Jan-Michael Vincent stars as Marion “Hedge” Hedgepeth – a trainee in Marine boot camp in 1943. He’s a member of the idiot squad, the guys who can’t seem to make it. He flunks out of basic training for failing to meet basic proficiency requirements and is sent home after just five weeks wearing the demeaning “baby blue” uniform of a reject to publicise his disgrace.
In Los Angeles, a shellshocked combat veteran Raider Marine (Richard Gere in an early role) knocks him out and changes clothes with him in order to desert. When Hedge comes to, he is wearing a decorated hero’s uniform.
He hitchhikes vaguely toward St. Louis, not eager to tell his parents he didn’t make it in the Marines and stops for a few days in a little crossroads town where he meets a sweet-natured teen waitress called Rose (Glynnis O’Connor).
It’s love at first sight and he’s invited to spend a few days with her family, where he is, of course, taken as a Pacific veteran.
Hedge doesn’t really lie so much as agree with the conclusions people make about him. Rose’s parents like the young Marine and the small town admires him.
Their love affair blossoms and everybody attends football games, go to church and the movies and stop in the Main Street Cafe for a cheeseburger. It’s all very all-American – except for the nearby detention camp holding Japanese Americans from San Francisco.
One night three of the detainees escape and a posse is armed and sent out to look for them (“They’re big city kids with zoot suits and switchblades,” a townsman solemnly warns).
When Hedge comes across the three men on a riverbank he orders them to surrender, which they do. But as he’s helping them across the river, a trigger-happy local Army draftee shoots and hits Hedge instead of the escapees.
He floats downstream, the locals and the three Japanese-Americans all jump in to save him, and the movie flashes forward to an ending that nothing so far has prepared us for, with none of the issues raised by his deception ever dealt with.
Marion “Hedge” Hedgepeth
John D. Hancock