Cut to the police station, where SFPD Inspector Jay Austin (Harmon), formerly a military man and a Presidio MP himself, is being assigned to cooperate with MPs on the case since it has officially gone jurisdictional. He's established as a Smirking Maverick by 1. His alligator skin boots, propped casually on his desk; 2. His bitchin' casual letterman's jacket; and 3. The way he coolly disarms an armed suspect with psychology. When Austin shows up at the Officer's Club, he is shocked to learn that the victim is Lynch- she was his former partner when he was an MP. Lest his tender feelings show, however, he is soon confronted by Lieutenant Colonel Caldwell (Connery), his former superior and personal foil, and the two engage in some competitive dick-wagging about jurisdiction.
The following day, Austin appears at Caldwell's house and has an excruciating meet-cute with Donna Caldwell (Ryan), the Lt. Col.'s daughter who has just completed grad school. Austin asks her out and she agrees just before her father appears. Austin relays that forensics has determined that the bullet that killed Lynch is from a Tokorov .33, a Russian pistol. Austin has a theory that the rare gun may belong to an officer who kept it as a souvenir of the Vietnam War, and is relying on Caldwell to open doors in that regard.
Sergeant Garfield at the Presidio shooting range relays to the men that he had in fact recently fixed a faulty firing pin on a Tokorov .33, owned by one Colonel Paul Lawrence. Austin reacts angrily to the name. So angrily, in fact, that Caldwell feels compelled to remind Austin that he cannot serve a warrant on a federal reservation. They part acrimoniously.
That evening, Donna and father have the requisite paint-by-the-numbers spat about her date with Austin. Caldwell explains that when Austin and Lynch were partners, they pulled over Lawrence for a DUI. Austin, alleging that Lawrence insulted Lynch, beat Lawrence and put him in the drunk tank. Caldwell, believing his subordinate had overstepped his authority, immediately released Lawrence without charging him. Austin and Caldwell have been bitter enemies ever since.
Over dinner, Donna asks for Austin's version of the story. He claims Lawrence resisted arrest and tried to physically attack Lynch, and he sees Caldwell's involvement as hierarchical favoritism-- two officers sticking together. The incident was the impetus for Austin to depart from the armed forces. Donna, apparently bored with this story, cuts to the chase and asks Austin if they can head to his house. At the valet stand, she tells him to follow her instead of vice versa, and takes off in her little red sports car. A 'chase' ensues which is presumably meant to portray Donna as some sort of early progenitor of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but really only succeeds in painting her as bratty and dangerously unhinged.
It's then and there that Sergeant Major Ross Maclure is impressing the shit out of a bunch of 8 year-olds who have apparently never heard of Vietnam but appreciate a good war story as much as the next guy. Caldwell, clearly an old friend and big fan of Maclure, shows up and chews the fat with him about his Donna-and-Austin problems until Austin shows up.
Together, Austin and Caldwell meet with TransCorp businessman Arthur Peale in his extremely contemporary office. Peale claims his wife left her Lincoln downtown one evening after meeting him for dinner and that it was stolen shortly thereafter. Caldwell is convinced Peale is connected, but Austin has thoroughly vetted the executive and insists he's clean.
Still working his MP connections, Austin gets a tip that Lawrence is in Chinatown, and hurries over to arrest him: it turns out the bullets are a match. Lawrence, however, fights arrest and leads Austin on a chase through the cramped, maze-like streets and alleys of Chinatown. Just as Austin is closing in on his quarry, a yellow sports car zooms out of nowhere and violently strikes Lawrence, instantly killing him, before disappearing just as quickly.
As the SFPD process the scene, Caldwell shows up and argues with Austin about going after Lawrence. Caldwell contends that this plot is far bigger than Lawrence- he refers to a coaster in Peale's office from a bar in Saigon. Although Austin's search came up clean, Caldwell's military connections reveal that Peale was an advisor in Vietnam at the same time Lawrence was there. Austin wracks his memory trying to understand why anyone would break into the store room at the officer's club, and remembers an over-watered plant at the club the night of the murder. Caldwell notes he found an empty bottle in the supply room just that day. They decide to investigate the company that supplies water to the Presidio.
At the water company, Austin endears himself to the dispatcher by chatting about the Grateful Dead, and feeds her a line about a water truck scratching his car in The Presidio and needing to find the driver. All too willing to assist a fellow Deahead, the dispatcher not only gives Austin the name of the driver who delivers to the Presidio, George Spota, she also gives him the driver's home address. Upon reporting to Spota's address, Austin sees a sports car parked in the driveway. Noting a recent piece of masking tape near the rear license plate, Austin uses his pocket knife to scrape away some of the blue paint to see yellow underneath- this could very well be the car that killed Lawrence.
Presumably we can't have too much excitement or plot advancement in one go, so the movie cuts to some type of USO formal dance with Donna, Austin, and Caldwell all in attendance. Donna acts like an asshole to push Austin away, and it works. At home, Donna acts like an asshole to get Caldwell to raise his hand to her, and that works, too. Donna runs out to go grovel at Austin's. Caldwell goes out to get drunk with Maclure on the roof of his house.
Back to the action: the next morning Austin arrives at Caldwell's, and informs him that it was Spota's car that killed Lawrence. Caldwell, in turn, tells Austin what he has uncovered: TransCorp, Arthur Peale's company, owns the water company for which Spota works. Aw yeah, the pieces are starting to come together! The men follow Spota on his delivery route through downtown San Francisco and then out to Travis Air Force Base. They observe as an airman lugs a bottle of water from a crew vehicle and deposits it near a door, where George Spota takes the bottle and puts it back on his truck: very interesting indeed. Caldwell asks a nearby private where the crew vehicle's flight had arrived from, and is informed the point of origin is Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. Caldwell and Austin then follow Spota back to the Officer's Club, and then, back to the water company.
Sitting in the parking lot outside the water company, Austin theorizes to Caldwell that Spota delivered the wrong bottle to the Officer's Club on the day that MP Lynch was killed. Realizing his mistake, Spota returned to the building that night, where he was confronted by Lynch and shot her dead. But what's so special about this water from the Philippines? As they ponder this question, a car pulls up and -gaaaasp- Maclure steps out. Caldwell is immediately devastated to see his friend's involvement in whatever this plan is.
Inside the water company, Spota, Peale, and others are straining the Filipino water through a mesh colander to reveal a fistful of raw, uncut diamonds. Maclure walks in and says "this shit's gonna stop now." He didn't sign up for murder, and now both Lynch and Lawrence are dead! And so is Maclure, once Austin and Caldwell kick down the door, guns drawn: he redeems/martyrs himself by running into gunfire to toss a weapon to Caldwell. Through Maclure's self-sacrifice, Caldwell and Austin gain the upper hand on the diamond smugglers. Caldwell asks Austin to delay his official report by 48 hours (the standard unit of time by which the SFPD operates) in order to bury Maclure with a clear name. Austin agrees.
Cut to Maclure's funeral: after a heart-rending eulogy by Caldwell, uniformed soldiers fire off a 21-gun salute. Caldwell gives Donna the flag from Maclure's coffin, then invites her on a walk. She smiles up at him, glad that all has been forgiven. Caldwell looks over his shoulder and beckons for Austin to join them. The movie closes with Donna, Caldwell, and Austin walking together through the cemetery.
MP Zeke: Patti Jean, [if] you get cold out there, give me a call.
MP Lynch: I got a jacket.
MP Zeke: That's not the same as a man.
MP Lynch: Neither are you.
Hudson: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?
Vasquez: No. Have you?
One of the sappiest moments of the movie comes when Caldwell and Maclure are drinking up on the latter man's roof, and Caldwell regales the older man with a patriotic story:
I wash ten. My oald man wash laid oaff again. He comesh home, he shaysh 'We're leaving Shcotland, we're going to America.' An' 'e gives me this book oan Thomash Jeffershon. I read it right through. Nexsht thing I know I'm on the deck of this ship and my oald man shoutsh 'Look! There she ish!' I could jusht shee over the guard rail. It wash the Shtatue of Liberty. And I look. And that green color on her face? You know, she really ish that beautiful. Anyway, that'sh how I shee America. And that'sh why I'm a sholdier.
The film is, for the most part, fairly realistic in terms of locations and traveling routes and times. However, there are two minor inconsistencies that arise when Austin and Caldwell follow the water delivery driver George Spota on his route. Austin, seeing Spota getting into the truck to start his deliveries, runs from the water company to the car where Caldwell is waiting. The water company is shown at Spear Street and The Embarcadero, but Austin is shown running to his car two blocks north at Spear and Folsom. The film is edited in such a way as to portray the two locations as one and the same, but where Austin should be running northwest towards his car, he is, in reality, running southeast, in the opposite direction. The double-decker roadway of the Embarcadero Freeway in the background gives away the location. I've used a 1965 map below, and in other parts of this entry, to show where the Embarcadero Freeway was before its demolition in 1992.
When The Presidio was filmed and released, the titular setting was still an active military reservation and had been for over 200 years, but it hadn't always necessarily belonged to the United States. It began in 1776 as a humble Spanish garrison, and for nearly 50 years a hodgepodge of adobe structures sheltered the small group of Spanish soldiers who controlled Indian workers at nearby Mision Dolores. The military installation was called El Presidio Real de San Francisco, or The Royal Fortress of Saint Francis.
In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and with it, El Presidio Real. Shortly afterwards, the Mexican garrison was relocated north to Sonoma, and The Presidio fell into decline until 1846, when American soldiers challenged Mexican rule in what would soon be known as California. American troops seized The Presidio and became the third and final national army to use the land and its facilities. The Presidio was an active part of American military history for decades since that date, playing roles in the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Operation Desert Storm.
In 1989, Congress enacted a military base reduction program, putting The Presidio on a list of bases to be closed. Fifteen years earlier in 1972, the city had created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area around The Presidio in anticipation of one day obtaining and incorporating the latter into the former. That day came on October 1, 1994, when the United States military formally handed over The Presidio to the National Parks Service.
Today, a number of the former military buildings are both businesses and residences. If you saw the Metallica documentary Some Kind of Monster, then you saw them recording at a studio in The Presidio. And if you saw Transformers or any other number of blockbuster movies, you're also seeing a product of The Presidio- Industrial Light & Magic is located there. There's also the Presidio Graduate School, a handful of art studios, The Walt Disney Family museum, and your standard-issue smattering of internet startups. Every Sunday at the Main Post, the enormous lawn is lined on both sides with dozens of food trucks, and there are also bars, DJs, and activities to enjoy, although you are always welcome to participate in my preferred Sunday activity of simply loafing. The location combines two highly sought-after assets in San Francisco, a mild weather pocket and a stunning bay view, making it a top choice for enjoying the smorgasbord of a lazy Sunday.
After throwing Austin off him, Lawrence runs east down Washington Street, turning north onto Grant Avenue, the main tourist drag of Chinatown. Almost thirty years later, you can still buy some cheap art on the corner before ducking into the Buddha Bar for a drink. If you feel like making a bender of it, I recommend going across the street to Li Po Lounge and ordering the Chinese Mai Tai, the secret ingredient of which is "Chinese liqueur." If you ask the bartender what, exactly, is in "Chinese liqueur," he or she will simply answer "Chinese liqueur." Down the hatch!
Authenticity: 8/10- Joe Montana gives you a knowing nod from across the room at Swensen's Ice Cream.
Screaming Eagle American Patriot Score: Moar American than yer mam chibbin the Loch Ness monster's fanny tae fuck wi deep-fried Mars bars.
Overall: 7/10- See: Plot
References & Further Reading