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Heartbreak Ridge is a 1986 war film, starring Clint Eastwood (who also produced and directed) and Mario Van Peebles, about the 1983 U.S.marker invasion of Grenada, West Indiesmarker. A portion of the movie was filmed on the island itself.

The title comes from the Battle of Heartbreak Ridgemarker in the Korean War. The character played by Eastwood was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions there.


Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway (Eastwood) is nearing mandatory retirement from the Marine Corps. He finagles a transfer back to his old unit. On the bus trip to his new assignment, he meets fellow passenger 'Stitch' Jones (Van Peebles), a flashy wannabe rock musician who stiffs him for a meal at a stop and steals his bus ticket, leaving him stranded.

When Highway finally arrives at the base, more bad news awaits. His new commanding officer, Major Malcolm Powers (Everett McGill), is an Annapolismarker graduate who transferred over from Supply and has not had "the privilege" of combat. He sees Highway as an anachronism in the "new" Marine Corps, and assigns him to shape up the reconnaissance platoon. "Recon" is made up of undisciplined, undertrained Marines whose previous platoon sergeant had allowed them to slack off. Among his new charges, Highway finds none other than a dismayed Corporal Stitch Jones.

Highway quickly takes charge and begins forcing the men to shape up. They make a last-ditch attempt to intimidate Highway with the gigantic, heavily-muscled Swede Johanson (Peter Koch), but their plan fails miserably and they eventually begin to shape up and develop esprit de corps.

Highway repeatedly clashes with Powers and Staff Sergeant Webster (Moses Gunn) over his unorthodox training methods (such as firing a AK-47 over his men's heads to familiarize them with the weapon's distinctive sound); however, he is supported by his old comrade-in-arms, Sergeant Major Choozoo (Arlen Dean Snyder), and his nominal superior officer, the awkward and inexperienced Lieutenant Ring (Boyd Gaines). Powers makes it clear that he views Highway's platoon as only a training tool for his own elite outfit. After Highway's men learn that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor in the Korean War, they gain more respect for him and close ranks against their perceived common enemy.

Highway also has more personal problems. Aggie (Marsha Mason), his ex-wife, is working as a waitress in a local bar and dating the owner, Marine-hating Roy Jennings (Bo Svenson). Highway attempts to adapt his way of thinking enough to win Aggie back, even resorting to reading Cosmopolitan magazine to gain insights into the female mind. Initially, Aggie is bitter over their failed marriage, but tentatively reconciles with Highway. Then Highway's unit is activated for the invasion of Grenada.

Highway's platoon is dropped by helocast in advance of the main force. Highway improvises, ordering Stitch Jones to use a bulldozer to provide cover for his men so they can advance on and destroy an enemy machine gun nest. Next, they rescue American students from a medical school. When they are trapped in a building by an armored car and infantry, the radioman, Profile (Tom Villard), is killed and his radio is destroyed. Lieutenant Ring shows previously unsuspected leadership qualities and gains the confidence of the men. He comes up with the idea of using a telephone to call in air support. Later, despite Powers' explicit orders to the contrary, the men take a key position - a historical fort. When Powers finds out, he bawls them out and threatens Highway with a court-martial, but his commanding officer, Colonel Meyers, arrives and reprimands Powers for discouraging initiative and fighting spirit.

When Highway and his men return to the U.S., they are met by a warm reception, a first for Highway. Aggie is there to welcome him back. To Highway's mock dismay, Stitch informs him that he is going to stay and make a career for himself in the Marines.


Government involvement

Screenwriter James Carabatsos, a Vietnam veteran of the 1st Cavalry Division, had a previous hit with both the critics and the public in his Vietnam War film Hamburger Hill. Inspired by an account of American paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division using a pay telephone and a credit card to call in fire support during the invasion of Grenada, Carabatsos fashioned a script of a Korean War veteran career Army non-commissioned officer taking his values to a new generation of soldiers. Clint Eastwood was interested in the script and asked his producer, Fritz Manes, to contact the US Army with a view of filming the movie at Fort Braggmarker.

However, the U.S. Army read the script and refused to participate, due to Highway being portrayed as a hard drinker, divorced from his wife, and using unapproved motivational methods to his troops, an image the Army did not want. The army called the character a "stereotype" of World War II and Korean War attitudes that did not exist in the modern army and also did not like the obscene dialogue and lack of reference to women in the army. Clint Eastwood pleaded his case to an Army general, contending that while the point of the film was that Sgt. Highway was a throwback to a previous generation, there were values in the World War II and Korean War army that were worth emulating.

Eastwood approached the United States Marine Corps, which expressed some reservations about some bits of the film, but provided support. The character was then changed to a Marine. (This raised some conceptual difficulties, given that the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge primarily involved the U.S. Army. This is explained very briefly in the film when Sergeant Major Choozoo tells some of the younger troops that he and Highway were in the 2nd Infantry Division at the time and "joined the Corps later.") The Marine Corps first cooperated with the film project by allowing much of the filming to be done at Camp Pendletonmarker. The Marines planned to use it to promote its "Toys for Tots" campaign, but upon viewing a first cut, quickly disowned the film because of the language. Marines who viewed the film cited numerous issues with the way they were portrayed. Highway's commanding officer is repeatedly shown disparaging and insulting him. In reality, this would have been extremely unlikely, given Highway's Medal of Honor award. Much of the "training" done before the Grenada invasion was highly inaccurate. Even on a relatively small budget, the technical advice was poor. The US Defense Departmentmarker originally supported the film, but withdrew its backing after seeing a preview in November 1986.

A 2004 survey showed that many people have joined the military because of the attitudes and ideals this film encompasses.

Historical inspiration and accuracy

The sequence involving the bulldozer is based on a real event involving Army General John Abizaid, former commander of US Central Command (July 2003 - March 2007). "In the U.S. Invasion of Grenada in 1983, Abizaid improvised an attack on a Cuban bunker by having his unit take cover behind a charging bulldozer".

The American attack on Grenada is in some respects accurate, although U.S. Army Rangers, not Marines, secured the University medical school. The scene in which Lieutenant Ring must resort to using a credit card in order to communicate with his commanders was also based on real-life events.

The commanding general's party, interrupted by the announcement for all officers and staff NCOs to return to their units never happened. The 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU), the Marine contribution to Operation Urgent Fury, was already at sea en route to Beirut to relieve the 24th MAU when it was diverted to Grenada. At Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, there are no mountains and the sun does not set into the ocean.


The film grossed $8,100,840 in its opening weekend, and $42,724,017 total. It was the eighth most successful R-rated film of 1986. At the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 82% of critics gave the film a positive review based on a sample of 11 reviews, with an average score of 6.7/10.


  1. Suid, Laurence M. Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film University Press of Kentucky 2002, pp. 558-559.
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. St. Petersburg Times, September 3, 2006.
  5. Dumbrell, John & Barrett, David M. The Making of U.S. Foreign Policy: American Democracy and Foreign Policy 1990 Manchester University Press, p. 108.

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