A group of Naval Academy grads who watched a preview of Annapolis this week agreed the movie was a pretty good yarn but that it diminished the "majesty" of the academy.
Lawrence Heyworth III, Class of 1982 and a vice president of the Naval Academy Alumni Association, called it "An Officer and A Gentleman light."
"It would have been a lot more entertaining to me if there had been a theater full of midshipmen, just to hear the reaction of the midshipmen to the inaccuracies of the movie, and there were some," said Heyworth, of Annapolis.
The film follows a working-class kid from Annapolis as he tries to make it through his plebe year. His battle for the brigade heavyweight boxing championship is the film's climax. The boxing championships are an Annapolis tradition that in the Class of 1968 pitted Marines James Webb, who became secretary of the Navy, against Col. Oliver L. North, the Vietnam veteran who became an Iran-contra figure.
Heyworth found the portrayal of the Academy itself "detracting."
"It just wasn't anything like the majesty, if you will, of Ernest Flagg's architecture of the Academy's design in the late 19th century."
Flagg, a New York architect, designed the commandant's house, Bancroft Hall, one of the world's largest college dorms, and the Chapel, perhaps the jewel of the campus.
Because the producers and the Academy couldn't reach an agreement, Annapolis was filmed in Philadelphia. Girard College, a high school for disadvantaged boys founded in 1848, stood in for the Academy. There's a fleeting glimpse of a Philadelphia street that purports to be Annapolis, but not much else of the town. Jake Huard, the protagonist, comes out of a job building warships with his father in Annapolis.
"There are no shipbuilders in Annapolis!" says Dave Church, Class of 1960, who served 21 years on active duty in the Navy.
He also noted that lots of midshipmen come from modest backgrounds. He's the son of a chief petty officer, an enlisted man in the Navy. His daughter, Kim Parker, 37, graduated with the Class of 1991. She served five years on active duty as a supply officer on a submarine tender in Italy. She's now a mother of two.
"He was in my company," she exclaims, when Scott Carson, the film's technical adviser, appears on screen in the role of the brigade commander at a disciplinary hearing.
Heyworth, Dan Proulx, Class of 1982, and Bill Dawson, also Class of '82, who is still on active duty as a captain, found the depiction of the Academy's Memorial Hall "shabby" and "scruffy."
Memorial Hall honors graduates killed in action or awarded the Medal of Honor.
"Memorial Hall at the Academy is just breathtaking." Heyworth says. "It's a very solemn place. It's a hallowed place, and it just wasn't treated very well."
Heyworth and Proulx thought many "exercises" in the film, push-ups in the rain at night, for example, would be considered hazing and forbidden.
"I think Dan Proulx said it best," Heyworth says. "They had some of the technical details correct. Like what we call `table salt.'"
That's a sort of rhyming slang at the mess table.
"It's a silly kind of thing," Heyworth says. "But it's all part of memorization and responding under pressure."
But they all caught insignia changes between scenes and errors in name tags and similar lapses in accuracy. They noted that 4,000 midshipmen move about the yard at the Academy. The film could barely muster a couple of platoons. And the salutes were just plain sloppy.
They all thought the flirtatious relationship between Jake, the plebe, and Ali, a junior, an unlikely violation of rules.
"And the kiss at the end," Heyworth says, "come on, give me a break! She'd get her butt kicked if she'd done that here."