An Officer and a Gentleman is a 1982 American romantic drama film starring Richard Gere, Debra Winger, and Louis Gossett Jr., who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the film, making him the first African American male to do so.
It tells the story of Zack Mayo (Gere), a United States Navy Aviation Officer Candidate who is beginning his training at Aviation Officer Candidate School.
While Zack meets his first true girlfriend during his training, a young “townie” named Paula (Winger), he also comes into conflict with the hard-driving Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley (Gossett Jr.) training his class.
The film’s title is an old expression from the Royal Navy and later from the US Uniform Code of Military Justice’s charge of “conduct unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman” (from 1860).
The film begins with Zachary Mayo preparing to report to Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS) following college graduation. He moved to the Philippines as a child to live with his father Byron, a Navy Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate, after his mother’s suicide. Initially his father didn’t want him because he was at sea most of the time and wasn’t much good at being a father while in port. After begging him not to be sent back, Byron lets Zach stay. He would grow up as a Navy brat at Subic Bay. Zack is now determined – despite his father’s disapproval – to become a Navy pilot so one day Byron will have to salute him.
Upon arrival at AOCS, Zack and his fellow AOCs are shocked by the draconian treatment they receive from their head drill instructor, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, who makes it clear that the next 13 weeks are designed to eliminate officer candidates (OCs) who are found to be mentally or physically unfit for commission as an ensign in the U.S. Navy’s $1 million flight training program. Foley warns the male candidates about the “Puget Sound Debs” (local girls) who dream of marrying a Naval Aviator to escape their dull lives. Foley warns the OCs they will feign pregnancy or even stop using birth control to become pregnant to trap a man. Zack and fellow candidate Sid Worley meet two local factory workers Paula Pokrifki and Lynette Pomeroy at a Navy Ball. Zack begins a relationship with Paula while Sid dates Lynette.
Foley runs the program mercilessly. Recruit Topper Daniels drops out after he nearly drowns in a crash-escape exercise. Foley believes Zack lacks motivation and is not a team player. When Zack’s side business selling pre-shined shoes and belt buckles is discovered, Foley starts an entire weekend of hazing in an attempt to make him DOR (Drop on Request). After refusing to quit, Foley tells Zack he will personally eject him. Zach breaks down telling Foley that this is his only option and he has “nowhere else to go.” Satisfied that Zack has come to crucial self-realisation, Foley gives him the chance to prove he can be a team player. The next weekend he has an awkward meal with Paula and her family, where he learns that her actual father was an OC like himself who refused to marry her mother, after which her mother entered a loveless marriage with the man who raised Paula. Although he has the chance to break the obstacle course record, Zack instead stops to encourage Casey Seeger (the lone female OC) to succeed and climb over a 12-foot-high wall (3.7 m).
Zack attends a dinner with Sid and his parents and learns that Sid has a long-time girlfriend back home who he is planning to marry once he receives his commission. Meanwhile, Lynette has been dropping hints to Sid that she may be pregnant with his child. After having a severe anxiety attack during a high-altitude simulation in a pressure chamber, Sid DORs without saying goodbye. He goes to Lynette’s house to propose marriage but she rejects him because she wanted to marry a naval aviator. After telling him the pregnancy was a lie as well, Sid checks into a motel and hangs himself. Zack heads back to base with the intent to DOR himself after finding Sid’s body but Foley won’t let him quit. They fight an unofficial martial arts bout in which Foley takes a lot of punishment due to Zack’s youth and unorthodox style, but then he lays Zack out with a groin kick. An injured Foley tells Zack he can quit now if he wants.
Zack decides to stay and is commissioned into the Navy with his graduating class. Following naval tradition, he receives his first salute from Foley in exchange for a US silver dollar. While tradition calls for the drill instructor to place the coin in his left belt pocket, Foley places the coin in his right, acknowledging that Zack was a special candidate. Zack thanks the Gunnery Sergeant for not giving up on him and says he would have never have made it without him. While leaving the base, he sees Foley initiating a new OC class who are in the same position he was thirteen weeks earlier. As Ensign Mayo, he now seeks out Paula at her factory where he declares his love to her. He picks her up and walks out with her in his arms to the applause of her colleagues, including Lynette.
- Richard Gere as Aviation Officer Candidate Zack Mayo.
- Debra Winger as Paula Pokrifki.
- David Keith as AOC Sid Worley.
- Robert Loggia as Senior Chief Petty Officer Byron Mayo (Zack’s father).
- Lisa Blount as Lynette Pomeroy.
- Lisa Eilbacher as AOC Casey Seeger.
- Louis Gossett Jr. as Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, USMC.
- Tony Plana as AOC Emiliano Della Serra.
- Harold Sylvester as AOC Lionel Perryman.
- David Caruso as AOC Topper Daniels.
- Victor French as Joe Pokrifki (Paula’s stepfather).
- Grace Zabriskie as Esther Pokrifki (Paula’s mother).
- Tommy Petersen as Young Zack.
- Elizabeth Rogers as Betty Worley.
- John Laughlin as Troy.
- Ed Begley Jr. as Altitude Chamber Instructor (voice).
The film was shot in late 1981 on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, at Port Townsend and Fort Worden. The US Navy did not permit filming at NAS Pensacola in the Florida panhandle, the site of the actual Aviation Officer Candidate School in 1981. Deactivated US Army base Fort Worden stood in for the location of the school, an actual Naval Air Station in the Puget Sound area, NAS Whidbey Island. However, that installation, which is still an operating air station today, was and is a “fleet” base for operational combat aircraft and squadrons under the cognisance of Naval Air Force Pacific, not a Naval Air Training Command installation.
A motel room in Port Townsend, The Tides Inn on Water Street (48.1105°N 122.765°W), was used for the film. Today, there is a plaque outside the room commemorating this (although the room has been extensively refurbished in the interim). Some early scenes of the movie were filmed in Bremerton, with ships of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in the background.
The “Dilbert Dunker” scenes were filmed in the swimming pool at what is now Mountain View Elementary School (Port Townsend Jr High School during filming). According to the director’s commentary on the DVD, the dunking machine was constructed specifically for the film and was an exact duplicate of the actual one used by the Navy. As of 2010, Mountain View Elementary is closed and is now home to the Mountain View Commons, which holds the police station, food bank and the YMCA, the latter of which holds the pool.
The filming location of Paula Pokrifiki’s house was 1003 Tremont in Port Townsend. As of 2009, the house was shrouded by a large hedge, and the front porch had been remodelled. The neighbouring homes and landscape look identical to their appearance in the film, including the ‘crooked oak tree’ across the street from the Pokrifiki home. This oak tree is visible in the scene near the end of the film in which Richard Gere returns to the home to request Paula’s help in finding his friend Sid. In the film, the plot has Paula leaving on a ferry ride away from the naval base. In reality, Paula’s home is located approximately 8 blocks from Fort Worden.
Lynette Pomeroy’s house was located on Mill Road, just west of the main entrance of the Port Townsend Paper Corp. mill. The house no longer exists, but the concrete driveway pad is still visible.
The interior of the USO building at Fort Worden State Park was used for the reception scene near the beginning of the film.
The concrete structure used during the famous Richard Gere line “I got nowhere else to go!” is the Battery Kinzie located at Fort Worden State Park. The scene was filmed on the southwest corner of the upper level of the battery. The ‘obstacle course’ was constructed specifically for the film and was located in the grassy areas just south and southeast of Battery Kinzie.
The decompression chamber was one of the only sets constructed for the film and as of 2013, it is still intact in the basement of building number 225 of the Fort Worden State Park. It can be seen through the windows of the building’s basement.
Building 204 of Fort Worden State Park was used as the dormitory and its porch was used for the film’s closing ‘silver dollar’ scene.
The blimp hangar used for the famous fight scene between Louis Gossett Jr. and Richard Gere is located at Fort Worden State Park and as of 2013 is still intact, but has been converted into a 1200-seat performing arts center called the McCurdy Pavilion.
The filming location for the exterior of ‘TJ’s Restaurant’ is located at the Point Hudson marina in Port Townsend. The space is now occupied by a company that makes sails. The fictional “TJ’s” is an homage to the Trader Jon’s bar in Pensacola, Florida, as a naval aviator hangout until it closed later in November 2003. For years, it was traditional for graduating Aviation Officer Candidate School classes to celebrate their commissioning at “Trader’s.”
- It was well received by critics, with a number calling it the best film of 1982.
- Richard Gere balked at shooting the ending of the film, in which Zack arrives at Paula’s factory wearing his naval dress whites and carries her off the factory floor.
- Gere thought the ending would not work because it was too sentimental. Director Taylor Hackford agreed with Gere until, during a rehearsal, the extras playing the workers began to cheer and cry.
- When Gere saw the scene later, with a portion of the score (that was used to write “Up Where We Belong”) played at the right tempo, he said it gave him chills.
- Gere is now convinced Hackford made the right decision.
- Screenwriter Michael Hauge, in his book Writing Screenplays That Sell, echoed this opinion: “I don’t believe that those who criticised this Cinderella-style ending were paying very close attention to who exactly is rescuing whom.”
- Two versions of the film exist.
- The original, an uncensored R-rated cut and an edited-for-broadcast television cut (which first aired on NBC in 1986) are nearly identical.
- The main difference is that the nudity and a majority of the foul language are edited out when the film airs on regular television.
- However, the group marching song near the beginning of the film and Mayo’s solo marching song are not voiceover edits; they are re-shoots of those scenes for television.
- Also, the sex scene between Mayo and Paula is cut in half, and the scene where Mayo finds Sid’s naked body hanging in the shower is also edited.
- Box Office:
- It was a financial success, grossing $130 million against a $6 million budget.
- It went on to become the third-highest-grossing film of 1982, after E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and Tootsie.
- It grossed $3,304,679 in its opening weekend and $129,795,554 overall at the domestic box office.
- It sold an estimated 44 million tickets in the US.
- The Takarazuka Revue adapted the movie as a musical in 2010 in Japan (Takarazuka Grand Theater; Tokyo Takarazuka Theater). The production was performed by Star Troupe and the cast included Reon Yuzuki as Zack Mayo, Nene Yumesaki as Paula Pokrifki and Kaname Ouki as Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley.
- A stage musical, with book by Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen and songs by Ken Hirsch and Robin Lerner, directed by Simon Phillips, opened on 18 May 2012 at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney, Australia. The production received mixed reviews and closed after six weeks.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Taylor Hackford.
- Producer(s): Martin Elfand and Douglas Day Stewart.
- Writer(s): Douglas Day Stewart.
- Music: Jack Nitzsche.
- Cinematography: Donald E. Thorin.
- Editor(s): Peter Zinner.
- Production: Lorimar Productions.
- Distributor(s): Paramount Pictures.
- Release Date: 28 July 1982.
- Running time: 124 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.