Movie Depictions of Boys Clothes: Film Themes--Military Schools

Figure 1.--This Ra Hould in his military school uniform. I'm not sure what film this was for. American films in the 1930s often depicted the boys being sent to military boarding schools.

Several films have been made that were set in military schools or include scence from those schools. Often the films pursue the established stereotypes of the schools. The European films on this subject are much more serious than the American films. The German/Austrain films are often quite somber. The American films tend to take a more upbeat approach, in some cases a humerous approach. One English film uses an incident from a military school to emphasize a basic principle of law.

Colonel Rendl (Austria/Hungary, 1984)

An interesting German-language account of Alfred Redla, a carrer-oriented soldier from a working-class background, who rises to a leadership position in the pre-World War I Austro-Hungarian Army. His working-class background is further complicated by Jewish-Catholic roots. Much of the film is set in Prague. The film opens at an Austrian military academy in the latter years of the 19th century. There are two uniforms worn by cadets: a dress outfit with silver buttons and a simpler everyday outfit.

Combat High - (United States)

Well, this film is no "Major Benson", more like "Up the Academy", but its setting is a military academy. "Combat High", a made for TV comedy from 1986, is the story of two mischievous teens (one is Keith Gordon, best known for his role in "Christine") who play a destructive prank. For their misdeed they are sentenced by a judge (Sherman Hemsley of "The Jeffersons") to a year at a military school. They continue their hijinks at the academy, generally frustrating those in charge. Not really bad boys, just undisciplined, they defend a nice, but mistreated cadet (Marc Price). Their high spirits and imagination help turn the tide in a competition with a visiting Soviet military academy group. At last, the twosome prove their merits by capturing a serial thief at the academy. No longer their punishment, the academy is now their school.

Dangerous Holiday (US, 1937)

I thought this was the film Ra Hould was pictured in at right, but on reflection I find it must have been a different film.

Dinky (US, 1935)

Jackie Cooper plays Dinky Daniels, a standout military school cadet. His mom (played by Mary Astor) is set up to take the blame for embezzlement at the bank where she works. She's convicted and sent to prison. Dinky's mom tries, but fails to keep news of her plight from reaching Dinky and his friends at the military school. Ashamed and unable to bear the taunts of his cohorts at the military, Dinky leaves the school and goes to an orphanage, where the children are more understanding of his situation. Eventually, Dinky's mom is cleared of the false charges, and Dinky returns to his old school, a hero once more. The military school uniform appears to be dark grey, the tunic closed at the collar, and peak caps. The children at the orphanage wear clothes typical of Depression-era America; they look much like the well-worn clothes of the children of "Our Gang".

Europa, Europa (Germany, 1990)

One of the best know German films about the Hitler Youth and World War II is Europa, Europa. It is about a Jewish boy who ends up in the HJ during the war. It is particularly poignent because it is the true story of Solomon (Solly) Perel, a 13-year-old German-Jewish boy who is separated from his family during the period between the Hitler-Stalin pact (August 1939) and the German invasion of Russia (June 1941). "You must stay alive!" was his mother's parting admonition. Near the conclusion of the film, Solly is honored by being admitted to the Adolph Hitler school for training NAZI warriors. He is terrified of a medical examination that will reveal that he is Jewish.

(The) Ghost of Buckely Hall (US, 1980)

This Disney movie is about Buxley Hall, an all boys military school, that opens its doors to include girl cadets in order to ease financial constraints. This decision meets of course with mixed reactions from the boys, as well as three ghosts from the Civil War era who keep watch over the venerable academy. It is about the effort of a group of children to save a military school. The commandant seeks to prevent it from going coed. There are many boys involved, but unlike the girls, they wear military-style school uniforms. The boys wore grey uniforms similar to those of the West Point cadets. Rad Daly, Billy Jacoby

Hard Knox (US, 1984)

One other film comes to mind just now, "Hard Knox", a made for TV film from 1984. Robert Conrad plays a retired fighter pilot who takes charge of his high school military academy for 2 weeks. Military discipline has dilapidated at the school, and "Hard" Knox changes that right away. The boys are given close-cropped military haircuts. (In this scene the boys' hair is shown tumbling to the floor as their ears and necks are uncovered to their abject humiliation.) Their uniforms are spiffed up, tight discipline imposed, and rigorous training begun. The cadets shape up so well that they're able to win a mock-battle competition with their rival school. Believe it or not, this is a comedy! The film co-stars Ricky Paull Goldin and Conrad's real life son, Shane. Haven't seen this one for a while, but maybe military school theme films will make a comeback during this time of military action. I'll try to come up with some more of these films.

High Gear - (US, 1933)

A racing car driver is killed in a crash. His friend looks after his son. The boy (Jack Searl) wears knickers and is sent to a military school.

Major Payne - (US, 1995)

Major Payne, a retired marine, becomes a ROTC commander at a Virginia prep school. The boys seem a bit younger than American prep age. The Major knows nothing about kids and uses unorthodox methods, such as putting them all into dresses. "Major Payne" is a remake of sorts of "Major Benson". OneHBC reader writes, "Guess it's a matter of taste whether the special effects and Damon Wayans' performance are an improvement on the original; my own preference is "Benson", but "Payne" had some raucous moments.

Military Academy - (US, 1940)

Jackie Searl is about 19.

(The) Ogre (British-French-German, 1996)

This movie showed historical boys' school smocks. Ogre is a joint British-French-German production), about a Frenchman during World War II. The opening scenes are set in a Paris suburb of 1925, at St. Christopher's School for Boys. The boys are shown as wearing brown smocks (over shirt and short pants), fastentened in back with three buttons. "The Ogre", which stars John Malkovich is an intense film. The last half or so of this film is set at a German Napola in World War II. The Napola I believe were NAZI party training schools that were run like military schools.

(The) Private War of Major Benson - (US, 1955)

A HBC reader reports that a favorite of his is "The Private War Of Major Benson." A tough Army officer played by Charlton Heston is softened by a female doctor after he is transferred to a military boarding school. A bit of a change of pace for Heston. Not a particularly notable film, but a look at a military school for younger boys from about 7 to 14 or so. The boys wear army style uniforms. The cadet commander is Sal Mineo, who looks about 14 or so. There is also Disney fixture Tim Cosidine. The most important boy role is play by Tim Hovey who looks to be about 7 or 8, but was 9 or 10. He also played in another boarding school film (Toy Tigers) where he and the other boys did wear short pants school uniforms.

(The) Road to Happiness - US, 1940)

Billy Lee appears with actor John Boles. Billy Lee is wearing the typical dress of boys who attended military school in the late 30's. Boys attending boarding school were often depicted as going to military schools. Billy is seen dressed in military attire in a number of other films also, including "Mike Fright" (1934), "Sons of The Legion" (1938) and "Sudden Money" (1939).

Taps (US)

General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott) is sick in the hospital, and Cadet-Major Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton), the cadey commander at the academy, is faced with the responsibility of deciding whether to accept the desire of towns people wishing to demolish the school. Brian decides to lead the cadets in the way he thinks is right. He takes a stand against the town and demand that the students be consulted as to the future of the school. Brian and the other cadets have to make choices about whether they believe they are doing the right thing.

Up the Academy (US, 1980)

This rather insipid teen comedy hits about every sterotype touching on military schools. Ron Liebman plays a sadistic Major at a military school. Ralph Macchio has a major role before he mase a mane for himself in Karate Kid (1984). Several other teens of virtually every ethnic category suffer through the abise heaped on them by the Major, They do their best with the racial stereotypes the poorly written script gives them.

The Winslow Boy (England, 1948)

No list of English films featuring boys and their clothing without this classic. A boy at the English naval school at Osborne is accused of stealing and summarily expelled with no real investifgation of the matter . A respected lawyer agrees to take his case. Wonderfully acted and well costumed. The film underscores how the law exists to protect even a young boy in a matter of seemingly minor imprtance. It ends with the ringing "Let justice be done." This is on my list of important films, primarily because of the subject. I believe that one of the major reasons for the success of America and England is the system of law, imperfect as it is, protecting individuals and their property. This film is a good illystration of the legal process. A beautiful remake was done in 1999, but has many historical errors.

Young Torless (France/Germany, 1966)

This powerful allegorical German film is based the novel (Die Verwirrungen des Zoglings Torless written by Robert Musil in 1906. (Musil at age 12 entered an Austrian boarding school. He served in World War I and was decorated for valor. He mairred a Jewish woman and fled to SWitzerland after the Anchlus. His books were banned by the NAZIs.) Young Torless is set at an Austrian military school and is based on the author's own experieces. This penetrating study of young cadets offers a preview of coming power of Facist movements. Mathieu Carriere plays Torless, a student in a prestigious boarding school during the waning, but still proud days of the Hapsburg empire. Torless witnesses the sadistic behavior of fellow students Alfred Dietz and Bernd. He at first watches with fascination, but does not intervene or to assisst the hapless victims. When Torless does finally report his former friends, it is he who has to leave the school. There may have been a remake in 1996. One reviewer writes, Young Torless has gone down in film history as a seminal work that announced a new German cinema of international stature."


There have also been a few American television shows set around military schools. All the pne known to HBC have been television shows. One is "Mc Keever and the Colonel", a one season show from 1962-63. Details can be found in the TV section of HBC.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: October 30, 2001
Last updated: January 25, 2003