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Calendar >  Cinematic Influences -Thomas Calabrese

Cinematic Influences -Thomas Calabrese

By   /  June 19, 2021  /  10 Comments


Heroes and Villains

Thomas Calabrese — Over the past 100 years, Hollywood has created thousands of cinematic portraits of men and manhood for the silver screen. Celluloid images appeared before us as good and bad guys, weak and strong, heroes and villains. These larger than life images showed young impressionable boys a wide range of emotions in circumstances that they could relate to in their own lives and others that they had no experience with, but could fantasize about.

In Casablanca, Rick was a heart-broken cynic. In First Blood, John J. Rambo battled an entire police department. Cool Hand Luke refuses to buckle down to the sadistic guards and warden of a Southern chain gang. Dirty Harry walked softly and carried a Magnum .44. When he lost patience with the politically correct leadership of San Francisco, he decided to enforce his own brand of justice on the bad guys.

In Lonely Are the Brave, Kirk Douglas played drifter and modern day cowboy Jack Burns, who combats modern society when it encroaches on his way of life.  He uses his extensive skills of the terrain and his fierce desire to maintain his freedom in a life and death struggle against overwhelming odds while following his code of honor. Not many can forget the dilemma faced by Marshal Will Kane in High Noon. On the verge of retirement, he must face an outlaw gang on his own after the townspeople he has protected for years refuses to help him. Kane stands his ground, defeats the gang and leaves on his own terms.

 Not every American hero was a loner though, some were fathers like James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, Liam Neeson in Taken and Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man. These are just a few examples of men who loved their families so much that they made any sacrifice or took any risk to protect them. John Wayne and Clark Gable were American heroes and the characters in their movies portrayed masculinity, honor and courage. Who can forget Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima or Gable in Gone with the Wind?

Don’t forget about cinematic villains like, Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Biff Tannen in Back to the Future, Staff Sergeant Barnes in Platoon, Fredo Coleone in Godfather, Norman Bates in Psycho, Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List and Hannibal Lechter in Silence of the Lambs.

A highly impressionable boy with a vivid imagination could learn a lot about life and behavior from watching movies. Dave Elliot was one such individual. His father, Mike was a former Marine and a current Camp Pendleton employee. His mother, Cassie was a graphic and web designer with a creative streak. The family loved watching movies together, especially old ones. They would often quiz each other about trivia and discuss particular scenes in the films.

Mike asked his son while watching High Noon, “What would you rather have in a gunfight, two Colt 45’s or one Winchester 73?”

Dave didn’t hesitate, “Anything over 50 feet, I’ll take the rifle…close quarters, I’ll take pistols.”

The young boy was a natural athlete, so when he saw a movie like Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee or Charles Bronson in Hard Times, he’d practice their fighting moves. When Dave saw the Jim Thorpe movie, he went running and jumping over the park benches at the local playground. He was equally impressed by Roy Hobbs in The Natural and Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees.

Not everything was about sports, Dave developed some dance moves from watching Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. His primary role model on how to treat women came from watching his father’s interaction with his mother. Dave also learned from observing  the on-screen chemistry of Rock Hudson and Doris Day, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland and Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn and snappy dialogue and repartee from the Thin Man Series with William Powell and Myna Loy.

 Dave grew older and the list of movies that he had watched expanded into the thousands. There was never a situations in his own life that he couldn’t relate to a movie scene filed away in his almost photographic memory. You would think that a boy that was this easily affected by the fantasy of cinema would be too weak-minded to be his own person, but that was not the case with Dave. In fact, it had just the opposite effect, it strengthened him. To explain it in logical or scientific terms would be next to impossible. The best description would be that Dave looked at his life like it was a movie, he was the screenwriter and typecast in the leading role.

Athletes have a thing called muscle memory, this is when they practice something so often that it becomes ingrained in their thought processes. They react instinctively to a situation because it is so familiar to them. Dave had movie memory, he reacted without hesitation when something in his life related to what he had seen in a movie.

In high school, he flashbacked To Sir with Love, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Friday Night Lights and Blackboard Jungle among others.  When he graduated from El Camino High School and enlisted in the Marine Corps, it was obvious that he would think about the film, D.I. with Jack Webb, when he was going through boot camp. Then there were a long list of Marine movies like Heartbreak Ridge, Battle Cry, Pride of the Marines, Wind talkers, Guadalcanal Diary and Sands of Iwo Jima that flashed through his mind at various times during his training.

During hand to hand combat drills at the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, Dave exhibited an expertise that surprised and impressed his instructor, Sergeant Gordon Porter, “Hey Elliot!”

Dave responded without hesitation, “Yes, Sergeant.”

            “Where did you learn to do that?”

            “I saw it somewhere?” Dave answered.

One morning, two big recruits blocked Dave’s path as he was leaving the squad bay, Dave calmly said, “I can walk through you or over you, but I won’t walk around you.”

First recruit snickered, “That’s mighty big talk… can you back it up?”

            “Deal the hand and I’ll play it,” Dave answered.

The second recruit offered, “Let’s take this around back where we have some privacy.”

Dave followed the two men to an isolated area behind the barracks.  The first recruit snarled, “I don’t like you, Elliot.”

Dave responded, “I can live with that, people feel what they feel. It’s just human nature not to like everybody. I don’t care much for you either.”

The second recruit interjected, “You always got an answer for everything. I’m going to kick your butt, see if you got an answer for that.”

            “Don’t start something that you can’t finish,” Dave warned, “Because you might not like the way I finish it.”

The recruit charged at Dave, who did a textbook hip-throw. The other man rushed forward, throwing haymakers. Dave easily ducked under the off-target punches then threw an uppercut that hit the Marine in the solar plexus, just below his diaphragm. The recruit fell to his knees, gasping for air. “You’ll be alright in a few minutes,” Dave said.

A few seconds later Sergeant Porter walked around the corner and demanded, “What the hell is going on here?”

Dave answered without hesitation, “Just practicing self-defense moves, Sergeant.”

            “Keep up the good work, you have ten minutes to be in formation!”

Dave extended a hand to his fellow Marines, “Truce or war, it’s your call.”

The two recruits made the prudent decision and responded in succession, “Truce.”

As time passed, the two obnoxious Marines began to emulate Dave, almost without noticing their change in behavior. Sergeant Porter picked up on positive energy in the unit and attributed it to PFC Elliot.  He was sitting in his office with fellow instructor, Sergeant Lee Hollister, and expressed his thoughts, “This kid Elliott has got me puzzled, nothing seems to faze him. I’ve put him in situations that there was no way he should know what to do and damn if he doesn’t figure it out. He has this calmness under pressure that people much older than him don’t even possess.”

Sergeant Hollister responded, “Every so often we get a recruit like that. They sure make us look good. Enjoy it while it lasts, a dufus will be right behind him.”

The unit was at the range qualifying with their rifles. Dave got into the prone position to fire his weapon and thought about Gary Cooper in Sergeant York. As he started firing, the M-16 felt comfortable in his hands. Bullseye after bullseye at the end of the day, Dave had broken the recruit record for shooting.

Sergeant Porter congratulated PFC Elliot, “Well done, Marine. Where did you learn to shoot?”

            “Right here, sir,” Dave responded.

Dave and a group of Marines were given weekend liberty and went into downtown Oceanside to relax. Private Holmes commented in gleeful anticipation, “I’m going to get falling down drunk. What about you Elliot…care to join me?”

            “I’ll pass, not my style” Dave answered.

            “Why the hell not?”

Dave answered, “I don’t like the journey from sober to intoxicated. I enjoy it even less after I arrive at the state of diminished capacity. Look, I’ve been there and done that so I now prefer to drink when I’m thirsty and eat when I’m hungry, than to overindulge in either.”

Despite the teasing and urging of his fellow Marines, Dave was not the kind of person who bowed to peer pressure. He was his own man. When the group of leathernecks arrived at LTH, Local Tap House, Sergeant Porter was already having dinner with a date. The young trainees acknowledged their instructor and Private Chris Hauer suggested, “I think we oughta’ find another place. Porter cramps my style.”

Dave replied, “You guys go ahead. I’m just going to get something to eat and head back to the base.”

Doctor Anthony Lister was an infectious disease specialist, working as a civilian contractor for the Department of Defense. He was currently investigating a variant of Covid-19 that had sickened a dozen Marines on Camp Pendleton. Lister had found conclusive evidence that the virus had been weaponized. The unique DNA sequence in the Marines’ blood samples could only have been created in the Wuhan laboratory in China. The media had been reporting that the original COVID-19 virus was an unfortunate accident, a breach in safety protocol and it had been resolved. The fact that China had not shut down the experiment, had not allowed any outside inspection and was still continuing to work on the virus was a trifecta of bad news for the entire world.

Doctor Lister realized the seriousness of the situation so he contacted Marine Corps Major General Alexander Reeves of Marine Corps Installations West. He had worked with the Marine officer in Iraq, finding and destroying biological weapons. The two men developed a mutual trust and friendship, “We need to talk.”

General Reeves, “Absolutely, come by my office, I’ll be here all day.”

            “I prefer to speak off the record and off base. I’ll text you the location. This is of vital importance and has high level national security implications.”

General Reeves offered, “I’ll send you my private cell number. I’ll await further instructions.”

 What Lister didn’t realize that even though his preliminary report did not outline all his findings, it raised enough flags at the State and Defense Department for high-ranking individuals to initiate appropriate and corrective action.  A ‘hit’ team was sanctioned and left San Diego for Camp Pendleton. Doctor Lister was placed under close surveillance while he was working aboard base. When he left for his meeting with General Reeves, he was followed to the Local Tap House.

The hit team watched Lister and Reeves from their vantage point in the parking lot across the street. They patiently waited for the right time to make their move as the two men sat down. Dave sat at the bar and halfway through his meal, he noticed the black van parked across the street.

 He didn’t know why it caught his attention, maybe it was from the way it was strategically parked or its gray unattractive appearance. Nothing that a regular person or business would choose. It was also the only one facing the restaurant, while the other vehicles were facing in the opposite direction. Dave couldn’t be sure, but it looked like one of the men inside the van was using binoculars. What could be so interesting? Dave slowly scanned the restaurant and noticed two men at a back table engaged in a serious conversation. They looked out of place among the other patrons who were there for the food, drink and socializing.

The side door of the van slid open and two masked men with automatic weapons stepped out. They were holding the weapons against their legs as they walked. When they got to the entrance of the restaurant, Dave flashed back to a movie called Drive-By and warned the patrons, “Hit the deck!” Dave jumped over a table and pulled the two men off their chairs and shoved them to the floor, a split second before a burst of gunfire hit where they had been sitting. The two shooters walked directly toward the two men lying face down and prepared to execute them.  Their plan was quickly derailed when Dave crushed one man’s skull with a wine bottle that he grabbed off a nearby table. When the other individual instinctively turned around, Dave grabbed the rifle barrel, spun it around, then reached for the trigger and fired twice into the man’s chest. Dave made eye contact with the two men and casually commented, “I don’t know who you are, but it looks like you were their target. My advice is to get the hell out of here.”

General Reeves nodded then helped Anthony Lister to his feet, “I won’t forget this…thanks.” Both men escaped through the back door.

The van’s driver attempted to make a hasty escape when he determined that the assassination attempt had failed, but got stuck in traffic on South Coast Highway. He detoured onto the sidewalk and knocked over two pedestrians. Dave raced out of the restaurant in foot pursuit. Weaving in between and over vehicles, he caught up to the van at the intersection and yanked the driver out of his window and slammed his head against a metal light pole. Sergeant Bob Porter arrived a moment later to see the man lying dead and Dave standing over him, “You alright?”

Dave responded calmly, “Yes sir…how about you?”

            “Just who the hell and what the hell are you?” Sergeant Porter was dumbfounded at Dave’s lethal capabilities.

Dave flashbacked to the movie, Under Siege, and slightly altered a line of dialogue spoken by Steven Seagal and said “Just a recruit…a lowly recruit. I’ll see you back on base. Sir. It’s probably better if you don’t mention my name,” then disappeared into the darkness.

Major General Reeves had no doubt about the seriousness of the situation. When both men reached the front gate, he ordered the M.P. “I need an escort back to Headquarters!”

With two police cruisers flashing their lights and sirens blaring, General Reeves turned to Lister who was still upset and fearful from the encounter and placed his hand on his shoulder, “You’re safe for the time being.” While driving he made a series of phone calls. The first one was to Blue Horizon Global Security.

Reeves quickly explained the situation and Blue Horizon scrambled security teams to several locations around the country where family members of Reeves and Lister resided. The Provost Marshal was then ordered to secure the perimeter around the General’s quarters in the San Luis Rey Housing area on base. General Reeves called the Officer of the Day at his Headquarters and it was locked down. Everything was kept in-house because once information was relayed back to Washington, there would be no way to know who had access to it.

General Reeves called his most trusted commanders to Headquarters and explained the dire circumstances. He told his fellow warriors,” We’ll be going against some very powerful people in our own government which means this is a career breaker. If you want to walk away, I’ll understand. The only thing that I’m ordering you to do, is not discuss this with anyone. Who’s staying and who’s going?”

Colonel Henry Curtis responded, “I speak for all of us when I say, Marines don’t run from a fight, especially when one of us is in harm’s way.”

General Reeves smiled, “I had to ask.  “We have the home court advantage here on base, that’s the good thing. The bad thing is we’re going to be dealing with people that have full access to Pendleton. Pick your most trusted men and tell them that we’re expecting a breech. Do not elaborate beyond that. Emphasize that if they don’t know the person then don’t trust them. I want the military police to scan all identification on individuals entering the base and we’ll run those names through Intelligence as soon as they come in. Just in case they decide to enter somewhere else. I want the entire perimeter watched, especially the coastline.”

Colonel Woodley inquired, “How long do you plan on doing this?”

            “We won’t have long to wait,” General Reeves replied, “They can’t afford to be patient. Your job, Colonel is to protect Mr. Lister at all costs. Take him somewhere you can defend, preferably up in the hills then let me know where it is.” General Reeves turned to Anthony Lister, “Colonel Woodley will take care of you. I’ll see you soon.”

After Woodley and Lister left, Major Lazur sighed, ““Strange times that we live in, sir. If you would had told me five years ago that we would be fighting our own government on base, I would have said it was totally impossible. “Now when I listen to some politicians or pundits speak, you’d swear we’re the enemy.”

            “Keep your focus, Major. We’re Marines, and while Old Glory may sway in the breeze, our oath is unwavering,” General Reeves reminded his subordinate, “We don’t have the luxury of choosing our battles or our adversaries, but we do have the capability and training to make them pay dearly.”

Lieutenant Jason Caulfield asked, “Sir, is there anything that you need me to do?”

            “Get me all the news stories about the attack on the Local Tap House last night.”

When General Reeves read one of the report, he saw the name, Sergeant Robert Porter, and told his aide, “I want to see Sergeant Bob Porter in my office ASAP.”

All of the news reports stated that the shooting was conducted by cartel members over disputed territory.

When Sergeant Porter arrived, he snapped to attention, “You wanted to see me, sir.”

            “At ease, Sergeant. Were you at the Local Tap House last night during the shooting?”

Sergeant Porter answered, “Affirmative, sir.”

            “I didn’t see you,” General Reeves said.

            “I didn’t see you either, but I guess we had other things on our minds,” Sergeant Porter said.

General Reeves continued, “There was another young man there, I’m pretty he was a Marine. Do you know anything about him?”

Sergeant Porter hesitated and General Reeves persisted, “Did you or didn’t you see a young Marine there?”

            “Is he in trouble, sir?”

            “Hell no, I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for him,” General Reeves said with great conviction.

            “His name is Dave Elliot, he’s a recruit in my training company.”

General Reeves couldn’t believe it, “He conducted himself like a highly skilled special operator. I can’t believe he’s a recruit.”

Sergeant Porter asked, “Permission to speak freely?”


            “Elliot is not normal he does things that he shouldn’t know how to do and he does them better than most other people.  He’s been surprising me ever since he’s been in the unit and that night at LTH was just one more thing that I never expected to him to do.”

General Reeves ordered, “I want to meet this Marine. Bring him to me.”

When Sergeant Porter returned with PFC Elliot, General Reeves walked up to the young Marine who was standing at attention, “At ease…I owe you my life.”

            “Sir, you don’t owe me anything, I just did what any other Marine would have done,” Dave responded.

            “Where did you learn those skills?”

            “It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time,” Dave answered.

Sergeant Porter interjected, “That’s what he usually says.”

General Reeves ordered, “As of right now, you two are assigned to me until further notice.”

Sergeant Porter answered, “Yes sir.”

Several hours later, General Reeves received a phone call that he was expecting. The fact that it was from the World Health Organization was not that big a surprise. The man identified himself as Doctor Bernard Schumer “I’ve been trying to reach Doctor Lister, but he hasn’t been answering his cellphone. I have some data that is vital to a highly sensitive research project that we have been working on.”

General Reeves played along, “He finished his investigation here on base. He was so exhausted that he’s resting at a cottage at Del Mar Beach before returning to Washington.”

Doctor Schumer replied, “He pushes himself too hard, that’s what makes him such a great scientist. If you could give me the number of the cottage, I’ll deliver it personally.”

            “Should I tell him that you’re coming?”

            “I’d like to surprise him if I could. I want to see the expression on his face when he sees what I have for him,” Doctor Schumer said, “It will be unforgettable.”

General Reeves asked, “Completely understandable, do you want me to have someone meet you at the gate and escort you there?”

            “I appreciate the offer, but I do a lot of work for the military and have complete access to government installations. All I need is the cottage number.”

General Reeves agreed, “I’m texting it to you right now.”

When Bernard Schumer (not his real name) disconnected the call, he turned to a group of men in the room, “Get this done.”

No sooner did General Reeves hang up, he received a call from the National Security Agency. The man made it emphatically clear, “You just received a call from the World Health Organization. You are hereby ordered not to tell Doctor Lister anything about that conversation. It is a matter of national security. Is that understood, General?”

            “Yes sir,” General Reeves responded, disconnected the call and turned to Sergeant Porter and Dave Elliot, “Let’s get a welcoming committee together. I’ve got some payback coming.”

Sergeant Porter questioned, “Do you think it’s a good idea for you to go? Wouldn’t it better for somebody of lesser rank, more expendable to do this?”

General Reeves responded, “I see your point, but I can’t ask my men to do something that I wouldn’t do myself. They made this personal when they came after me.”

            “Sir, I’d be honored to join you, sir,” Dave said with formality

Sergeant Porter made it unanimous, “Count me in.”

The Provost Marshal ordered his police officers to evacuate all the cottages on that section of the base.

The seven person team of assassins breached the base’s southern perimeter at 0200 hours near the Oceanside Harbor and made their way across the jetty and beach. They opened the sliding door to the cottage and entered. After a quick search, the team quickly determined that it was empty! The leader radioed in, “He’s not here.”

            “Abort the mission, repeat, abort,” Came the reply.

When the team came out of the cottage, spotlights illuminated them on the beach. They were completely surrounded by a hundred well-armed Marines.

General Reeves called out to the intruders, “Drop your weapons!”

When one man raised his rifle, Dave took him out with an accurate headshot. The others quickly surrendered and were taken into custody.

Doctor Lister released his findings, dominos began to fall and heads began to roll when the truth became public. The cowardly conspirators turned on each other quicker than rats abandoning a sinking ship.

Dave joined Major General Reeves at his next command, an elite unit of Marines who specialized in covert operations. One of their first missions was the elimination of the men who ordered the assassination.

Sergeant Elliot could always be counted on to do his duty just like his cinematic influences never let him down. In the celluloid world of Tinseltown, the difference between heroes and villains is unmistakable, but in real life, the line between good and evil is sometimes blurred and not well defined.

The End

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


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  1. Bill says:

    Thanks for another exciting story. Happy Father’s Day.

  2. Larry says:

    Very interesting premise. I enjoyed the story.

  3. Clyde says:

    You definitely can learn a lot from movies…I sure have.

  4. Jeremy says:

    Very creative…sure made me think about all the movies that I hade seen over my lifetime.

  5. john michels says:

    You’ve been watching too many old movies Tom. I guess that is because the PRC now controls what is made in Hollywood and most of the recent movies are junk propaganda.

  6. Steve says:

    Thanks for another good story

  7. Dana Shepard says:

    Very innovative story.

  8. Cary says:

    Wow! I wonder if how much of me is made of old movie trivia?

  9. Tony says:

    After reading this Sunday Vista Press story by Mr. Thomas Calabrese I began to wonder how much of this story is about him or his life growing up? I she or was he a movie buff? A Marine and hard charger? Would it be how the author would react in a similar situation? Heroes come in all shapes, sizes and walks of life.
    It appears to me the author has had a lot of experiences in life he can draw from and this story could very well be one.
    The young Marine Dave Elliot is unique even for a Marine.
    I enjoyed the walk down memory lane with the list of old classic movies and the catchy one liner’s. It was nice to reminiscence.
    Already, looking forward to next weeks story.

  10. Mona says:

    I really enjoyed this story and all the great characters !

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