I occasionally go back and watch old movies that I’ve liked in the past to see how well they hold up with time. An Officer and a Gentleman was first released in 1982, making it a quarter of a century old already! I saw it when I was in high school (not in 1982, mind you), then again a few years later and liked it well enough both times. I still wanted to view it once more, however, with a more adult perspective to work with.
An Officer and a Gentleman stars Richard Gere as a young man named Zach Mayo who has enrolled in the Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School in Washington. We learn early on that he’s had a rough family life: his mother committed suicide when he was a child and he had to go live with his father (a Rear Admiral in the Navy) in the Philippines. It didn’t help that all his father cared about was drinking and chasing hookers, so by the time Zach enrolls at the OCS, he has the usual problems with authority figures as well as commitment issues.
Mayo’s drill instructor is Gunnery Sergeant Foley (played by Louis Gossett, Jr.), and we can see right from the start that they’ll butt heads before all is said and done. Mayo actually does very well with the physical aspects of the training, but struggles with the academic component. That’s when he hooks up with Sid (David Keith), another candidate who promises to help get Mayo through their Aerodynamics class if Mayo keeps Sid well-supplied with polished belt buckles and boots for barracks inspections.
While most of the story takes place at the OCS, there’s a major subplot involving Zach, Sid, and two local women they meet during their weekends off from school. These women are Paula (Debra Winger) and Lynette (Lisa Blount), so-called “Puget Debs”: working-class girls who try to hook up with officer candidates and perhaps get a marriage proposal out of the deal. Some Puget Debs would go so far as to fake pregnancy in order to trap a man into proposing. Paula pairs off with Zach, while Lynette gets Sid.
The rest of the film follows Zach as he tries to get through the 13 weeks of OCS and deal with Paula at the same time. Since Zach is the “officer and gentleman” referred to in the title, viewers can pretty much guess what the end result will be on each front, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of this movie.
My Reaction: Even after 25 years, An Officer and a Gentleman is still a pretty powerful movie. There are some truly great scenes in this film, scenes that have become classic movie moments for fans everywhere. For example, Gere’s “I got nowhere else to go” confession to Foley and (of course) the final scene are still moving in this day and age — even when you know they’re coming.
I thought the pacing of this film was pretty good as well. The running time is nearly two hours, which was practically an eternity in 1982, but I didn’t get bored along the way because the OCS scenes were neatly balanced with the love story. In addition, viewers get plenty of time to come to care about the characters — not only Zach, but Sid and Paula as well, so what happens to them really matters in the end.
Overall, I give an Officer and a Gentleman 4 stars out of 5 and recommend that you watch it again if it’s been awhile since you’ve seen it. It has held up remarkably well after 25 years!