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 – popularly called “hazing” – 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 with 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 his commanding officer assigns to look after the school’s first black student, Tom Pearce (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 of students who run the school with almost 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 roommates, 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.
The Lords of Discipline was filmed partially in England at the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, which convincingly doubles for the Carolina Military Institute.
Col. ‘Bear’ Barrineau
Gen. Bentley Durrell
Abigail St. Croix
Dante ‘Pig’ Pignetti
Tradd St. Croix
Dean R. Miller
Commerce St. Croix