Hamburger Hill (1987)

R | 110 mins | Drama | 28 August 1987

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HISTORY

The film opens with the following title card: “On 10 May 1969 Troops of the 101st Airborne Division engaged the enemy at the base of Hill 937 in the Ashau Valley. Ten days and eleven bloody assaults later, the Troops who fought there called it...Hamburger Hill.”
       An epilogue reads: “Hamburger Hill was secured on 20 May 1969. The war for hills and trails continued, the places and names forgotten, except by those who were there.” That statement is followed by a poem written by Major Michael Davis O'Donnell on 1 Jan 1970, three months before his death in Dak To, Vietnam.
       Hambuger Hill was the fourth in a cycle of Vietnam War-themed movies that opened in 1986-1987, starting with Platoon, and followed by Hanoi Hilton and Full Metal Jacket (see entries). The film tells the story of the battle for the 937-foot hill, which the U.S. Army named “Hill 937,” located in the Ashau Valley, west of the coastal town of Hue. Once American troops secured the hill, it was quickly abandoned.
       Writer Jim Carabatsos based his screenplay for Hamburger Hill on his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. Promotional materials in AMPAS library files indicate that Carabatsos was in the First Air Cavalry Division, but was not involved in the May 1969 battle of Hamburger Hill. Carabatsos was deeply affected by the Vietnam experience, but upon his return to the U.S., was not yet ready to write about the war. Instead, his first Vietnam-themed screenplay, Heroes (1977, see entry), dealt with a Vietnam veteran’s re-adjustment to civilian life.
       In the early 1980s, Carabatsos had ... More Less

The film opens with the following title card: “On 10 May 1969 Troops of the 101st Airborne Division engaged the enemy at the base of Hill 937 in the Ashau Valley. Ten days and eleven bloody assaults later, the Troops who fought there called it...Hamburger Hill.”
       An epilogue reads: “Hamburger Hill was secured on 20 May 1969. The war for hills and trails continued, the places and names forgotten, except by those who were there.” That statement is followed by a poem written by Major Michael Davis O'Donnell on 1 Jan 1970, three months before his death in Dak To, Vietnam.
       Hambuger Hill was the fourth in a cycle of Vietnam War-themed movies that opened in 1986-1987, starting with Platoon, and followed by Hanoi Hilton and Full Metal Jacket (see entries). The film tells the story of the battle for the 937-foot hill, which the U.S. Army named “Hill 937,” located in the Ashau Valley, west of the coastal town of Hue. Once American troops secured the hill, it was quickly abandoned.
       Writer Jim Carabatsos based his screenplay for Hamburger Hill on his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. Promotional materials in AMPAS library files indicate that Carabatsos was in the First Air Cavalry Division, but was not involved in the May 1969 battle of Hamburger Hill. Carabatsos was deeply affected by the Vietnam experience, but upon his return to the U.S., was not yet ready to write about the war. Instead, his first Vietnam-themed screenplay, Heroes (1977, see entry), dealt with a Vietnam veteran’s re-adjustment to civilian life.
       In the early 1980s, Carabatsos had lunch with independent producer Marcia Nasatir who asked him what type of script he wanted to do next. The 23 Aug 1987 Long Beach Press-Telegram reported that Carabatsos blurted out he wanted to write about nineteen-year-old boys fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. Nasatir, whose son had been in the war, said she would gladly listen to his story. She was so moved by what she heard, she commissioned him to write the screenplay, and ended up producing the film. Carabatsos told the 9 Feb 1985 LAT that he was especially anxious to make Hamburger Hill because none of the Vietnam War films that came out in the 1970s, including The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979, see entries), had depicted the Vietnam War he had experienced.
       Meanwhile, British-born director John Irvin had also been in Vietnam in 1969 for three months as a documentary filmmaker for the BBC (British Broadcasting Company), making a television documentary titled Beautiful, Beautiful about combat photographers. To get the footage he needed, Irvin got extremely close to the front lines. The 28 Aug 1987 NYT reported that the human suffering Irvin saw there so disturbed him that he stopped making documentaries and moved into feature filmmaking. Over a breakfast meeting with Marcia Nasatir in 1983, Irvin mentioned his experience in Vietnam and she invited him to read the Hamburger Hill script. He read it that afternoon and immediately agreed to direct it.
       However, finding financing proved a problem. The 25 Aug 1987 DV reported that Nasatir had been turned down by all the major studios because the subject matter was an emotional issue that audiences would likely avoid. Ultimately, Mark Seiler of RKO Pictures put up the initial money, followed by Producers Sales Organization (PSO) and Vestron Productions.
       Irvin insisted the fourteen main actors be unknowns because he did not want the audience to identify with any established actors, something he felt would diminish the story, the 23 Aug 1987 LAHExam reported. Each of the actors underwent two weeks of special training at the U.S. Naval base at Subic Bay in the Philippines before filming commenced.
       Principal photography began 3 Oct 1986 in the Philippines, according to the 8 Oct 1986 DV production chart. With an eleven-week shooting schedule and a $6.5 million budget, the film had the full cooperation of the Departments of Defense of both the U.S. and the Republic of the Philippines. Retired Colonel Joseph P. Conmy, who had been the brigade commander at the battle of Hamburger Hill, served as the film’s senior military advisor.
       A 1,800-foot hill in the Philippines doubled for the 937-foot“Hamburger Hill.” However, many steps had to be built on the hill so crews could move about the location, and the hillside was stripped and replanted with the proper jungle vegetation.
       Hamburger Hill opened on 814 screens on 28 Aug 1987, taking in $3.4 million over its opening weekend, according to the 1 Sep 1987 DV box-office report. After a month in theaters, the the 29 Sep 1987 DV reported that the film had earned a total of $12.3 million.
       End credits include the following statement: “The producers would like to thank the following for their assistance in making this film: “United States Department of Defense: 101 Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Kentucky; 13th Air Force, Clark Air Base (Republic of the Philippines); U.S. Naval Facility, Subic Bay (Republic of the Philippines); 11th Marine Amphibious Unit, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific; Marine Barracks, Subic Bay (Republic of the Philippines); Academy of Health Sciences, U.S. Army, Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Ministry of National Defense and the New Armed Forces of the Philippines; National Park Service, National Capital Region; Playboy Magazine courtesy of Playboy Enterprises, Inc.”
       End credits also state: “In Memoriam: Roger Mills; Mario Carmona; Claude Hudson; Charles Cannon,” and, “Filmed on location in the Philippines and at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – Washington D.C.” More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
LOCATION
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
8 Oct 1986.
---
Daily Variety
5 Aug 1987
p. 3, 15.
Daily Variety
25 Aug 1987.
---
Daily Variety
1 Sep 1987.
---
Daily Variety
29 Sep 1987.
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Aug 1987
p. 3, 17.
Long Beach Press-Telegram
23 Aug 1987
Section H, p. 4.
Los Angeles Daily News
30 Aug 1987
Life, p. 22.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
23 Aug 1987.
---
Los Angeles Times
9 Feb 1985
pp. 10-11.
Los Angeles Times
28 Aug 1987
Calendar, p. 19.
New York Times
28 Aug 1987.
---
New York Times
28 Aug 1987
p. 16.
Variety
12 Aug 1987
p. 12.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Paramount Pictures Presents
An RKO Picture
A Marcia Nasatir and Jim Carabatsos Production
of a John Irvin Film
In Association with Interaccess Film Distribution
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
1st asst dir, Key Philippine personnel
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Focus puller
Clapper loader
Cam grip
Gaffer
Cam op, Key Philippine personnel
Head grip, Key Philippine personnel
Gaffer, Key Philippine personnel
Arriflex cams supplied by
Lighting equip supplied by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir, Key Philippine personnel
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed, Key Philippine personnel
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Prop man
COSTUMES
Ward, Key Philippine personnel
MUSIC
Orig mus by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd boom man
Supv sd ed
Supv dial ed
Foley ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd op, Key Philippine personnel
Vietnamese radio sd and mus supplied by
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Philippine spec eff
Philippine spec eff
Philippine spec eff
Philippine spec eff
Philippine spec eff
Spec eff equip, material and services provided by
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Command Sergeant Major
Military adv
Colonel
Military liaison
U.S. Army
Prod facilities and services furnished by
Prod coord
Asst to the dir
Asst to the dir
Loc mgr
Prods asst
Prods
Vietnamese adv
Prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Casting Philippines
Unit pub
Unit pub
Prod services in the Philippines provided by
Prod supv, Key Philippine personnel
Loc mgr, Key Philippine personnel
Loc mgr, Key Philippine personnel
Loc mgr, Key Philippine personnel
Asst prod supv, Key Philippine personnel
Military liaison, Key Philippine personnel
Chief accountant, Key Philippine personnel
Asst accountant, Key Philippine personnel
Cont girl, Key Philippine personnel
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt man, Key Philippine personnel
Stunt man, Key Philippine personnel
Stunt man, Key Philippine personnel
COLOR PERSONNEL
SOURCES
SONGS
“When A Man Loves A Woman,” performed by Percy Sledge, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp., by arrangement with Warner Special Products, written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright
“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” performed by Waylon Jennings, courtesy of RCA Records, a label of BMG Music, written by Mel Tillis
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” performed by Otis Redding, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp., by arrangement with Warner Special Products, written by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper
+
SONGS
“When A Man Loves A Woman,” performed by Percy Sledge, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp., by arrangement with Warner Special Products, written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright
“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” performed by Waylon Jennings, courtesy of RCA Records, a label of BMG Music, written by Mel Tillis
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” performed by Otis Redding, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp., by arrangement with Warner Special Products, written by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper
“I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die-Rag,” performed by Country Joe and the Fish, courtesy of Vanguard Records, a division of Welk Record Group, written by Joe McDonald
“I Wish It Would Rain,” performed by The Temptations, courtesy of Motown Record Corp., written by Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield, Roger Penzabene, Sr., Helga Penzabene, Carl Penzabene, Roger Penzabene, Jr
“Gimme Some Lovin’,” performed by The Spencer Davis Group, courtesy of Island Records and EMI America Records, a Division of Capitol Records, Inc., written by Steve Winwood, Muff Winwood and Spencer Davis
“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” performed by The Animals, courtesy of Abkco Records and EMI Records, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
“I Second That Emotion,” written by Alfred Cleveland and Willian Robinson, Jr.
“Subterranean Homesick Blues,” written by Bob Dylan.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
28 August 1987
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 28 August 1987
Production Date:
3 October--mid December 1986
Copyright Claimant:
RKO Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
26 August 1987
Copyright Number:
PA338038
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Prints
Prints by Technicolor ®
Duration(in mins):
110
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
28548
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In May 1969, five new soldiers join the 101st Airborne Division on assignment in central Vietnam, west of the city of Hue. The five--Privates Joe Beletsky, Vincent Languilli, Johnny Washburn, Martin Bienstock, and Paul Galvan--are nervous, but receive a crash course in battlefield skills, which includes everything from how to brush their teeth on the battlefield to a demonstration of how easily enemy troops can penetrate the perimeter of the U.S. defenses. They are told to forget all their personal problems and focus only on precisely following orders. Meanwhile, Sergeant Adam Frantz and Platoon Sergeant Dennis Worcester relax in town and go to a brothel. With the addition of Washburn, the platoon has four African-American soldiers. The veteran black soldiers, Private Ray Motown, Specialist Abraham “Doc” Johnson, and Sergeant Elliot "Mac" McDaniel, all report firsthand experiences with racial discrimination still practiced by the Army. Amid rumors they are being sent back into the Ashau Valley, where they just did battle, McDaniel requests transfer to an office assignment because he is just weeks from the end of his tour of duty. However, his request is denied. The other black soldiers comment that if McDaniel had been white, he would have received the transfer. The platoon has a new commander, Lieutenant Terry Eden. After helicopters take them westward to the Ashau Valley, the platoon pauses beside a river where it is hit by North Vietnamese artillery barrage. Galvan is killed, but Doc Johnson cannot identify him because he was not wearing his identification tags. He urges all the soldiers to carry their extra dog tags in their boots. As the troop enters the Ashau Valley, McDaniel is killed by an ... +


In May 1969, five new soldiers join the 101st Airborne Division on assignment in central Vietnam, west of the city of Hue. The five--Privates Joe Beletsky, Vincent Languilli, Johnny Washburn, Martin Bienstock, and Paul Galvan--are nervous, but receive a crash course in battlefield skills, which includes everything from how to brush their teeth on the battlefield to a demonstration of how easily enemy troops can penetrate the perimeter of the U.S. defenses. They are told to forget all their personal problems and focus only on precisely following orders. Meanwhile, Sergeant Adam Frantz and Platoon Sergeant Dennis Worcester relax in town and go to a brothel. With the addition of Washburn, the platoon has four African-American soldiers. The veteran black soldiers, Private Ray Motown, Specialist Abraham “Doc” Johnson, and Sergeant Elliot "Mac" McDaniel, all report firsthand experiences with racial discrimination still practiced by the Army. Amid rumors they are being sent back into the Ashau Valley, where they just did battle, McDaniel requests transfer to an office assignment because he is just weeks from the end of his tour of duty. However, his request is denied. The other black soldiers comment that if McDaniel had been white, he would have received the transfer. The platoon has a new commander, Lieutenant Terry Eden. After helicopters take them westward to the Ashau Valley, the platoon pauses beside a river where it is hit by North Vietnamese artillery barrage. Galvan is killed, but Doc Johnson cannot identify him because he was not wearing his identification tags. He urges all the soldiers to carry their extra dog tags in their boots. As the troop enters the Ashau Valley, McDaniel is killed by an enemy grenade. The soldiers are diverted to the enemy-held Hill 937, where they encounter heavy resistance from the North Vietnamese Army. The platoon attacks the hill repeatedly, frequently engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. Meanwhile, American planes conduct airstrikes dropping napalm bombs that strip away vegetation, leaving the hill barren. As the platoon makes another assault, Private Michael Duffy seems on the verge of making a breakthrough. However, when Lt. Eden radios for air support, the American helicopters get the coordinates wrong and end up firing on the American soldiers rather than the North Vietnamese soldiers. Several men, including Duffy, are killed, and the assault fails. As the soldiers rest between assaults, they chat about what they want to do when they get back home, and the social upheaval occurring in the U.S. Worcester talks about the alienation he felt when he returned to the U.S. from his first tour of duty and how that led to the breakup of his marriage. Frantz mentions his anger at draft dodgers, saying they should at least support the war effort. The men also get mail from home. Some look at the latest issue of Playboy magazine. Bienstock receives a letter from his girl friend who reports that her college friends say it is immoral to write to him. Meanwhile, Beletsky receives an audio cassette tape from his girl friend, who promises to be true to him, but gives him permission to have sex while there. On the radio, “Hanoi Hannah” broadcasts messages in English from the North Vietnamese suggesting they surrender and warning their deaths are imminent. The next day as they make their way up the hill, the soldiers encounter a television news crew. Frantz confronts the reporter, claiming he has more respect for the North Vietnamese than the press because “at least they take a side.” Amid torrential rains, the hill becomes a river of mud. Private Frank Gaigin is killed, Beletsky is wounded and “Doc” Johnson is shot in the chest by a North Vietnamese soldier hiding in a hole. As Doc is evacuated, he tells Frantz to capture the hill so he can have something to be proud of, but a few moments later, he dies from his wounds. Meanwhile, despite having a “million dollar wound,” Beletsky returns to fight with his unit. On May 20th, ten days into the battle, the exhausted and beleaguered soldiers make an eleventh and final assault. They take the hill and the fighting stops, but the casualties are high. Murphy, Worcester, Motown, Bienstock, and Languilli have all been killed. Eden has lost an arm, while Frantz has been wounded by a bayonet. Beletsky and Washburn, both unharmed, are devastated to see all the dead bodies covering the hillside and the hilltop. Someone puts up a sign reading, “Welcome to Hamburger Hill.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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