In January 1968, the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive, and in May the Paris Peace Talks began, while at the same time in America, the anti-Vietnam War protests were growing. Which was obviously the right time to release John Wayne’s gung-ho film lauding the exploits of America’s elite covert special forces group, the Green Berets.
Wayne, who co-directed, stars as Col Mike Kirby, with David Janssen as reporter George Beckworth, who tags along with the team. Beckworth is both the audience’s PoV to the expertise of the group as well as the original questioning liberal journalist soon convinced of the correctness of America’s role in the conflict through the two major set pieces: a desperate firefight to retain a crucial position, with requisite evidence of “Charlie”‘s brutality, followed by the infiltration into the north and the abduction of a top Viet Cong official, using the honey-trap of Lin (top model Irene Tsu). And, of course, there is a young South Vietnamese orphan, Hamchunk (Craig Jue), who Wayne “adopts” and, in one of cinema’s most famous endings, walks with him into the sunset with the immortal line, “You’re what this war’s all about, kid”.
At the time of release, the film was roundly derided but with hindsight, it should be seen as a piece of curious American cinematic history. During WWI and WWII, all the protagonists were churning out feature films containing propaganda, some of which (Went the Day Well, The Bells Go Down, Back to Bataan – starring Wayne – and San Demetrio London to name just four), are rightly regarded as classics. Hollywood was never going to produce such films during the traumatic Asian conflict and it was only in the post-war years that movies such as Apocalypse Now , Platoon and The Deer Hunter could examine a war that changed a country.
USA / 1968
Directors: John Wayne, Ray Kellogg
Writer: James Lee Barrett
Cast: John Wayne, David Janssen, Jim Hutton, Aldo Ray, Bruce Cabot, Raymond St Jacques