I’ll sometimes watch a comfort film after 11 pm or so, the idea being to settle down and gradually nod off. I did this last night with Taylor Hackford‘s An Officer and a Gentleman (’82), which I hadn’t previously seen for at least 25 or 30 years.

It was never much more than a reasonably efficient, occasionally poignant Cinderella story with an Oscar-winning theme song. It doesn’t seem to have improved any (the “Puget Sound debs” out to snag a Navy pilot husband feels like a relic of a bygone age), but it’s well edited, nicely shot and scored (Jack Nitzsche) — a decent watch for the most part.

Three performances elevate it — Richard Gere‘s Zack Mayo, Debra Winger‘s Paula Pokrifki (has a lead character ever had such an unspellable, unpronouncable last name as this?) and especially Louis Gossett, Jr.‘s Sgt. Emil Foley, a tough-as-nails drill instructor.

For this Gossett won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, deservedly. The Foley character has more intrigue and sensitivity than F. Lee Ermey‘s similar fellow in Full Metal Jacket.

The “I got nowhere else to go!” scene still works, the Gere-Winger sex scenes are still fairly hot, and the suicide of David Keith‘s Sid Worley still feels like too much of a push, too much of a nihilist black-hole strategy. Worley’s self-esteem is such a frail, house-of-cards construct that he offs himself when Lisa Blount‘s Lynette Pomeroy, a calculating schemer for the most part, says she won’t marry him because he dropped out of the program? If I ever pull the plug, I trust it’ll be for a better reason than that.

And that fairy-tale ending when Gere strolls into Winger’s factory and carries her out in his arms is still a tough sell. It feels forced, more performed than felt. But until this morning I hadn’t read the following story about the shooting of this scene:

“Gere thought the ending would not work because it was too sentimental. Hackford agreed with Gere until, during a rehearsal, the extras playing the workers began to cheer and cry. When Gere saw the scene later, with a portion of the score (that was used to write ‘Up Where We Belong’) played at the right tempo, he said it gave him chills. Gere is now convinced Hackford made the right decision.”

I’ve noted at least a dozen times that the best love stories are almost always loss stories — those in which a love affair burns brightly but nonetheless dies (breakup, death, failure of spirit, divorce, bad timing, too late realization by one of the lovers that they made a mistake) or can never quite lift off the ground. “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, none so sad as ‘it might have been'” is always more affecting than “they lived happily ever after.”

But if Hackford hadn’t gone with that dippy finale, the film almost certainly wouldn’t have been such a huge financial success ($7 million to shoot, $130 million in theatrical revenues).

It was also good to rediscover Van Morrison‘s “Hungry For Your Love”, a track from 1978’s “Wavelength.”