“Heartbreak Ridge” is a rarely generous serving of red meat to Eastwood’s fanbase. He stars as Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway, a Korean War hero who’s spent the majority of his post-combat career in a bottle of booze. When Highway gets the opportunity to set up shop at his old stomping grounds in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, he finds himself at odds with a hostile commanding officer (Everett McGill), who assigns him to the laziest unit on base. Highway, determined to shape up, goes to work on his layabout charges, but his achievement will ring hollow if he doesn’t reconcile with his ex-wife, Aggie Highway (Mason).
Mason had been nominated for four Academy Awards prior to getting cast in “Heartbreak Ridge,” and this was her first film role since she divorced playwright Neil Simon in 1983. So there’s some added stink on her fastball when, in response to Tom’s bon mot “You never talked dirty like that when we were married,” she fires back, “Yes, I did; you were just never around to hear it.”
In an interview with Roger Ebert, Eastwood said he saw old-school, movie-star toughness in Mason. As he said:
“The stronger the participation of the female characters, the better the movie. They knew that in the old days when women stars were equally as important as men. [Katherine] Hepburn, [Bette] Davis, [Claudette] Colbert. They had great faces and great voices. By the 1950s, somehow all the female roles became sort of glorified gals in blue jeans at the next-door barbecue. They’d lost their strength. Now they get a few lines, a little sex scene, and that’s the end of it. I’m a lot more interested in women than that.”