The Marine Corps has a unique way of incorporating its history into every bit of training you undergo. Marines are not only expected to leave recruit training in peak physical condition, they’re expected to be able to recite to you, verbatim, important elements of the ever-growing story of the Corps — something that sticks with many of us even after we shed the uniform for the last time.
Despite the years between my days at Parris Island and now, I can still shout all about the birth of the Marine Corps (Tun Tavern, 1775), the first woman to enlist in the Corps (Opha May Johnson, 1918), and the most decorated Marine in history, Lewis “Chesty” Puller – which is why it came as such a surprise to me to learn that Gene Hackman served for five years in the Marine Corps as a radio operator. I just, somehow, never knew.
Just in case you aren’t familiar with his work, Gene Hackman falls into that category of incredible actors you may not realize you love. While some movie buffs a few years my senior may recall Hackman’s performance in movies like, “The French Connection,” as his crowing achievement, it was his appearances in movies like “Unforgiven,” “Uncommon Valor,” and “The Quick and the Dead” that resonated deeply with me as a child. Although I recognized him as “that actor Gene Hackman” at the time, it never occurred to me that his incredible performances helped to carry those films, and countless others, out of the “good movie” range and into the hallowed halls of the films we somewhat collectively consider to be classics.
I watched “Crimson Tide” for the first time since the mid-90’s the other night, and while Denzel Washington is worthy of every bit of praise he receives, I can’t help but feel like Gene Hackman isn’t given his due because of how good he is at playing a believable bad guy. Like his role in “Unforgiven,” Hackman’s Ramsey in Crimson Tide is a human villain – one you might even catch yourself agreeing with from time to time, and I think that may leave some people a bit unsettled.