Big Wednesday

Big Wednesday

name = Big Wednesday

caption = Theatrical poster
director = John Milius
producer = Buzz Feitshans
writer = John Milius
Dennis Aaberg
narrator = Robert Englund
starring = Jan-Michael Vincent
William Katt
Gary Busey Lee Purcell
music = Basil Poledouris
cinematography = Bruce Surtees
editing = Carroll Timothy O'Meara
Robert L. Wolfe
distributor = Warner Brothers
released = May 26 1978
runtime = 120 minutes
country = United States
language = English
budget = $11,000,000
amg_id = 1:5494
imdb_id = 0077235|

"Big Wednesday" (1978) is an American coming of age film directed by John Milius. The picture stars Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt and Gary Busey as California surfers facing life, the Vietnam War, and use of the ever changing surf as a metaphor for the changes in life. [imdb title|0077235|Big Wednesday.]

Surfing aficionados consider it to be one of the better surfing-related films made, in part because of the surfing cinematography and the appearance of several world champion surfers as stunt performers, plus its verisimilitude, especially when compared to the kitschy 1960s Beach Party films. The director, John Milius, had been a surfer in his youth. [ [ Borte, Jason] . "Surfline" web site, film review, October 2000.]

The film also examines the extremes which some young men went to during the Vietnam years to avoid being drafted and shipped off to war, including: faking insanity, homosexuality (which the military then equated with insanity), and all manner of medical ailments. The picture also illustrates the tough decision some made to enlist and the effects that decision had on their friends and families.


The film tells the story of three young friends whose passion for life is surfing. The friends include: Matt (Jan-Michael Vincent) a self-destructive and has a devil-may-care attitude; Jack Barlowe (William Katt), the calm and responsible one of the bunch; and Leroy "The Masochist" Smith (Gary Busey), whose name tells a lot about his personality.

Their surfing lives are traced from the summer of 1962 to their attempts of dodging the Vietnam War draft in 1965, and to the end of their innocence in 1968 when one of their friends is killed in Vietnam. The three make the difficult transition to adulthood with parties, surf trips, marriage, and the war.

The friends reunite years later after Barlowe has served time in Vietnam for the "Great Swell of '74." With this reunion the transitions in their lives becomes the end point of what the 1960s meant to so many as they see that the times have changed and what was once a time of innocence is forever gone.


Raised in Southern California, Milius made "Big Wednesday" as an homage to the time he spent in Malibu during his youth.

Filming locations

The surfing scenes used in the finale to "Big Wednesday" were not filmed in California, where the film is set. The filming of large surf conditions used in "Big Wednesday" were actually done at the famous Sunset Beach, located at Pupukea, Hawaii.

Other locations include: El Paso, Texas; Hollister Ranch, Santa Barbara; Surfrider Beach, Malibu; Ventura, California (all in the United States) and a little known surf heaven called La Libertad, El Salvador.


* Jan-Michael Vincent as Matt Johnson
* William Katt as Jack Barlowe
* Gary Busey as Leroy "The Masochist" Smith
* Patti D'Arbanville as Sally
* Lee Purcell as Peggy Gordon
* Sam Melville (actor) as Bear
* Darrell Fetty as Waxer
* Gerry Lopez as Himself
* Hank Worden as Shopping Cart
* Joe Spinell as Psychologist
* Steve Kanaly as Sally's Husband
* Barbara Hale as Mrs. Barlow
* Fran Ryan as Lucy
* Dennis Aaberg as Slick
* Reb Brown as Enforcer
* Arthur Rosenberg as Official
* Janet Julian as Party girl
* Charlene Tilton as Party girl
* Frank McRae as Sergeant
* Perry Lang as Tall kid
* Michael Talbott as Hog
* Robert Englund as Narrator, Fly
* Keith Davis as Ostrich


The film premiered in wide release in the United States on May 26, 1978.

The picture was screened at various film festivals, including: the Davao City Film Festival, Philippines; the Turin Film Festival, Italy; and others.

Critical reception

Critic Janet Maslin, film critic for "The New York Times", did not like the screenplay nor the performances of the actors and wrote, "The surprise is not that Mr. Milius has made such a resoundingly awful film, but rather that he's made a bland one...the movie often seems even more uneventful than material like this need make it, and Mr. Milius's attention to his actors focuses more closely on their pectorals than on their performances. He encourages such stiffness in his players that Barbara Hale, for instance, is quite unconvincing as Mr. Katt's mother. This is a "faux pas" of no mean eminence; after all, Miss Hale actually is Mr. Katt's mother." [ [ Maslin, Janet] . "The New York Times", film review, "Big Wednesday" Gets Caught in Some Rough Surf:Buddyhood of Surfing," July 28, 1978.]

Dave Kehr, writing for the "Chicago Reader," was not as dismissive of the film, writing, "John Milius's paean to the art and discipline of hot dog surfing is marred by pushy philosophizing and a fair number of overripe lines, but its sincerity is deep and seductive...Milius can be faulted for reviving a number of ostensibly dead macho myths, but in the context of the subculture his film deftly re-creates, they take on the aura of eternal values. The breathtaking surfing footage, rather than the slightly stunted characters, makes his most eloquent argument." [ [ Kehr, Dave] . "Chicago Reader", film review, 1996-2007. Last accessed: March 18 2008.]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 57% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on seven reviews." [ [ "Big Wednesday"] at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: March 18, 2008.]


* Awards of the Japanese Academy: Award of the Japanese Academy Best Foreign Language Film; 1980.



External links

* [ "Big Wednesday"] film review at Surfline web site
* [ "Big Wednesday"] trailer at You Tube

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