The Green Berets (film)
|The Green Berets|
Theatrical release poster by Frank McCarthy
|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)
The Green Berets is a 1968 American war film set in Vietnam, featuring John Wayne, Jim Hutton, David Janssen, Aldo Ray, Patrick Wayne, and Jack Soo, based on the 1965 book by Robin Moore. Parts of the screenplay bear little relation to the novel, although the portion in which a woman seduces a Vietnamese communist leader and sets him up to be kidnapped by Americans is from the book.
Much of the film was shot in the summer of 1967 (before the Tet Offensive).
Thematically, The Green Berets is strongly anti-communist and pro-Saigon. It was released 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 cooperation 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.
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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 international 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 (Jim 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. The A team includes Captain MacDaniel, (Edward Faulkner), a replacement for the late Captain Coleman, Lieutenant's Sachs, (Frank Koomen), and Moore, a Savoy 8 team leader, Master Sergeant Muldoon (Aldo Ray) the senior NCO, Sergeant First Class "Doc" McGee, (Raymond St. Jacques) the teams medical Sergeant, Sergeant First Class Kowalski, (Mike Henry) the teams communications specialist, Sergeant Provo, (Luke Askew) the team's heavy weapons specialist, Sergeant Watson, (Eddy Donno) teams Mortar crewman, and Sergeant Parks, (Rudy Robbins), a man from the Southern United States.
Arriving in South Vietnam, they meet Beckworth whom Kirby allows to join them at the base camp 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. During that first evening, the unseen Viet Cong launch a harassing attack against the base camp by lobbing a few mortar shells before withdrawing, which results in little damage, but also results in the death of the American base camp commander Captain Coleman (Jason Evers) who was one day from going home to the USA. During this period, Petersen befriends a young native boy named Ham Chuck (Craig Jue), a war orphan who has no family other than his pet dog and the soldiers at the base camp.
One night on Coleman's final night of his tour, he spends some time in the Team House writing a letter announcing his return. Beckworth, and several of the A detachments, Sergeant's Provo, Watson, and Lark are playing cards. One member, Parks, cannot play in the game as his reputation for cons and luck-playing was well known, Coleman instructs the men to check their guard duty rosters before they turn in to rest. He bids everyone good night and Coleman returns to his own sleeping quarters. Not long afterwards, the camp begins to get hit with Viet Cong mortars in a harassment action. The mortar fire strikes the dispensary, "communication bunker" and the team house. However the team house is in flames when other soldiers hastened to check on Coleman who was known to be inside at the time of the attack. MacDaniel dispersed nearby soldiers on various assignments to check if there is any damage done to the communication bunker as well forming a reconnaissance patrol. However Coleman is found dead by Sergeant Provo and a soldier amidst the flaming debris. After Coleman's death MacDaniel informs Colonel Kirby of his demise, Provo observed the fact that Captain Coleman was due to return home the following day,
Also introduced is the ARVN base camp strike force leader Captain Nim (George Takei), who was a former Viet Minh officer from Hanoi during the previous war and is now fighting for the anti-communist South Vietnamese government. He's obsessed with having to "kill all the stinking Viet Cong" to win this war. He also claims that there is a spy network within the camp and ARVN strike force.
One day, Sergeant Muldoon, while supervising a group of U.S. Seabees clearing part of the jungle around the base camp and evacuating the civilians in preparation for a potential Viet Cong attack, notices an ARVN soldier pacing unusually outside the team house and mess hall and slugs him out. Upon interrogation by Captain Nim, the ARVN soldier denies being a Viet Cong spy, until Nim discovers a silver cigarette lighter in the ARVN soldier's possession, which belonged to a Green Beret medical specialist, a friend of Kirby's, recently murdered by the VC. After Beckworth sees Nim beat and torture the Viet Cong suspect to get a confession from him, he confronts Kirby about it. The Colonel justifies the interrogation by telling Beckworth about the cigarette lighter the Viet Cong suspect had, and how the VC are ruthless killers who deserve no protection of any kind in this new kind of war.
Another few days later, Beckworth accompanies Kirby and his team on a patrol to a local village in the nearby mountains. It is here that Beckworth changes his mind about the American involvement in the Vietnam war after witnessing the aftermath of a Viet Cong terror attack on a nearby Montagnard village in which the young granddaughter 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.
Another evening or so later, the Special Forces camp is attacked in a massed nighttime attack by thousands of enemy Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops. Kirby and Muldoon fly out to assess the situation. Their helicopter is shot down by enemy fire, but they are soon rescued by a patrol where they secure a field as an landing zone (LZ) for US and ARVN reinforcements as a 'Mike Force' to aid the besieged camp.
Meanwhile, the ferocious North Vietnamese Army attack upon the SF camp continues relentlessly. Beckworth is forced to take a rifle from a fallen ARVN sergeant and fights alongside the Green Berets as well as helping move the local villagers into the camp to protect them from the enemy onslaught.
As the battle rages, Ham Chunk's pet dog is killed and the young boy tearfully buries his faithful companion. Symbolically, the boy uses the stick he had used to dig the dog's grave as the tombstone. He is found by Petersen who takes him to safety with the other refugees. As ARVN soldiers rush to their defensive positions, the stick is knocked away, leaving an unmarked grave.
At this time, the perimeter of the camp is breached by enemy sappers who blow up holes in the barbed wire fences around the camp, and the Green Berets and ARVN soldiers are forced to fall back to the inner perimeter however, though the battle costs the lives of Lieutenant Sachs, Sergeant Sooby, and many are killed in the battle. Captain MacDaniel, (Seabee) Lieutenant Jamison, (Patrick Wayne), Sergeant Griffin (Chuck Roberson) are both wounded. Provo is mortally gunned down by double agents posing as South Vietnamese soldiers. Nim sets off the hidden explosives which kill the double agents. Parks is hit wounded badly but still alive. Just then, Kirby and Muldoon arrive with the Mike Force reinforcements, supported by a US airstrike in which A-1 Skyraiders drop napalm on the attacking enemy troops with little success. Nim is killed by enemy artillery as he is detonating claymore mines to kill more attacking enemy soldiers within the camp's lines.
By dawn, with the enemy attack still continuing, Kirby orders the troops to fall back and withdraw from the camp, which is then taken by the enemy. At a nearby LZ, more US Army helicopters arrive to evacuate the refugees and Petersen puts Ham Chuck on one of the helicopters and promises to return for him in Da Nang. With the base in VC/NVA hands, Kirby orders an airstrike of a C-47 on the camp, which kills more enemy troops, forcing them to withdraw later that day. When the enemy departs, Kirby and his team re-occupy the destroyed camp.
Afterwords, Kirby has a talk with Beckworth where the reporter admits that he probably will be fired from the newspaper where he works for filing a story supporting US involvement in the war. He then thanks Kirby for the experience and returns to Da Nang with the Mike Force reinforcements. Jamison says that Provo is requesting Colonel Kirby's presence. However Provo starts to almost die of his wounds but tells Kirby to request for his memorial sign name to the public to be known as Provo Privy.
After that battle, Beckworth temporarily disappears from the story, while Kirby meets with his superior officer as well as Kirby's ARVN counterpart, Colonel Cai, where he is told about a top-secret mission they have been planning to kidnap a very important North Vietnamese field commander named General Pha Son Ti who is currently living in North Vietnam. The capture of General Ti is seen as a bargaining chip to ending the war on South Vietnam's terms as well as disrupt the leadership of the Viet Cong. Colonel Cai uses his sister-in-law, a top Vietnamese fashion model named Lin, as a honey trap to lure General Ti to a guarded former French colonial mansion located in a well guarded valley deep in North Vietnam.
Kirby, Muldoon, Peterson, and a handful of Green Berets, Montagnards (Degar), and ARVN soldiers are selected for this secret mission by Cai, who will be accompanying them. At nightfall, they are airlifted in a C-130 transport and parachuted into the North Vietnam jungle. After Kirby's point man, Kowalski, is killed by a patrol of local enemy militia, all of whom he kills single-highhandedly, the group continues on. Muldoon, the medical specialist Doc McGee, and two of Cai's men, are to stay behind at a local bridge over a river to set explosive to blow it up to prevent the team from being chased by the NVA forces.
At nightfall, Kirby and the group arrive outside the guarded plantation where they witness the enemy general arrive at his plantation with Lin. After Kirby and Cai and their men kill all the sentries around the mansion, they quietly enter, subdue the enemy general with Lin's help, and hoist him outside, where they put him in the trunk of his car. Kirby, Cai, Petersen, Watson, and Lin drive off, but the rest of the team is killed in a hail of bullets by the North Vietnamese guards while attempting to escape.
The survivors drive over the bridge which is rigged with explosives, but Doc McGee is seriously wounded after being shot in the back by an NVA guard. The bridge is blown up and the group is reunited in the nearby woods where they dispose of the General's car and successfully airlift the captured General out of the area by a Skyhook device.
While Kirby and the group advance through the woods to the LZ for the helicopters to pick them up, Petersen is killed by an enemy booby-trap when he is gorily impaled on punji sticks. Kirby and his team are forced to leave his dead body behind.
Back at Da Nang Air Force base, Beckworth watches as Ham Chuck awaits the return of the helicopters carrying the survivors of the raid. He realizes the toll of the war as Ham Chuck runs crying from helicopter to helicopter, searching for Petersen, who is not there. Beckworth then accompanies a group of US soldiers who have arrived in the country and are sent to the war zone area. Kirby, in a touching moment, walks over to the boy and tells him the sad news. Ham Chuck 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 as COL Mike Kirby (SF Group Commander)
- Jim Hutton as SGT Petersen
- David Janssen as George Beckworth
- Aldo Ray as MSG Muldoon (Senior NCO)
- Raymond St. Jacques as SFC "Doc" McGee (Medical Sergeant)
- Bruce Cabot as COL Morgan
- Jack Soo as Colonel Cai (ARVN)
- George Takei as Captain Nim (ARVN)
- Patrick Wayne as LT Jamison, CEC, (USN)
- Luke Askew as SGT Provo (Heavy Weapons "but not if he can find a light one")
- Irene Tsu as Lin
- Edward Faulkner as CPT MacDaniel
- Jason Evers as CPT Coleman
- Mike Henry as SFC Kowalski
- Eddy Donno as SGT Watson
- Craig Jue as Ham Chuck
- Richard "Cactus" Pryor as Collier (often mistakenly credited as Richard Pryor)
- Rudy Robbins as SGT Parks
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. 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. Columbia sent Goodman to South Vietnam for research. Robin Moore felt the Pentagon pressured Wolper into breaking an agreement with Moore. 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 June 1966 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. 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. Department of Defense cooperation with the film was extensive, with the United States Army providing several UH-1 Huey attack helicopters and a C-7 Caribou light transport. The United States Air Force supplied two C-130 Hercules transports and two A-1 Skyraider attack aircraft as well as film footage of an AC-47 Puff the Magic Dragon gunship and an HC-130 Hercules employing the Skyhook recovery system 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 students in training.
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 Army 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.
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 South Vietnam and their anti-communist allies.
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 where they kidnap a NVA general because in the original script this involved crossing the border into North Vietnam.
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 criticized for too much dialogue. Scenes shot with Vera Miles as the wife of Wayne's character were jettisoned (however Miles was again cast portraying his wife in Wayne's next film Hellfighters).
Upon its cinema release, 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." 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." The screenplay for Oliver Stone's anti-war film Platoon was written partially as a reaction to The Green Berets. 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. "The audience of Marines roars with laughter. This is the funniest movie we have seen in a long time."
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." 
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.
"The critics overkilled me, the picture and the war," said Wayne. "As a result, so many people went to see it that I had a check from the distributors for $8 million within 3 months. That's the cost of the picture, so we moved into profit the next day."
The Green Berets earned rentals of $8.7 million in North America during 1968.
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.'"
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- Col. Mike Kirby: "Out here, due process is a bullet." – Nominated
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'". 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; however, bits of Onward Christian Soldiers were deleted from the final film.
- "The Green Berets, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 23, 2012.
- 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.
- The Green Berets – Roger Ebert's Review at rogerebert.com
- Adler, Renata (20 June 1968). "Screen: 'Green Berets' as Viewed by John Wayne: War Movie Arrives at the Warner Theater". The New York Times.
- 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.
- From "The Movemakers", The Making of the "Green Berets" (1968)
- Munn, Michael (2004), John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth, London: Robson Publishing, pp. 294–295, ISBN 1-86105-722-9
- p. 293 Munn, Michael John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth Robson, 2004
- Stone, Oliver (2001). Platoon DVD commentary (DVD). MGM Home Entertainment.
- Hasford, Gustav (1979), The Short-Timers, Harper & Row, p. 32, ISBN 978-0060117825
- Emanuel Levy Cinema, "The Green Berets" Review. http://www.emanuellevy.com/review/green-berets-the-2/#sthash.blok8NTW.dpuf
- "Wayne's 'Green Berets' Is A Big Money-Maker". The Miami News. 6 January 1969. p. 5-B.
- DUKE Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 25 Jan 1970: n6.
- "Big Rental Films of 1968", Variety, 8 January 1969 p 15. This figure is a rental accruing to distributors.
- Pilger, John. "Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire". Speech. Democracy Now.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-30.
- The Green Berets (1968)
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