Fast Track Synopsis:
A military family has moved to an Army Base in the Deep South. The father, Sergent Major Zach Carey, makes it clear that he intends to retire after finishing this post, so he can spend more time with his family. After meeting with General Hubik, the base commander, Zach starts the process of shaping up the troops to make them combat ready. His wife, LaDonna, adjusts to life on the base by hosting a party for the NCO Wives club at the house, and their son Billy attends the local high school.
Zach, as it was, has had a hard time adjusting to the nightlife. He runs into an old friend at the Army’s nightclub, but does not like the modern disco atmosphere. He also does not like eating at the NCO mess hall, which leads to a confrontation with Master Sergeant Johnson, who believed that Zach Carey was performing some kind of surprise inspection in the mess hall.
Troubles for the Carey family begin when Zach, wanting to celebrate the procurement of the family boat, goes into town and hangs out at the local bar. He strikes up a conversation with Sarah, one of the locals. This is interrupted when Deputy Sheriff Euclid intervenes and tells Sarah to get back on the job, which is as a Prostitute. When Zach attempts to diffuse the situation, Euclid responds by slapping Sarah, twice. Zach violently retaliates on Euclid and leaves the bar.
When Cyrus Buelton, Euclid’s boss, gets wind of his injuries, he attempts to have Zach Carey arrested. After being rebuffed by the Military Police, he decides to plant drugs on Zach’s son to arrest him on false and trumped up charges. When attempts at legal action result in Billy being wrongly convicted and sentenced to hard labor, Zach decides to use his prized possession, a restored Sherman Tank, to break his son out of prison and flee to Tennessee.
After destroying the local jail, Sarah joins the Zach in the tank and they break Billy out of the County Farm. Buelton pleads with the Georgia governor to activate the National Guard, but is rebuffed. He heads for Fort Clements, and is rebuffed by General Hubik, who cites the Posse Comitatus Act. Buelton deputizes a large force of local men, and they begin the manhunt for the tank. LaDonna heads for Tennessee and secures asylum for her family and Sarah, and the race is on.
Zach is assisted by some of the locals who don’t like Buelton, which leads to Buelton wanting to teach them a lesson. Zach doubled back when Buelton threatened Mr. Gant, who gave them food and gas. He managed to rout the posse that had descended on Mr. Gant’s house. Their journey would take a turn for the worse when Zach was severely injured fixing a thrown track on the tank. Billy takes over as its primary driver and heads directly for the state line. Buelton has set a trap, and uses a Panzerschrek anti-tank gun to disable the tank.
A biker gang, who admired Billy and Zach for their courage, procure some parts and manage to attach a rope to the tank. The people who gathered at the State Line start pulling the tank out of the mud, but fail on the first attempt. They find a bulldozer and attach the line to it, and manage to pull the tank across the line. The people celebrate as the Carey family is reunited.
Review and Analysis:
There is not alot to say about Tank! This was an action-comedy that was set in the deep south of the 1980s. The Army Base is a fictitious one, and pretty much deals itself as a lighthearted, if bullet-ridden, movie.
The Fort and the Town…Are Fake:
Fort Clements and Clements County, Georgia don’t exist. Fort Clements was actually Fort Benning, where most of the film takes place. Clements County and the rest of the outside area were simply actual places in Georgia that the Film Commission allowed for usage.
An Interesting Take on the Second Amendment:
This movie happens to be filled with some interesting expressions of the US Constitution’s Second Amendment, which actually only dealt with equipping state and/or Federal militias with arms to deal with invasions and insurrections – although most of the fear of insurrections and rebellions came mostly from landowners worried about their slaves rising against them. However, in the context of this movie, Zach Carey procures a Sherman tank from Army Surplus that was destined for the scrapheap and works to restore it to full combat readiness for using it in things like parades and such. It is not until he takes the tank to dispense his own justice that we learn that it was indeed full combat readiness; he had procured several .50 caliber machine guns, one mounted inside the tank and one mounted on the turret, a full complement of 75mm high-explosive shells for the tank’s main gun, and a full load of .50 caliber bullets for both of the machine guns.
Sheriff Cyrus Buelton procures a German Panzerschreck (Tank Frightener) from another Sheriff in Georgia who had it mounted on a wall in his office. Interestingly, this sheriff also had several 88mm rounds for the weapon in question. The Panzerschreck was used during the Second World War…against American/Allied armor, which included the Sherman tank driven by the Careys.
One of the staples of film productions in the late 1970s until now is the idea that there is at least 1 moment where a female, regardless of age, will do something that is supposed to either be humorous or tragic when operating a piece of equipment that men usually use generally without incident.
In this case, there were three incidents that stand out here. The first was the impetus for Zach to sustain his injuries when Sarah misinterprets Zach’s increased effort for a signal to have his son drive the tank.
The second, which was supposed to be humorous, was when LaDonna Carey attempts to operate a CB radio; she does not release the talk button and wonders why her son is not answering back. Take note that this gag also appeared in the Burt Reynolds/Sally Field vehicle “Smokey & the Bandit” several years before.
The third actually occurs earlier in the film. When Zach admits to his wife that the reason why their youngest son is in jail was because he defended the town prostitute from a violent deputy, LaDonna violently lashes out at him. But the punchline (pardon the pun) would come when Zach decided that he would pay the extortion and LaDonna insisted on getting a lawyer for their son. This is incompetence because we were just treated to a scene where Buelton threatens Zach with full imprisonment of his son if they got him a lawyer. And, like storybook clockwork, that is what happened.
Hero versus Antagonist. The Battleground: Racism
Another staple of Hollywood films in this era was the stark contrasts of both hero and villain when it came to the treatment of Black characters. One of Zach Carey’s old buddies is Black – Sgt. 1st Class Ed Tippet, who works in the Provost Marshal’s Office; the military equivalent to a college campus’ Public Safety Office. Zach also treats the Mess Master Sergeant with the utmost respect, even complementing him on the hall, the service…and the Apple Cobbler. He treats all of soldiers fairly, and never uses slurs.
In contrast, the villain, Cyrus Buelton, is a typical Southern [Redneck] Authority figure. Although he does not use the N-word, he does refer to Ed Tippet as Sambo and “Boy” when he confronts Ed over wanting Zach Carey turned over to him. At the County Farm, Buelton has one of the guards whip a black man for no other reason but to demonstrate how “depraved” he (Buelton) can be when it comes doling out punishment.
For movies like this, the use of racially charged language, and the response by hero and villain to it, was a simple way to distinguish between the two sides – the bad guy not only hates the hero, but he also hates Black People, too.
Hero versus Antagonist, Round 2. Battleground: Violence Against Women
What perhaps separates Tank! from most other movies of the type is the hero’s penchant for become violent towards perpetrators of Male-on-Female violence. The two incidents in this movie provide context here. First, when Euclid slaps Sarah the first time, Zach chose not get involved. Now, a possible reason for that may have been that he was worried about the relationship that Fort Clements has with Clements County in general. After the first hit, however, Zach stops the second. Euclid’s second slap was met with a violent assault on his person.
The second incident, however, is also instructive. The first incident makes it clear that Zach does not take violence against women that well. The second one goes a step further and shows that he does not tolerate it all from those under his command. However, he is always willing to give everyone a chance to change their behavior, which is why Zach tried talking with the Corporal before threatening him with severe bodily harm.
On the other, of course, is Cyrus Buelton. He has no problem with hitting women. The scene in question, of course, is when he confronts Sarah over what Zach did to Euclid in the bar. Blaming her for his actions, he has her strip naked and whips her with his belt, not unlike the image of an Angry Father punishing his Wayward Daughter. And yes, the symbolism is present, even to the point where Euclid himself is smacked in the head with Cyrus’ belt because Euclid’s face looks like this:
While thinking unclean thoughts about her.
Unfortunately, both roles are Paternalistic in nature. We are supposed to cheer for Zach Carey while sneering at Cyrus Buelton. While it doesn’t sink the movie, you will be left with that ticking in your head, wondering why you don’t enjoy it beyond the acting.
Jennilee Harrison, best known as Cindy Snow on “Three’s Company”, takes a shot at the movies as Sarah, a young woman who was arrested by the Sheriff for Vagrancy. Buelton found her to be attractive enough to use her as a Prostitute, and left the details of such up to Euclid.
And, onboard the tank, as they approach the Tennessee state line, they teach her how to use the outboard .50 caliber machine gun (she proves to be a very accurate shooter), how to rotate the turret, and loading the 75mm main gun. Of course, these skills come in very handy at the end of the film.
And yet, Sarah, like nearly every other Prostitute/Call Girl in a Hollywood production, is shown to have a heart of gold, and it is insinuated that there may be a possibility of her and Billy dating in the future. It is clear that LaDonna does not have a problem with her.
Unintentional Real-Life Precursor:
Cyrus’ behavior and actions could be held up as a mirror by Hollywood, as they reflect the actions of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Where Cyrus Buelton’s bigotry was shown as being limited to Blacks in general, military personnel, and White Americans that hail north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Arpaio’s general target has been People of Color in general, but in particular, those who look Hispanic and Latino. Just as Buelton’s County Farm would be considered a violation of Amendment 8 of the Bill of Rights, Joe Arpaio’s own methods would also be considered as such. Also, like Buelton, Arpaio believes that what he is doing is right. And, like Buelton, he will use shoestring justifications of crime to pursue his agenda.
Basically, if want to know what a Cyrus Buelton would look like and sound like, as well as how much damage to the reputation of Law Enforcement that a Buelton could do, just read through this index of articles from the Phoenix Times on Arpaio. Warning: These are not fun reads for the faint of heart – or Conservatives, particularly those that support Law Enforcement Officers like Arpaio.
And They STILL Hate the Military:
This was another staple of productions from Hollywood in the 1980s, most of which were attempts to repair the image of American soldiers after the atrocities and destruction surrounding the Vietnam Civil War. In movies like this, Iron Eagle, and others, the fastest way to conflict was to have the local residents harass or otherwise stand against the military. Such a movie today would probably not be made, mostly because of the productions that deify either local law enforcement (however, these are usually TV-based productions, mostly crime procedurals), or the military (like anything produced by Michael Bay) will usually respect the other coin.
Zach Carey, Conflicted Family Man:
Zach Carey is supposed to be the kind of man whom you could sit and have a beer with, but doesn’t get into too much trouble. He gives his wife autonomy, and they share some of the responsibilities of maintaining a loving household.
But, the impetus of his upcoming retirement stems from him wanting spend more time with his son Billy, mostly because his oldest son, John, died many years earlier. John, like most first born children, mirrored his father’s personality and traits, to the point where John joined the Army, like his father before him. But, no one goes into detail about the accident where John dies. But, John’s death profoundly changes Zach, who decides not to pursue the rank of Sergeant Major of the Army, which is the highest attainable rank for a Non-Commissioned Officer in the Armed Forces – and holds a prestige and protocol similar to that of a 3-star Lieutenant General.
The Posse Comitatus Act:
This law, which is turned into a running gag by Cyrus (believing General Hubik is calling him a P&$$y Communist), refers to US Armed Forces restriction on enforcing Civilian Law outside of Federal Land. This means that without Congressional or Presidential Authorization, the Military, nor any of its personnel, may act as law enforcement – even if they are Military Law Enforcement (Marshal Provost, Military Police, Inspector General, Judge Advocate General, etc) – on Non-US Government Installations.
The passage of the act marked the end of the Reconstruction Era and was used by the South to prevent the use of US Army troops to enforce broader interpretations of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments against the former Confederate States of America, which were working to dismantle gains made by African-Americans during Reconstruction in an attempt to re-establish de facto slavery and indentured servitude.
What’s Wrong With this Picture?
When LaDonna goes to Nashville to help her family secure asylum and a public hearing, she makes an appeal to “Every woman who can hear her.” Now, some people would only note that her appeal was not meant for men, because they would probably be at work – as opposed to the women who would be doing household type chores, but this is incorrect. The bigger issue is that the issue assumes that men would not take the same kind of action, because her assumption sounds like men are not really talkers, but “doers.”
Second, take note that even in the 1980s, news stations treated LaDonna’s journey to the state capital as a “Women’s Issue,” because all of the news bureaus sent a (White) female reporter to cover it. The men who were there were all news back-crew (camera, sound, lighting). Contrast this with the other scenes featuring news reporters; all of them were men, and most of them got named.
Thus, this is a demonstration of some of the small ways that gender role reinforcement is actually performed. It is not that you have Male Privilege that tells you directly that you can’t do it, instead you show an environment which limits what roles women can take and where these roles are acceptable for women to take. And this is the Privilege that by and large goes unchallenged.
Euclid and Cyrus’ Behavior Should Be Familiar:
To Smokey and the Bandit fans:
Cyrus Buelton and Euclid act much like Sheriff Buford Justice and Junior from the Smokey and the Bandit series. Except that Euclid is more perverted than Junior is.
And That’s All the Time We Have for Today:
A light movie like Tank! illustrates much. In reality, one could write thesis-level research papers on all of the facets that Tank! touches on, just in passing.
But, There is One More Thing:
You do see a few women in uniform. In its own way, it also showed the shift in demographics of the United States Army, because the majority of the enlisted personnel shown in the film are Black. In another twist, the only White Women shown as being part of the Army all work in the mess hall. Women of Color are shown in the mess hall, but as part of both the mess staff and in “regular” uniforms.
Take from that what you will.
There was a bit of Southern bashing, particularly of Georgia. The women in the film take subordinate roles. The Hero Zach Carey and the Villain Cyrus Buelton are both Paternalistic in nature for different reasons, although both believe they are right in what they do. Billy and Zach’s relationship is more developed than that of LaDonna and Zach. And, like the Road Warrior, the Tank is the real star of the film once the action starts.
Finally, like most movies of the time, the Hero gets along with Black People and treats women with respect (if somewhat chauvinistic, that is), and the Villain is a flaming racist and believes himself to be a God-fearing Christian Man who brings the Flaming Sword of Jesus to evil doers everywhere…and he hates Black People.
Shut your brain off and watch stuff blow up to enjoy this film.