A few short months before my family would be posted to a new home in the middle of the ocean, I was of an age that I was allowed to go see movies in the theatre with my friends (despite the fact that the theatres were in the city proper and not on the base we were living on).
And for some reason, probably the fact that it was James Garner, I wanted to see Tank. So off I went, and settled in for a movie that I probably thought was going to be more fun and funny than it was. And I hadn’t watched it since.
But, James Garner, and Netflix… well, of course I’m going to check it out again.
Garner plays Sergeant-Major Zack Carey, who along with his wife, LaDonna (Shirley Jones) and son, Billy (C. Thomas Howell) arrive on base at their new posting. Carey’s been in for life, he has rebuilt and restored his own Sherman Tank, and is preparing to cash out of the Army – he’s just waiting for an offer he’s made on a boat to come through, and the family will make the decision.
Life gets in the way though, when Carey falls afoul of a corrupt police force, and a bunch of good ole boys one night when he’s out boozing, and chatting with a young woman, Sarah (Jenilee Harrison), who we learn was busted for vagrancy by the evil sheriff, Buelton (G.D. Spradlin) and his loyal deputy, Euclid (James Cromwell!) and forced into prostitution for them.
When Carey, with the help of one of his fellow officers, Tippet (Dorian Harewood) initially outwits Buelton’s plans for revenge, the sheriff and deputy dig into Carey’s family life, and set up Billy with a bundle of marijuana in his school locker, and promptly arrest him.
When deals to get Billy out go sour, and Buelton refuses to obey the law, and claims to be the law, Zack sees only one option left – bust his kid out of the prison camp he’s in, rescue Sarah, and head for the state border in an attempt to get their side of the story told in a real court of law instead of one controlled by Buelton.
There’s subtle racism at work, as well as sexism, and all of the baddies are white men, with lots of flannel, big hats, and rifles. Good ole boys. Heck, Buelton has the confederate flag on his desk. All not so subtle signs that this guy is an evil asshat and that Zack, who works to be a gentleman throughout, and believing in law and order, is undeniably the hero of the piece, despite the property damage he causes with the tank on the run to the law.
It’s not a great movie, and feels pretty cookie-cutter to be honest, but it’s great to see Garner, Jones, Howell and Cromwell (way before I knew who he was), and it’s amazing the language they got away with in what was rated PG at the time.