The General's Daughter (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

I never saw this movie at the theater, but I read so much about the rape, murder, and nudity that I was expecting a real shocker in that regard. That is far from the truth. It is a classy film noir thriller, could be a Raymond Chandler story except that it takes place in the Army.

Scratch that analysis. I just realized that if you wanted to write a Marlowe story today, it would HAVE to take place in the Army, so you could avoid all the political correctness of the civilian world. Travolta's investigator is as hard-boiled and cocky as they come, and he doesn't let anybody have an attorney or read them their rights or get any search warrants, and he doesn't need any stinkin' badges. (This is not a correct presentation of military justice, by the way).  Everybody he investigates outranks him and, as in a Chandler story, everyone lies with every syllable they utter, so Barbarino uses the traditional detective trick of beating the living shit out of them and/or threatening them with 40 years in the brig and a court martial for hindering an investigation. He slips the cuffs on the high command if they give him any lip, and no courts can tell him not to. 

He is the law, just like Stallone in Judge Dredd, except Travolta would have been better with Rob Schneider around than Madeleine Stowe.

Madeleine Stowe? Yup, she's in there somewhere in a role that has no business being in the movie. Here's what happened. There were originally several scenes involving a rekindled romance between Stowe and Travolta. These are all on the DVD as deleted scenes, and they are not the usual crappy unfinished VHS images, but gorgeous scenes, fully finished in every way.  Luckily, the director sobered up at the last minute, and realized that all that romantic sub-plot crap detracted from the central drama. The happy romantic ending was especially mood-destroying, so he shit-canned that footage. 


Leslie Stefanson was seen in naked in two scenes - as a rape victim, and as the murder victim who prompts the investigation. In general, she's shown in quick cuts, dark, and far from the camera.
But that created a problem. 

In the original concept, which included the romance, there was a reason for the Stowe character to be in the script. Unfortunately, without the romantic sub-plot, that reason was eliminated. Travolta could have been investigating on his own, and the story would have flowed much better that way. But the movie was already shot, cut, and scored, when the director decided to shit-can the romance, so he was stuck with several scenes that included Stowe for no apparent purpose, and some dialogue between Stowe and Travolta in the retained scenes that hinted at material only shown in the excised scenes. Without those deleted scenes to refer to, however, the dialogue made only oblique sense. Although Travolta and Stowe did some romantic bantering in the final cut, the resolution of the film gave us no indication of where all that led. It was just left hanging.

The movie originally ended with the two of them driving off together into the sunset, even though Travolta finds out that Stowe is not divorced at all, but has simply lied to him about her husband! And the driving off into the sunset goes on and on and on and on through a picturesque sunset over the Georgia swamps, turning the ending mood into that of a happy, fulfilled love story.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • four fully finished deleted scenes

  • Making-of featurette (20 min)

Too bad about that mess, but it's a good watch, anyway. What the hell, it's a perfect Raymond Chandler story, as I said. Every single guy in the movie was a possible suspect. Every single guy lied to or stonewalled the investigators (except the West Point psychologist). The murder victim slept with everyone on and off the base, except a couple of gay guys, and we weren't even sure about them. Because of all these factors, everyone was a suspect at one time or another, and the filmmaker kept diverting our suspicion from one to another. And to make it truly delicious, most of the people who were not guilty of the murder were guilty of something or another that they wanted to hide, or that they should have wanted to hide. Yup, a good enough watch. Hammett and Chandler would love it.

The nudity, however, is not anywhere near so dramatic as we were led to believe.  

Tuna's comments in yellow:

The General's Daughter is a whodunit directed by Simon West.

A female Captain, daughter of a popular retiring General and Vice Presidential hopeful, is murdered. Her body is discovered naked and spread-eagled to tent stakes, and presumed to have been raped. John Travolta plays the CID investigator assigned to the case along with his ex-flame Madeleine Stowe, who plays a rape counselor and sexual crimes investigator.

It is immediately obvious that the investigation has serious political overtones, and that the death wasn't what it first seemed. Before the investigation reaches its conclusion, the film is littered with skeletons falling out of the closet, and it is a none-too-subtle indictment of the good old boy network of career military men. The fact that Travolta is a Warrant officer, rather than a college graduate officer like those he is investigating, is important to the dynamic of the investigation. He has little respect for the snooty college wiz kids, and seems to enjoy the unlimited power his investigatory authority gives him. It's safe to say that your enjoyment of the film will have a lot to do with how much you appreciate Travolta's cocky, bullying performance.

The Army did not cooperate with the filming of this controversial story, which meant that all of the military vehicles and costumed extras had to be paid for, so the $60M budget was stretched to the limit, but you would never know of these problems when watching the film, which looks completely realistic. In fact, it is a pretty fair whodunit in "general", with lots of twists and turns, some in-depth character development, more than a little humor (mainly from Travolta's character) and some serious themes having to do with military secrecy and the treatment of women in the armed services. I enjoyed this very much.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 2.5/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Apollo 62/100, Maltin 2.5/4

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. The overall reception was worse than the two and a half indicated above. 24% positive reviews, but only 17% from the top critics. (By a sheer coincidence, Ebert and Berardinelli were the only ones that liked it)

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.6, Apollo users 69/100. 
  • With their dollars ... a minor hit. It took in $100 million at the domestic box office in the summer of 1999.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, it's a C (Scoop)  to C+ (Tuna). Despite the critical brickbats, it is basically a pretty good noir detective story, with the added twist that the investigator is in the military. It would have been a better movie if they had decided to cut out the romance before filming, rather than after the film was completely shot.

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