DirectorLewis John Carlino Initial DVD releaseNovember 23, 1999 LanguageEnglish
Release dateOctober 26, 1979 Based onThe Great Santini by
Pat Conroy WriterPat Conroy (novel), Lewis John Carlino (written for the screen by) ScreenplayLewis John Carlino, Pat Conroy, Herman Raucher CastRobert Duvall (Lt. Col. 'Bull' Meechum), Blythe Danner (Lillian Meechum), Michael O'Keefe (Ben Meechum), Lisa Jane Persky (Mary Anne Meechum), Julie Anne Haddock (Karen Meechum), David Keith (Red Petus) Similar moviesCarrie, Independence Day, Never Been Kissed, Annie O, Zapped!, Can't Hardly Wait
TaglineThe bravest thing he would ever do was let his family love him.
Bull Meechum (Robert Duvall) is a great fighter pilot so great that he dubs himself "The Great Santini." While his take-no-prisoners attitude and willingness to fight has served him well in the military, hes unable to turn it off at home. Eventually his competitive nature and abusive behavior take their toll on his relationships with his wife (Blythe Danner) and his rebellious 18-year-old son (Michael OKeefe) after a friendly father-and-son basketball game turns ugly.
The Great Santini is a 1979 film directed by Lewis John Carlino, written by Lewis John Carlino and Herman Raucher, and based on the 1976 novel of the same name by Pat Conroy. The film stars Robert Duvall, Blythe Danner, Michael OKeefe, Lisa Jane Persky, Julie Anne Haddock, Brian Andrews, Stan Shaw and David Keith.
The film tells the story of a Marine officer whose success as an F-4 Phantom military aviator contrasts with his shortcomings as a husband and father. The film explores the high price of heroism and self-sacrifice. The film is set in 1962 before widespread American involvement in the Vietnam War.
As he approaches manhood, Ben Meechum struggles to win the approval of his demanding alpha male father, an aggressively competitive, but frustrated marine pilot.
A warrior without a war, Lt. Col. "Bull" Meechum, a pilot also known as "The Great Santini" to his fellow Marines, moves his family to the military-base town of Beaufort, South Carolina in peacetime 1962. His wife Lillian is loyal and docile, tolerant of Meechums temper and drinking. Their teenaged kids, Ben and Mary Anne, are accustomed to his stern discipline and behave accordingly, while adapting to their new town and school.
Ben is a basketball star. On the court at school, he is a dominating player. In one-on-one games on his driveway at home, his father wont let him win, even if it means using unnecessarily physical tactics or humiliating the boy, bouncing the ball off him. Ben is publicly embarrassed one night at the school gym when his dad, drunk, orders him to get even with an opponent who committed a foul. Ben decks the boy and is ejected from the game.
Ben befriends a young black man called Toomer, who is being harassed by Red Petus, a bigoted bully. Toomer exacts revenge on Red with the help of a hive of bees. But tragic consequences ensue.
Meechum is unwilling or unable to appreciate the sensitive nature of his son. Their relationship is still a delicate one when the Great Santini flies one last mission, a military maneuver, from which he does not return.
Robert Duvall as Lt. Col. Wilbur "Bull" Meechum
Michael OKeefe as Ben Meechum
Blythe Danner as Lillian Meechum
Lisa Jane Persky as Mary Anne Meechum
Stan Shaw as Toomer
David Keith as Red
Theresa Merritt as Annabelle
Warner Bros. executives were concerned that the films plot and lack of bankable actors would make it hard to market. It made its world premiere in Beaufort in August 1979 and was soon released in North Carolina and South Carolina to empty houses. Believing that the films title - giving the perception that it was about circus stunts - was the problem, it was tested as Sons and Heroes in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as Reaching Out in Rockford, Illinois, and The Ace in Peoria, Illinois. As it tested better in Peoria, The Ace stuck, though even with its new title it was still performing poorly. Orion Pictures eventually pulled the film and sold cable rights to HBO along with the airline rights to recoup its losses.
Producer Charles A. Pratt still had faith in the film and raised enough money, some coming from Orion, to release The Great Santini in New York under its original title. It ended up getting great reviews and business was steady, but two weeks later debuted on HBO, and audiences stopped coming. Orion executive Mike Medavoy blamed the films box office failure to a lack of a traditional release: screening it first in New York and expanding markets due to word-of-mouth.
The film was well received. Roger Ebert wrote that "Like almost all my favorite films, The Great Santini is about people more than it is about a story. Its a study of several characters, most unforgettably the Great Santini himself, played by Robert Duvall... There are moments so unpredictable and yet so natural they feel just like the spontaneity of life itself."
Robert Duvall appears in The Great Santini and Tender Mercies. Robert Duvall appears in The Great Santini and The Judge. Till the End of Time (1946). Robert Duvall appears in The Great Santini and To Kill a Mockingbird. Warrior (2011).
The Great Santini received two Academy Award nominations: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Duvall) and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (OKeefe).