Ever realize you exist because of a TV show? People often talk about how they saw a TV show and it changed their lives. Often it’s done in a joking way. But when my father watched the TV series West Point, he decided this was where he had to go to school. He wanted to be part of the Long Grey Line. Without his training to be an officer and a gentleman, he wouldn’t have impressed my mother. They wouldn’t have married. I wouldn’t have been born. West Point might not have made me the man I am, but West Point facilitated in me getting to be a baby. West Point: The Television Series brings together all the surviving episodes from its two season run.
Unlike most shows about kids in colleges, West Point doesn’t follow a group of students through their four year education. This is an anthology series with different students in each episode. You’re not stuck with the “can all this really happen to one cadet” feeling. There are a few recurring parts including Chuck Connors (The Rifleman) as part of the faculty. The first season had Cadet Charles C Thompson (Donald May) introduce the episodes, but he was relieved of duty.
Like Dragnet, the producers claim that the show is based off true stories about cadets. Sadly none of my father’s college tales were covered. There’s nothing about his classmate that had to withdraw when he blew his knee out while doing the Twist at the Peppermint Lounge. Nor was there mention of anyone rolling a cannon into the Dining Hall and blowing out the windows. But the stories told give a sense of why West Point is not the normal college experience. Nobody is allowed to skip classes and get stoned in the dorm.
“The Mystery of Cadet Layton” sets the tone when Martin Milner (Route 66) has a plebe (a West Point freshman) put his back up against the wall. You might think this is a sadistic hazing, but it serves more of a purpose than mere humiliation. Remember that these aren’t mere students. They are future soldiers who will end up on the battlefield. They will experience worse things than sweating pennies to the wall by an upperclassman if captured by communists. “The Operator and the Martinet” features Robert Vaughn before he transformed into The Man From U.N.C.L.E. “His Brother’s Fist” packs Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek) into uniform. “The Army-Navy Game” reminds us that the greatest rivalry in football does matter a lot to the cadets. When dad dated mom, he brought her out to Philadelphia for the game. She was impressed by the ceremony and tradition.
“White Fury” presents Clint Eastwood before he’d become a Western icon. He’s a cadet who gets wrangled into a classmate’s remote skiing trip. It’s all fun on the slopes until a plane crash. Eastwood has to figure a way to get them help before the pilot dies in the arctic temperatures. While “Ambush” stars Steve McQueen (The Great Escape), he’s not West Point material. He’s a neighborhood goon attacking a well meaning kid who needs a sense of direction. A cadet pal wants to save him from the streets by letting him visit the campus. McQueen is hilarious with his bad Brando accent. “The Manhunt” has James Best (Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on Dukes of Hazzard) play a wilderness tracking game with a classmate. One of them gets snake bit and their tracking game turns deadly real. While West Point was a men only school at this time, there were female roles on the show. “McKinley’s Challenge” brings the attractive daughter of a Latin American military leader onto the campus. It’s up to a “by the rules” student to scheme a way to get her to a dance without getting in trouble.
The show was made with the complete cooperation of the Army and West Point. This is obvious by the extensive location shooting done on the campus. When my dad arrived at the Military Campus, Clint Eastwood was long gone, but the buildings were still there. This wasn’t just a slightly decorated section of USC being a body double. This is the campus my father remembered from his time walking the yard. Sadly this is not the complete series of West Point since MGM only had 39 of the 40 episodes in their vault. Hard to tell what episode is missing.
I’m proud to know that the show is responsible for making me happen. Sadly it was not on the air during my high school years so I sought career direction from Manimal. Maybe if this was rerun more than Gomer Pyle, I would have mastered pull ups to feel comfortable applying to be a plebe. West Point: The Television Series is the perfect gift for anyone that went to the academy.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The black and white transfers look sharp for a neglected series. You can instantly tell when they cut from West Point to a studio set in Hollywood. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. You can hear the boots marching around the campus.
There are no bonus features.
West Point: The Television Series revives a show that truly inspired its audience. You often hear someone say that if only one person is helped by the message of a show, it was worth it. West Point changed my father’s life. He could have ended up a street hood like Steve McQueen, but my father became a cadet like Clint Eastwood. Perhaps it can still give direction to new viewers (including female viewers).
Timeless Media Group presents West Point: The Television Series. Starring: Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen and Leonard Nimoy. Boxset Contents: 39 episodes on 5 DVDs. Released: Feburary 26, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.
Joe Corey is the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.