You heard it here first, friends! There are those who will tell you the initials stand for Free The Army. Some of the more adventurous reviewers will allow that the title is actually F— The Army, or if they’re especially bold, F- -k the Army. But we here at Varley.net don’t mince words. I mean, what’s the point? Do you think anyone ever looks at one of those prissy circumlocutions and thinks, in his or her mind, “Eff dash dash kay?” Fuck, no. We all know the fucking word, we’ve all heard the fucking word. Why do we persist in being afraid to spell the fucking word???? I was there when this movie was released, I was one of the very few people who saw it before the candy-ass distributor yanked it out of theaters after only one week, most likely as the result of a phone call from the White House, and I’m here to tell you that everyone—everyone—referred to it as Fuck The Army. Got it? If that offends you, please leave this fucking site at once and don’t ever come back. I’d hate to give you a fucking heart attack.
The movie is a real time capsule, taking us back to those days of Nixon, the Vietnam War, Peace With Honor, the Light at the End of the Tunnel, and all that bullshit. Unrest had been endemic across the country for a long time, but now it was growing in the military, too, and it scared the pants off Nixon and his administration. What would they do if the soldiers, sailors, and marines refused to fight?
It never got close to rebellion, of course, but there was plenty of anger and frustration in the ranks, especially among draftees. So Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and some lesser-known friends organized the Fuck The Army show and took it to military bases around the country, and then around the Pacific Rim to Hawaii, Okinawa, the Philippines, and Japan. And what might have surprised many if not most Americans, had they been allowed to see this movie, was just how large and passionate and angry the crowds were.
Yeah, I know, there were also plenty of gung-ho mycountryrightorwrong americaloveitorleave it hard-hats, too. Bob Hope drew big crowds with his inoffensive, World War II Beetle Bailey tits-and-ass shows, gently poking fun at military life in ways that made the soldiers roar with laughter … but he had the full support of the military. Fonda and company had to pay their own way, and find their own venues. There’s an interesting article here, that sort of makes you wonder: Yeah, where is the commitment that Fonda and Sutherland showed, taking this show on the road, interrupting their careers with no way of knowing if they would still have careers when they came back.
Well, it’s a different day, I know that. It’s hard to convince yourself that singing some songs and putting on some skits will change anything.
The show itself is rather amateurish in a lot of ways, with bad Vaudeville-quality skits, and it’s low-budget all the way, but it can be bitingly funny and angry at the same time. There is a lot of singing of protest songs. Sutherland is prominent in the two most effective pieces, in my opinion. One is about war as being described by a sportscaster. The other is an impassioned call to arms … literally. Addressing the masters of war, he says we will one day point the guns at you. It’s more like John Lennon imagining no religion—you know it’s never going to happen—than an actual incitement to take up arms against the warmongers, but it’s very effective.
Others in the cast were folk singer Len Chandler, who is very good and still working, and somebody I’d almost forgotten about: Holly Near. She’s also still working, but never became famous, probably because she kept true to her vision.
I can’t help ruminating on the sad case of Jane Fonda. I saw somewhere that her autobiography, My Life So Far, describes her life as being three acts. I count four: Sex kitten Jane, Hanoi Jane, Workout Jane, and lately, Holy Jane. She doesn’t remake herself quite as often as Madonna, but it’s close. And she always jumps in with both feet, and then usually goes too far. That’s what happened in this stage of her life. When this movie was made, the soldiers were cheering her. The tour never, never, never insulted the grunts, it was plain that they supported the GIs, swabbies, and leathernecks, in that they wanted to bring them home! Then she went to Hanoi, and posed on an anti-aircraft gun, the kind that was pointed at our airmen, and met with POWs, whose unanimous opinion was that the North Vietnamese had used her. It was and is my opinion, too. What she and some others lost sight of was that, no matter that US involvement in the Vietnamese civil war was a gigantic mistake, that those 50,000 American lives were wasted … the Hanoi regime were not nice people! To work to end the war, to bring the boys home, was patriotic. To chant Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is gonna win! … was very close to treason. (I never chanted it, even when those around me did.)
Oh, well. It’s a shame that all Jane’s good intentions and good work were flushed down the toilet by the trip to Hanoi. I’ve forgiven her, but I didn’t go to war so my opinion doesn’t really count, does it? There are many vets who haven’t forgiven her and never will. And I can’t blame them.
There was one guy who was in a lot of the skits, and I kept wondering if I ought to know him. He was a good actor, and the credits said his name was Michael Alaimo. If you check him out at the IMDb, you’ll see that he’s still working, with a TV part as recently as 2004. But he never made it big, never became a name. And what’s really odd is that, before going on this tour, he’d worked exclusively in what we called skin flicks in those pre-porno days of the 1950s and early 1960s, including several films by … Doris Wishman! You’ve probably never heard of her, but she has a cult following today, and is often called the female Ed Wood. She made truly awful films set in nudist camps, with titles like Diary of a Nudist, Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls, and Nude on the Moon. (I’m not making this up!) That was the only way you could show tits in those days, because it was “educational.” Then she moved on to what was called sexploitation flicks, which always promised a lot more than they delivered. Thank god for Doris Wishman. Terrible as she was, I always went to see her films when I could convince the guy at the box office at the sleazy theater in Houston that played them that I was 18. I loved those films! Where else was a horny Texas teenager going to see real boobs?