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Lords of Discipline, The (1983)

Sadism, torture, cruelty, racism and Gothic horror surface again in yet another southern military academy in The Lords of Discipline.

Under those honey-drippin’ magnolias, there are still a few rocks to turn over. And you can bet your Confederate money that every time the movie-makers turn them over, the same old swamp rats crawl out.

The slimy generals, pea-brained southern belles and bigoted cadets who populate the Charleston, South Carolina, military school in The Lords of Discipline seem to be left over from The Strange One, Jack Garfein’s 1957 film version of Calder Willingham’s novel and play, End as a Man.

This film is a variation on the same theme – how the brutalisation and corruption of young men in southern military schools is often ironically fostered, approved and protected by a phoney “code of honour.”

Based on a popular novel by Pat Conroy, author of The Great Santini, the movie deals with the same central problem of how a sensitive young man learns to cope within the inhuman value system imposed by militant authorities.

Set in 1956, when times were crueller and codes were sterner than they are now, The Lords of Discipline stars charismatic young actor David Keith as senior cadet Will McLean who is assigned by his commanding officer to look after the school’s first black student (played intelligently by boxing champ Mark Breland).

McLean doesn’t have much stomach for the juvenile hazing of young recruits, or “knobs,” on Hell Night. Using these scared, humiliated newcomers as human piggy banks, shaving their heads, and abusing them mentally and physically is McLean’s idea of kid stuff. But the worst is still to come . . .

There’s a secret society called “The 10” made up students who run the school with supernatural power, bending the rules their way and literally getting away with murder while the school authorities secretly approve of their vengeance.

“The hole” is where they take you if you cross the institute in word, thought, or deed.

Needless to say, the black cadet is marked for demolition.

First, there’s just a nasty cut from a razor blade in gym sneakers; later, electric shock treatments, the number 10 carved in his back with a knife in the shower, and worse.

“If that’s the honour of the institute,” says McLean, “then the graduation ring is crap. ”

Tension mounts with unbelievable force as this heroic cadet conducts his own investigation with the aid of his three loyal room-mates, risking his graduation and even his life in a private search for truth and justice.

Some people will object to the violent atrocities; others will scoff at director Franc Roddam’s obvious use of the academy as a microcosm of moral decay in America, and “The 10” as a mask for the Ku Klux Klan. But The Lords of Discipline is never idle or boring for a single minute.

David Keith’s character might be too good to be true. Unaffected personally by the mendacity around him, he decides to clean up the school the way John Wayne cleaned up boom towns in the Old West, out of patriotic duty and an innate sense of decency.

With his open-faced sincerity, he is the perfect actor for the role. The way he discovers his own definition of manhood is one of the film’s chief joys.

Directed by Franc Roddam. Screenplay by Thomas Pope and Lloyd Fonvielle. Produced by Herb Jaffe and Gabriel Katzka. With David Keith, Robert Prosky, Mark Breland, G.D. Spradlin, Barbara Babcock, Michael Blehn, Mitchell Lichtenstein, and Rick Rossovich.

Will McLean
David Keith
Col. ‘Bear’ Barrineau
Robert Prosky
Gen. Bentley Durrell
G.D. Spradlin
Abigail St. Croix
Barbara Babcock
John Alexander
Michael Biehn
Dante ‘Pig’ Pignetti
Rick Rossovich
Mark Santoro
John Lavachielli
Tradd St. Croix
Mitchell Lichtenstein
Tom Pearce
Mark Breland
Malcolm Danare
Judge Reinhold
Greg Webb
Bill Paxton
Dean R. Miller
Commerce St. Croix
Ed Bishop

Franc Roddam