The Green Berets (film)

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The Green Berets
Green berets post.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Frank McCarthy
Directed by
Produced by Michael Wayne
Screenplay by James Lee Barrett
Based on The Green Berets 
by Robin Moore
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Winton C. Hoch
Edited by Otho Lovering
Distributed by Warner Bros.-Seven Arts (Worldwide, Theatrical)
National Broadcasting Company (1972, TV)
Warner-Columbia Film (1974, 1980) (Sweden, Finland) (theatrical)
Fazer Musiikki Oy/Fazer Video (1984) (Finland) (VHS)
Warner Home Video (Worldwide, DVD & VHS)
Audio Visual Enterprises (1985) (Greece) (VHS)
Scanvideo (Finland) (VHS)
Release dates
  • June 19, 1968 (1968-06-19)
Running time 141 minutes
Country United States
  • English
  • Vietnamese
Budget $7 million
Box office $21,707,027[1]

The Green Berets is a 1968 American war film featuring John Wayne, George Takei, David Janssen, Jim Hutton and Aldo Ray, nominally based on the eponymous 1965 book by Robin Moore, though the screenplay has little relation to the book.

Thematically, The Green Berets is strongly anti-communist and pro-Saigon. It was produced in 1968, at the height of American involvement in the Vietnam War, the same year as the Tet offensive against the largest cities in South Vietnam. John Wayne, concerned by the anti-war atmosphere in the United States, wanted to make this film to present the pro-military position. He requested and obtained full military co-operation and materiel from President Johnson. To please the Pentagon, who were attempting to prosecute Robin Moore for revealing classified information, Wayne bought Moore out for $35,000 and 5 percent of undefined profits of the film.[2]


At Fort Bragg, cynical newspaper reporter George Beckworth (David Janssen) is at a Special Forces briefing about the American military involvement in the war in Vietnam. The briefing at Gabriel Demonstration Area (named for SGT Jimmy Gabriel, the first "Green Beret" soldier killed in Vietnam), includes a demonstration and explanation of the whys and wherefores of participating in the Vietnam War.

Skeptical civilians and journalists are told that multinational Communism is what the U.S. is fighting in Vietnam; proof: weapons and equipment, captured from North Vietnamese soldiers and Vietcong guerrillas, manufactured in the Soviet Union, Communist Czechoslovakia, and Communist China. Despite that, Beckworth remains skeptical about the value of intervening in Vietnam's civil war. When asked by Green Beret Colonel Mike Kirby (John Wayne) if he had ever been to Southeast Asia, reporter Beckworth replies that he had not, prompting a discourteous acknowledgement of his opinion. Realizing his ignorance, Beckworth decides to go in-country to report on what he finds there so he may better his argument that America needs to stop participating in this unwinnable war.

Colonel Kirby is posted to South Vietnam with two handpicked A-Teams of Special Forces troopers. One A-Team is to replace a team at a basecamp working with South Vietnamese and Montagnard soldiers while the other A-Team is to form a counter guerrilla Mike force. While selecting his teams, Kirby intercepts a Spc. Petersen (Hutton) from another unit who is scrounging supplies from Kirby's supply depot. Realizing Petersen's skills, Kirby promotes him and brings him onto his SF team.

Arriving In South Vietnam, they meet Beckworth whom Kirby allows to join them at the basecamp where he witnesses the humanitarian aspect (irrigation ditches, bandages, candy for children) of the Special Forces mission. Still, he remains skeptical of the U.S.'s need to be there. He changes his mind after first witnessing the aftermath of a Vietcong terror attack on a nearby Montagnard village in which the young grand-daughter of the village Chief he had befriended earlier, as well as the Chief and most of the male villagers are tortured and executed by the VC for cooperating with the Americans, and then a ferocious North Vietnamese Army attack upon the SF camp which is overrun and evacuated. Beckworth admits to Kirby he probably will be fired from the newspaper for filing a story supporting the American war effort in S.E. Asia. During this period, Petersen befriends a young native boy named Hamchuck, a war orphan who has no family other than his dog and the soldiers at the basecamp. As the battle rages, the dog is killed and the boy tearfully buries his faithful companion. The boy uses the stick he had used to dig the dog's grave as the tombstone. Symbolically, as the soldiers rush to their defensive positions, the stick is knocked away, leaving an unmarked grave.

After that battle, Beckworth temporarily disappears from the story, while Col. Mike Kirby leads a team of Green Berets, Montagnards (Degar), and ARVN soldiers on a top-secret kidnap mission capturing a very important NVA field commander, who lives, eats, and drinks very well, in a guarded mansion, while the common people go hungry, cold, and naked. Kirby's ARVN counterpart Colonel Cai uses his sister-in-law as a honey trap bait for the General. The raid is successful with the captured general airlifted out of the area by a Skyhook device but at a high cost to the patrol – many of the men are killed and left behind, including Petersen.

Near the end of the story, Beckworth watches as Hamchuck awaits the return of the helicopters carrying the survivors of the raid. He realizes the toll of the war as Hamchuck runs crying from helicopter to helicopter, searching for Petersen. Beckworth then stages out with an infantry platoon heading to their choppers. Kirby, in a touching moment, walks over to the boy and tells him the sad news. Hamchuck asks plaintively, "what will happen to me now?" Kirby places Petersen's green beret on him and says, "You let me worry about that, Green Beret. You're what this thing's all about." The two walk holding hands along the beach into the sunset.


John Wayne directing a scene at Lawson Army Airfield, Georgia, Summer 1967
John Wayne with George Takei at a staged South Vietnamese village at Fort Benning, Georgia
Jim Hutton, David Janssen and Raymond St. Jacques being filmed in a scene at Fort Benning, Georgia
Night filming of the Camp A-107 battle scene

Production notes[edit]

  • Columbia Pictures, having bought the book's pre-publication film rights, was not able to produce a script that was approved by the Army while producer David L. Wolper, who also tried to buy the same rights, could not obtain finance for filming.[4] A screenplay was written by George Goodman who had served with the Special Forces in the 1950s as a military intelligence officer and had written a 1961 article about the Special Forces called The Unconventional Warriors in Esquire Magazine.[5] Columbia sent Goodman to South Vietnam for research. Robin Moore felt the Pentagon pressured Wolper into breaking an agreement with Moore.[2] Wolper acquired the rights to film The Devil's Brigade, an account of the World War II 1st Special Service Force in 1965, and produced that film instead.
  • The film's origins began in 1965 with a trip by John Wayne to South Vietnam, and his subsequent decision to produce a film about the Army special forces deployed there as a tribute to them.[6] Wayne was a steadfast supporter of American involvement in the war in Vietnam. He co-directed the film, and turned down the "Major Reisman" role in The Dirty Dozen to do so.
  • Much of the film was shot in the summer of 1967 (before the Tet Offensive) at Fort Benning, Georgia. The United States Army provided several UH-1 Huey attack helicopters, a C-7 Caribou light transport, and the United States Air Force supplied two C-130 Hercules transports as well as film footage of an AC-47 Puff, the Magic Dragon gunship and a Skyhook recovery for use in the film. The Army also provided authentic uniforms for use by the actors, including the OG-107 green and "Tiger Stripe" Tropical Combat Uniform (jungle fatigues), with correct Vietnam War subdued insignia and name tapes. Some of the "Vietnamese village" sets were so realistic they were left intact, and were later used by the Army for training troops destined for Vietnam. The commander of the United States Army Airborne School at Fort Benning can be seen shooting trap with John Wayne in the film. He can be identified as the only soldier wearing the Vietnam-era "baseball" fatigue cap; the rest wear green berets. The soldiers exercising on the drill field which Wayne shouts to were Army airborne soldiers in training.[6]
  • The defensive battle that takes place during the movie is very loosely based on the Battle of Nam Dong, during which two Viet Cong battalions and the PAVN attacked the Nam Dong CIDG camp located in a valley near the Laotian border of the South Vietnam Central Highlands. The camp was defended by a mixed force of Americans, Australians and South Vietnamese troops on 6 July 1964. For his actions at Nam Dong, Captain Roger C. Donlon was the first American to receive the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. Australian Warrant Officer Kevin Conway was the first Australian to be killed in action in the Vietnam War during the battle. The A-107 camp scene used in the film was realistically constructed on an isolated, hilly area of Fort Benning, complete with barbed wire trenches, punji sticks, sandbagged bunkers, mortar pits, towers, support buildings and hooches for the combined strike force. The camp set was largely destroyed by the producers using several tons of dynamite and black powder during the filming of the battle sequence.[6]
  • George Takei missed working on the "The Trouble With Tribbles" and "The Gamesters of Triskelion" episodes of the original "Star Trek" series to work on this movie.[6]
  • David Janssen was working on this film when the final episode of his series "The Fugitive" aired.[6]
  • The famous supposed-goof at the end of the movie where Hamchuck and Kirby walk along the beach into the sunset and watch the sun set over the ocean in the east is not necessarily impossible. Since no previous scenes take place on the coast, this scene could have taken place, as Vietnam does have a west coast, albeit a short one. There are also west-facing beaches around Vũng Tàu with approximately 25 miles to the opposite shore or it could be a sunrise that was filmed instead of a sunset.[7] 09°57′26″N 105°05′42″E / 9.95722°N 105.09500°E / 9.95722; 105.09500.


Although The Green Berets portrays the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army as sadistic tyrants, it also depicts them as a capable and willing enemy. The film shows the war as one with no front lines, meaning that the enemy can show up and attack at almost any position, anywhere. It shows the sophisticated spy ring of the VC and NVA that provided information about their adversaries. Like A Yank in Viet-Nam it gave a positive view of the South Vietnamese military forces.

The US Army objected to James Lee Barrett's initial script in several ways. The first was that the Army wanted to show that South Vietnamese soldiers were involved in defending the base camp. That was rectified. Secondly, the Army objected to the portrayal of the raid with the mission of kidnapping a general because in the original script this involved crossing the border into North Vietnam.[8]

Wayne wished the screenplay to have more development of the characters but Warner Bros. made it clear they wanted more action than talk as The Alamo was heavily criticised for too much dialogue. Scenes shot with Vera Miles as the wife of Wayne's character were jettisoned.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

Upon its cinema release, Chicago newspaper movie critic Roger Ebert gave it zero stars and cited extensive use of cliches, depicting the war in terms of "cowboys and indians", and being a "heavy-handed, remarkably old-fashioned film."[10] It is on his "Most Hated" list. In The New York Times, Renata Adler wrote, "It is vile and insane. On top of that, it is dull."[11] Oliver Stone's acclaimed anti-war film Platoon was written partially as a reaction to The Green Berets.[12] It is mocked in the Gustav Hasford novel The Short-Timers in a scene where Joker and Rafter Man find the Lusthog Squad watching it at a movie theater.

However, film commentator Emanuel Levy noted in his review that Wayne was not attempting to promote the cause of the Vietnam War as much as he was trying to portray the Special Forces in their unique role in the military: "Wayne said his motive was to glorify American soldiers as the finest fighting men 'without going into why we are there, or if they should be there.' His 'compulsion' to do the movie was based on his pride of the Special Forces, determined to show 'what a magnificent job this still little-known branch of service is doing.' ... 'I wasn't trying to send a message out to anybody,' he reasoned, 'or debating whether it is right or wrong for the United States to be in this war.'"

Levy also notes that Wayne acknowledged war is generally not popular but the soldiers are in a role of sacrifice – often against their personal will or judgment. Levy quotes Wayne: “What war was ever popular for God's sake. Those men don't want to be in Vietnam anymore than anyone else. Once you go over there, you won't be middle-of-the-road." [13]

Despite the poor reviews, it went on to be a commercial success, which Wayne attributed in part to the negative reviews from the press, which he saw as representing criticism of the war rather than the film.[14] The Green Berets earned rentals of $8.7 million in North America during 1968.[15]

The journalist John Pilger describes his reaction to The Green Berets in a 2007 speech he gave criticising the media for its coverage of the Vietnam war. "I had just come back from Vietnam, and I couldn’t believe how absurd this movie was. So I laughed out loud, and I laughed and laughed. And it wasn’t long before the atmosphere around me grew very cold. My companion, who had been a Freedom Rider in the South, said, 'Let’s get the hell out of here and run like hell.'"[16]


The original choice for scoring the film, Elmer Bernstein, a friend and frequent collaborator with John Wayne, turned the assignment down due to his political beliefs. As a second choice, the producers contacted Miklós Rózsa then in Rome. When asked to do The Green Berets for John Wayne, Rózsa replied "I don't do Westerns". Rozsa was told "It's not a Western, it's an 'Eastern'".[17] As a title song, the producers used a Ken Darby choral arrangement of Barry Sadler's hit song Ballad of the Green Berets. Rozsa provided a strong and varied musical score including a night club vocal by a Vietnamese singer Bạch Yến;[18] however, bits of Onward Christian Soldiers were deleted from the final film.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Green Berets, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 23, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Moore, Robin Introduction to 1999 edition The Green Berets The Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U.S. Army's Elite Special Forces Unit 2007 Skyhorse Publishing Inc.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Suid, Laurence H. (2002), Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film (Rev. and expanded ed.), Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, p. 247, ISBN 0-8131-2225-2 .
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d e From "The Movemakers", The Making of the "Green Berets" (1968)
  7. ^ The Green Berets at the Internet Movie Database
  8. ^ Munn, Michael (2004), John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth, London: Robson Publishing, pp. 294–295, ISBN 1-86105-722-9 
  9. ^ p. 293 Munn, Michael John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth Robson, 2004
  10. ^ The Green Berets – Roger Ebert's Review at
  11. ^ Adler, Renata (20 June 1968). "Screen: 'Green Berets' as Viewed by John Wayne: War Movie Arrives at the Warner Theater". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ Stone, Oliver (2001). Platoon DVD commentary (DVD). MGM Home Entertainment. 
  13. ^ Emanuel Levy Cinema, "The Green Berets" Review.
  14. ^ "Wayne's 'Green Berets' Is A Big Money-Maker". The Miami News. 6 January 1969. p. 5-B. 
  15. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1968", Variety, 8 January 1969 p 15. This figure is a rental accruing to distributors.
  16. ^ Pilger, John. "Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire". Speech. Democracy Now. 
  17. ^ The Green Berets (1968)
  18. ^ More Sonobeat Artists

External links[edit]