Rise and Shine, Willy!

Timecode: 0:00 – 2:00

FADE IN:

EXT. A SENTRY TOWER —

— in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere.

If you’re gonna devote a year of your life to breaking down every millisecond of your favorite movie (and that is the objective here), it only makes sense to start at, well…the beginning. And because we’re dealing with a Rob Reiner joint film, the very first thing we see is the familiar Castle Rock Entertainment lighthouse logo. And with it comes the slow piano build of the Castle Rock theme.

What’s interesting about this is that both the image of the lighthouse and the haunting piano chords of the production company’s pre-movie credit are echoed in the film’s opening shot. Instead of a lighthouse, we see a sentry tower overlooking a fence-line (and the Atlantic Ocean), and with it, we get an eerily similar (and foreboding) piano build. Even as a 12-year-old, when I was seeing the movie for the first time, I noticed the similarities. But I (incorrectly) assumed that the Castle Rock logo/theme had been designed specifically for A Few Good Men.opening shot v castle rock comparison

Instead, the similitude can likely be attributed to two things: Rob Reiner’s light tower fetish¹ and the fact that the same man, Marc Shaiman, composed both the Castle Rock theme and the score for AFGM (not to mention a host of other Reiner projects).

When the camera finally stops panning, we land squarely on the fence-line² and an ominous chord summons a title card that pinpoints our location:

Opening Shot Title (Gitmo)

It’s crazy to think about: as much as I made fun of the trailer for its cheesy and incredibly dated sound effects, the part of the movie that holds up worst to the vagaries of time is its setting. Back when the movie opened in late 1992, most Americans didn’t know the difference between Guantanamo Bay and Cheddar Bay. But the events of the last 15 years have brought “Gitmo” into the national spotlight — and not in a good way. It’ll be interesting to see how writer Aaron Sorkin handles this when he adapts his play for NBC’s live production next spring.

What’s more interesting, at least for our purposes, are the first three faces we see on screen. In a movie that boasts arguably the best and most star-studded cast of its day, the trio of actors who are tasked with executing the film’s pivotal opening scene are a who’s who of “who the hell is he’s?”

First up, we have this guy:

Santiago waking up

If you’ve never heard the name Michael DeLorenzo before reading this sentence, you are not alone. DeLorenzo’s biggest claim to fame prior to playing PFC William T. Santiago was the three seasons he spent on the ABC sitcom Head of the Class as Spanish Harlem bad boy, Alex Torres. And his biggest splash post-AFGM was his turn as – I kid you not — Detective Eddie Torres on Dick Wolf’s off-brand cop show, New York Undercover. (Seriously, Hollywood? You couldn’t come up with one other Latino surname?)

Opposite Torres DeLorenzo we have this dynamic duo:

Dawson and Downey Wake up call

Believe it or not, Wolfgang Bodison (right) was an even more obscure choice than DeLorenzo. Prior to playing Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson, Bodison wasn’t even an actor; he was a location scout for various filmmakers (including Reiner). James Marshall (left), on the other hand, had at least achieved “That Guy” status by the time AFGM was released. Most famous for playing Laura Palmer’s brooding, secret lover on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Marshall pulled off quite the trifecta in 1992. He not only appeared in the film version of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, he took on the titular role in Gladiator (the emo boxing movie not the Russell Crowe sword-and-sandal epic), and somehow still found time to play America’s sweetheart, PFC Louden Downey.

Perhaps my favorite detail of the boys’ surgical execution of the Code Red is that Downey’s brow is glistening with sweat before they grab Willy. This seems to suggest one of two things (or, quite possibly, both):

1) Cuba is hotter than a motherfucker — even at dawn.

2) Downey is prone to flop sweats when he’s nervous (which is entirely plausible given his performance on the witness stand during the trial).

You also have to love a cold open that ends with a panicked, guttural “ARRRRGGGGGHH!” that’s screamed (at top volume) through a duct-taped rag. One thing’s for goddamn sure: Torres DeLorenzo earned his paycheck³ that day. #ripwilly

-MPM

¹In an interview, Reiner said that the lighthouse was an allegory for Castle Rock’s mission to give creative talents “safe harbor” to make their projects with more freedom than the major Hollywood studios would allow.
²A big wall separating the good guys from the bad guys.
³Which I’m assuming was for SAG scale.

One thought on “Rise and Shine, Willy!

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