He's Got the Look
His father was a marine and Marion (Jan-Michael Vincent) wants to follow suit, unfortunately he doesn't have what it takes and is in the idiot squad with the likes of Pop Mosley (Bruno Kirby). When the Marines decide they haven't cut the grade they are sent home wearing the baby blue suits of failures and suffer humiliation on the way. For Marion things change on the way home when he meets decorated Raider (Richard Gere) who doesn't want to go back to the action and so gets him drunk and switches his uniform for Marion's baby blues. When Marion heads in to a small town wearing the Raider's uniform he is treated like a hero and finds waitress Rose (Glynnis O'Connor) falling in love with him. But when three Japanese-Americans escape from a nearby detention camp some of the locals are hot to send out a lynch mob and want Marion to help in their capture.
Right from the word go "Baby Blue Marine" grabs your attention because it doesn't feel quite right. What I mean is that we have this opening scene of a drill sergeant dealing with a bunch of trainee marines who can't get anything right. It isn't full on comedy, it doesn't have the power of a really tough drill sergeant and the cinematography has a quiet beauty go on. It makes you wonder what sort of movie "Baby Blue Marine" is and it continues to perplex as we watch Marion leave with others in their baby blue suits having failed training.
But then it starts to gather focus when Marion is mugged by the Raider who fears returning to action and so here we have Marion getting to experience what it is like to be respected by others because of the uniform, well challenged as well by other outfits as drunken rivalry causes trouble. We see things like people wanting to buy him a drink and a meal and show him plenty of home grown hospitality. But we also see how those in small communities have been affected by the war with one man having lost a son at Pearl Harbour takes an interest in Marion as he is the hero young man he imagines his son would be.
Now here is the thing; as all of this is going one we have the shadow of the detention camp for Japanese-Americans and how the locals feel about them since Pearl Harbour. This all builds to three Japanese-Americans escaping and Marion seeing how some locals want to hunt them down in an old fashioned style lynching, giving them their chance of feeling like they are striking back for what happened. That is all well and good until things play out and sadly the ending of "Baby Blue Marine" doesn't really do justice to all the build up and I wonder whether the writer struggled to find an ending for this story.
What is for certain is that "Baby Blue Marine" features Jan-Michael Vincent delivering one of his best performances because it isn't about being the big hero but being just a normal guy who is a bit slow but so good hearted. Vincent makes Marion very real, just a good kid who goes along with what others think and finding some wisdom when needed such as when a tearful woman asks him if she knows if her son is alright as he is in the Pacific. It is a performance which I could watch time and again but the acting around him is just as good with Art Lund delivering just as fine a performance as the father whose son died at Pearl Harbour; it is a small part but perfectly played.
What this all boils down to is that "Baby Blue Marine" is one of the most fascinating movies I have come across and for me one of Jan-Michael Vincent's best. It is such a shame that it is undone by an ending which doesn't really work.