickier than others. The Army, for instance, blanched at Clint Eastwood's rough language and rougher manners in his upcoming film Heartbreak Ridge, about a hard-nosed sergeant named Highway who leads a platoon in the Grenada invasion. When the brass demanded script changes, Eastwood refused. "We're not doing a 'Be all that you can be' movie showing guys working computers," he told them. Instead, Eastwood took his project to the Marines, who proved to be less squeamish. Sergeant Highway was transformed from an Army paratrooper into a gyrene gunnery sergeant.

Once filmmakers win Pentagon assistance for their projects, they tend to go along with changes that the military asks for. One reason Top Gun is so flattering to the Navy may be that consultants from the service worked along with the production. In the original script, for instance, Cruise's sidekick dies in a midair collision. When the Navy complained that too many pilots were crashing, the filmmakers opted for an incident that actually occurred at Miramar: a spinout in which a copilot was killed as he tried to eject.

Military cooperation also has its limits. The brass can divert troops and equipment to moviemakers only if their loans do not inhibit operational readiness. Moreover, producers are required to reimburse the Government for expenses: Top Gun was billed for the equipment used and was charged up to $7,600 an hour for flying time. The increasing collaboration between filmmakers and the military could result in little beyond bland and blindly patriotic war pictures; Top Gun has not received the critical acclaim of, say, The Deer Hunter, which had no military support. "Movies critical of the military will be difficult to make," says former Navy Lieut. John Semcken, who served as the liaison on Top Gun. Such concerns hark back to the late 1960s, when critics of the John Wayne movie The Green Berets argued that Wayne and the Defense Department had collaborated in presenting a decep-tively glorified picture of the Viet Nam War.

In the absence of such a divisive conflict, however, a more pertinent prototype for today's films might be the hawkish but mawkish 1957 production Hellcats of the Navy, starring Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis. When patriotism is at high tide, Washington and Hollywood both benefit.

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