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original film poster
|Directed by||George Roy Hill|
|Produced by||Paul Monash|
|Screenplay by||Stephen Geller|
|Based on||Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade
by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
|Music by||Glenn Gould|
|Edited by||Dede Allen
Stephen Rotter (assistant editor)
|Distributed by||Universal Studios|
|March 15, 1972|
Slaughterhouse-Five is a 1972 anti-war/sci fi film based on Kurt Vonnegut's novel of the same name about a writer who tells a story in random order of how he was a soldier in WW2 and was abducted by aliens. The screenplay is by Stephen Geller and the film was directed by George Roy Hill. It stars Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, and Valerie Perrine, and features Eugene Roche, Sharon Gans, Holly Near, and Perry King. The scenes set in Dresden were filmed in Prague. The other scenes were filmed in Minnesota.
Vonnegut wrote about the film soon after its release, in his preface to Between Time and Timbuktu:
- "I love George Roy Hill and Universal Pictures, who made a flawless translation of my novel Slaughterhouse-Five to the silver screen ... I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book."
The film follows the novel in presenting a first-person narrative from the point of view of Billy Pilgrim (Sacks), who becomes "unstuck in time" and experiences the events of his life in a seemingly random order, including a period spent on the alien planet of Tralfamadore. Particular emphasis is placed on his experiences during World War II, including the bombing of Dresden in World War II, as well as time spent with fellow prisoners of war Edgar Derby (Roche) and the psychopathic Paul Lazzaro (Leibman). His life as a husband to Valencia (Gans), and father to Barbara (Near) and Robert (King) are also depicted, as they live and sometimes even enjoy their life of affluence in Ilium, New York. A "sink-or-swim" scene with Pilgrim's father is also featured. The scenes of extraterrestrial life on Tralfamadore feature Hollywood starlet Montana Wildhack (Perrine).
- Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim
- Ron Leibman as Paul Lazzaro
- Eugene Roche as Edgar Derby
- Sharon Gans as Valencia Merble Pilgrim
- Valerie Perrine as Montana Wildhack
- Holly Near as Barbara Pilgrim
- Perry King as Robert Pilgrim
- Kevin Conway as Roland Weary
- Friedrich von Ledebur as German Leader
- Ekkehardt Belle as Young German Guard
- Sorrell Booke as Lionel Merble
- Roberts Blossom as Wild Bob Cody
- John Dehner as Professor Rumfoord
- Gary Waynesmith as Stanley
- Richard Schaal as Howard W. Campbell Jr.
- Gilmer McCormick as Lily Rumfoord
- Stan Gottlieb as Hobo
- Karl-Otto Alberty as German Guard - Group Two
- Henry Bumstead as Eliot Rosewater
- Lucille Benson as Billy's Mother
- John Wood as English Officer, credited as Tom Wood
Differences from the novel
In addition to the book being condensed, there are a number of differences between the novel and the film, including the following:
The entire prologue in which Vonnegut meets with his old war buddy and decides to name his story 'The Children's Crusade' is omitted to focus on the 'fictionalized' story of Billy Pilgrim. The opening scene, which focuses many times on Billy typing a letter to the editor of the newspaper, is actually set much later in the novel.
Several elements of the novel are missing from the film. Two characters, Kilgore Trout and Vonnegut himself, are omitted. The sequence in the novel where Pilgrim watches a movie about a bombing mission in World War II forward and then backward is also omitted because it would not have worked inside the time constraints of the film, even though Vonnegut regretted it. The novel includes repeated references to insects in amber, which are missing from the film. Pilgrim's abduction scene is shorter in the film and also misses details, such as the appearance of the flying saucer, said to be 100 feet in diameter, with purple light pulsating around the saucer's portholes along the rim.
In the film, Derby's execution happens immediately after he innocently takes a small porcelain figurine from among the ruins of Dresden. In the novel, he is put on trial first, and is executed for taking a teapot. The scene that sets up the significance of the figurine, where Derby mentions one in a letter to his wife, is also unique to the film.
The Tralfamadorian response to death and mortality, "so it goes", is not spoken once in the film despite being used one hundred and sixteen times in the novel.
Toward the end of the movie Billy helps some of his buddies to collect a huge grandfather clock. When the Russians arrive, his friends leave him alone, buried under the clock. Although the image created by this scene (the pressure of time on Billy Pilgrim) fits nicely into the plot, this part is also not found in the novel.
The bird that says "Poo-Tee-Weet" at the end of the novel is not in the movie.
Slaughterhouse-Five is the first of two feature films for which Glenn Gould supplied the music; in this case from his previously recorded Bach catalog, including Variation 25 of the Goldberg Variations, the third ("Allegro") movement from Keyboard Concerto #3 in D major, and the second movement (Largo) of the Fifth harpsichord concerto. The film used such a small amount of music, that the soundtrack album added atmospheric excerpts from Douglas Leedy's synthesized triple album Entropical Paradise.
A prolonged rendition of the final movement of Bach's fourth Brandenberg concerto accompanies a cinematic montage as the main character first encounters the city of Dresden.
The film won the Prix du Jury at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, as well as a Hugo Award and Saturn Award. Both Hill and Geller were nominated for awards by their respective guilds. Sacks was nominated for a Golden Globe.