The Deer Hunter (1978)

R | 183 mins | Drama | 8 December 1978

Director:

Michael Cimino

Writer:

Deric Washburn

Cinematographer:

Vilmos Zsigmond

Editor:

Peter Zinner

Production Designers:

Ron Hobbs, Kim Swados

Production Company:

EMI
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HISTORY

A 2 Feb 1977 Var article announced the conclusion of the film’s pre-production, which began 1 Dec 1976. Although Robert E. Relyea was referred to as a producer and William Fraker was noted as the film’s cinematographer, neither Relyea nor Fraker are mentioned in the credits. On 27 Jul 1977, HR’s “Film Assignments” listed Vilmos Zsigmond as director of photography and on 17 Aug 1977, Var reported that Relyea resigned due to “personal differences,” leaving EMI executive John Peverall to take over as producer. The 2 Feb 1977 Var also noted that Daranee Bunnag, the wife of Thai film director Rom Bunnag, provided assistance scouting locations in Thailand, but she is not credited in the film.
       On 26 Apr 1977, both DV and HR announced that Universal Pictures acquired U.S. and Canadian distribution rights to the film.
       Although various contemporary sources, including a 4 April 1977 DV news item, reported that the film was scheduled to begin principal photography on 20 Jun 1977 in Pittsburgh, PA, a 23 Jun 1977 HR advertisement announced that filming would start 27 Jun 1977. The budget was set at $8 million, according to a 4 Apr 1977 LAT article, which added WA and Thailand as locations. As noted in a Universal Pictures press release from AMPAS library files, the production spent seven weeks shooting scenes of small town life in western PA, Mingo Junction, OH, and other areas of southern OH. News items in Box on 30 May 1977 and in NYT on ... More Less

A 2 Feb 1977 Var article announced the conclusion of the film’s pre-production, which began 1 Dec 1976. Although Robert E. Relyea was referred to as a producer and William Fraker was noted as the film’s cinematographer, neither Relyea nor Fraker are mentioned in the credits. On 27 Jul 1977, HR’s “Film Assignments” listed Vilmos Zsigmond as director of photography and on 17 Aug 1977, Var reported that Relyea resigned due to “personal differences,” leaving EMI executive John Peverall to take over as producer. The 2 Feb 1977 Var also noted that Daranee Bunnag, the wife of Thai film director Rom Bunnag, provided assistance scouting locations in Thailand, but she is not credited in the film.
       On 26 Apr 1977, both DV and HR announced that Universal Pictures acquired U.S. and Canadian distribution rights to the film.
       Although various contemporary sources, including a 4 April 1977 DV news item, reported that the film was scheduled to begin principal photography on 20 Jun 1977 in Pittsburgh, PA, a 23 Jun 1977 HR advertisement announced that filming would start 27 Jun 1977. The budget was set at $8 million, according to a 4 Apr 1977 LAT article, which added WA and Thailand as locations. As noted in a Universal Pictures press release from AMPAS library files, the production spent seven weeks shooting scenes of small town life in western PA, Mingo Junction, OH, and other areas of southern OH. News items in Box on 30 May 1977 and in NYT on 7 Aug 1977 specified the towns of Steubenville, Youngstown, Struthers and Follansbee, OH. A 19 Jul 1977 HR article noted the assistance of the Ohio Film Commission and stated that the St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Cleveland, OH, was used for the wedding sequences.
       Capturing the steel mill scenes proved problematic in two states. The Universal Pictures press release stated that the producers negotiated for months with the United States Steel Corporation and were forced buy an additional $5 million in insurance before U.S. Steel allowed the production to shoot footage of cast members working at its central blast furnace in Cleveland, OH. Additionally, HR reported that operators of a steel mill in Weirton, WV, garnered the support of local government officials to prohibit filming at the plant; however, West Virginia Governor Jay Rockefeller intervened and the mill was made accessible.
       After seven weeks of production in OH, the crew moved to WA on 15 Aug 1977 to shoot the deer hunting scenes at Mount Baker, according to an HR news item published the same day.
       While the filmmakers planned to film Vietnam sequences in Thailand, there was concern that their request would not be approved by the Thai government, which was trying to preserve its good diplomatic relations with Vietnam; however, a 29 Jun 1977 Var announced that permission was granted when the Thai government was assured that the film was apolitical. Production in Thailand was scheduled to begin on 20 Aug 1977 for approximately five weeks in Bangkok, which represented Saigon, as well as the countryside of Khao Yai and the Kanchanaburi province.
       On 26 Oct 1977, DV reported that the set in Kanchanaburi was guarded by “heavily-armed” military officers after the Thai government was overthrown by a coup d’etat. Although the new government granted the filmmakers permission to remain on location for the remaining three weeks of the shoot, the production was further complicated by physical ailments and exhaustion from twelve-hour days. While uncredited property master Bob Anderson displayed symptoms of typhoid and malaria, another crew member was hospitalized when insect bites caused his legs and feet to swell, and many people, including Robert De Niro, contracted the “Bangkok croup,” an illness characterized by a high fever and a lingering chest cold.
       According to a Universal press release, De Niro and John Savage performed their own stunts during the scene in which the characters “Mike” and “Steven” drop into a river from a helicopter.
       On 16 Nov 1977, Var announced that filming had recently ended after two and a half months of production. Director Michael Cimino noted that the film was completed over budget for $12 million, and was six to seven weeks over schedule, but he attributed the increases to the unexpectedly harsh physical demands of shooting in Thailand, the challenges of dealing with the country’s bureaucracy, and the difficulty in obtaining the proper military equipment. News items from the 15 Aug 1977 LAT and 11 Apr 1979 NYT stated that the film’s budget was $13 million.
       On 4 Oct 1978, Var reported that Universal was working to correct trade advertisements that erroneously indicated that the film had received a PG-rating; the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had given the picture an R-rating on 5 Sep 1978 and it was not appealed. The next month, as stated in DV on 20 Nov 1978 and Var on 22 Nov 1978, the studio had to step in again when NYT mistakenly listed the movie with a self-imposed X-rating.
       A 15 Aug 1978 LAT brief reported that The Deer Hunter received an enthusiastic response from a preview audience in Chicago, IL, but Universal was delaying the official release in order to devise the best way to market it; war films reportedly did not fare well at the box-office at that time. According to Robert Hofler’s book Party Animals, A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr, excerpted in the 22 Feb 2010 DV, another Midwest preview did not go as well. When Universal Pictures’ president Thom Mount admitted that a Detroit, MI, screening of the film was “the worst preview I’d ever seen,” producer Barry Spikings enlisted the help of producer Allan Carr, who was so moved by the film that he volunteered to take over the marketing campaign. Convinced that the picture was an Academy Award contender, Carr strategized to release the picture in Los Angeles, CA, and New York City for one week only in Dec 1978, so that it could qualify awards, and then publicize a wide release when the Academy Award nominations were announced. Additionally, Carr insisted that the film screen on a little-known Los Angeles television cable outlet called Z Channel that showcased eclectic foreign-language and independent films. Although releasing a film on cable was considered “box office suicide” at that time, Carr argued that the association with Z Channel would build prestige and whet the public’s appetite. In a 23 Nov 1978 NYT article, Universal acknowledged that the film was strategically released for one week in Dec 1978 for awards consideration and to enhance its cachet; the studio feared that its controversial subject matter would discourage box-office sales. The picture was scheduled to open nationwide on 16 Feb 1979.
       In late 1978 and early 1979, several sources reported theater owners’ displeasure with the movie’s length. An article in the 13 Dec 1978 DV noted that the film’s 183-minute running time meant theaters could not run as many showings each day, which cut into exhibitors’ profits. Universal executives considered editing twenty to thirty minutes of screen time to accommodate exhibitors’ concerns, but they were unable to construct an acceptable abridged version of the movie.
       A Mar 1979 press release from foreign market distributor United Artists announced the film would be shown out of competition at the Berlin Film Festival. The 23 Feb 1979 DV and the 6 Mar 1979 LAT reported that Eastern European delegates, including the U.S.S.R., Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Cuba and East Germany, walked out of the screening of The Deer Hunter in “solidarity with Vietnam,” calling the movie’s depiction of the Vietnamese “insulting.” Cimino, who claimed “this picture is not anything if not antiwar,” expressed surprise at the Soviets’ reaction and commended the film festival for upholding “freedom of expression” and allowing the film to continue playing.
       According to DV on 10 Apr 1979 and LAT on 11 Apr 1979, protests against the film also occurred at the Academy Awards ceremony on 9 Apr 1979, when an organization called “Vietnam Veterans Against the War,” who took exception to what they considered the film’s “racism” and “imperialism,” clashed with the police outside the event’s venue, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The confrontation resulted in multiple arrests and several injuries to protestors and police officers.
       There are conflicting reports about The Deer Hunter’s financial success. A 30 Mar 1979 article in DV reported that the movie had earned a domestic box office gross of $7.5 million after five weeks in continuous release, including its award-qualifying runs in NY and CA. On 26 May 1979, DV reported the movie had earned $27 million since its Academy Awards win, for a total gross of nearly $35 million. However, on 4 Jun 1979, New York stated that the film was not expected to gross $20 million and that its Academy Awards had done nothing to boost attendance. On 28 Nov 1979, Var reported the movie had grossed $26 million. On 25 Feb 1980, Box listed The Deer Hunter as the tenth highest grossing film of 1979, with a total of $26.5 million collected domestically.
       According to news items in Var and in DV on 22 Aug 1979 and 29 Nov 1979, Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) pre-bought the television rights to The Deer Hunter for $3--$4 million. When the network was ready to air the movie, however, its standards and practices department deemed the film unacceptable for broadcast, due largely to the violence of the Russian roulette scenes. On 5 Dec 1979, Var announced that Showtime had acquired the television rights to the film. In Sep 1980, several sources, including the 20 Sep 1980 LAHExam, the 22 Sep 1980 HR and the 25 Sept 1980 WSJ, announced that two independent television stations, KCOP in Los Angeles, and WOR in New York City, had acquired the broadcast rights to The Deer Hunter and would be airing it on election night: 4 Nov 1980.
       The Deer Hunter elicited strong positive and negative reactions from critics. After an initial period of near universal praise, typified by a 29 Nov 1978 Var review that lauded the movie’s ability to remain “intense, powerful and fascinating for more than three hours,” the film experienced a critical backlash as public protests against it intensified. One journalist quoted in a NYT article on 25 Apr 1979 recalled, “early on, we all thought the film was powerful but flawed. Now I think there have been a lot of second thoughts that emphasize the flawed."
       The movie won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken), and Best Sound (William McCaughey, Aaron Rochin and Darrin Knight). The movie also received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Cinematography and Best Original Screenplay.
       On 21 Dec 1978, a DV news item announced that the New York Film Critics had named The Deer Hunter the Best Picture of the year and Christopher Walken Best Supporting Actor. On 15 Jan 1979, Box reported that the New York Film Critics’ Circle voted The Deer Hunter its best English-language film of 1978. On 12 Mar 1979, LAT and DV announced that The Deer Hunter and Michael Cimino had won Best Film and Best Director respectively at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) awards. The film also received the American Cinema Editors’ “Eddy” Award for Best Edited Feature Film, as reported by DV on 19 Mar 1979.
       The Deer Hunter was ranked 53rd on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving up from the 79th position it held on AFI's 1997 list.
       On 12 Feb 1980, LAT announced that novelist and screenwriter John Klekas was suing Universal and The Deer Hunter screenwriter Deric Washburn, among others, for $15 million, claiming that the story was plagiarized from his original manuscript, The Fields of Discontent. On 26 Jan 1984, DV announced that Klekas had lost his suit in California Appellate Court. The judge ruled that there was “no substantial similarity between The Deer Hunter (1978) and the plaintiff’s novel.” Furthermore, Klekas had failed to prove that the defendants, with the exception of Harcourt Brace, to whom Klekas had sent a copy of his manuscript, had access to his book.
       The following text appears after the end credits: "We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the following people and organizations in the production of 'The Deer Hunter': Thailand: The Government of Thailand; The Royal Thai Police Aviation Division; Mr. Thompson, Liaison and Technical Advisor; The Citizens of Bangkok; Our Thai Crew. U.S.A.: The Ohio Film Bureau, Michelle Kuhar; The Veterans Administration Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio; United States Steel Corporation, Cleveland, Ohio; Reverend T. Stephen Kopestonsky, The Choir and The Congregation of St. Theodosius Cathedral, Cleveland, Ohio, Ken Kovach, Choir Director; The People of Mingo Junction, Ohio; The Office of Film Promotion, Pennsylvania Department of Commerce, Tim Potts; Governor John D. Rockefeller III and the People of the State of West Virginia; North Cascades National Park, United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service; The ABC Evening News, Hillary Brown, Sherman Grinberg."
       While the film's acknowledgments refer to John D. Rockefeller III as governor of WV, Rockefeller's son, John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV was governor of WV at the time of production.
More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
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Advertising Age
16 Apr 1979
p. 1, 80.
American Film
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p. 46.
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p. 6, 26.
Daily Variety
26 Jan 1984
p. 1, 40.
Daily Variety
22 Feb 2010
Section A, p. 2.
Films and Filming
19 Mar 1979.
---
Filmworld
Jan 1979.
---
Filmworld
Mar 1979
p. 9.
Hollywood News
14 Mar 1979
pp. 10-11.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Apr 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jun 1977.
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Hollywood Reporter
19 Jul 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jul 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Jul 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Aug 1977
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Sep 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jun 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Nov 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Nov 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Dec 1978
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Feb 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Feb 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 1979.
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Hollywood Reporter
20 Mar 1979.
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Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 1979.
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Hollywood Reporter
18 Dec 1979.
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Hollywood Reporter
16 Apr 1980.
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Hollywood Reporter
22 Sep 1980.
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Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 1981
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jan 2000
p. 6, 37.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Feb 2012.
---
Horizon
Mar 1979
p. 24, 26-28.
LA Reader
2 Dec 1978.
---
LA Weekly
15 Mar 1979.
---
LAHExam
20 Sept 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Apr 1977
Section IV, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
6 Apr 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
6 Dec 1977
Section IV, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
15 Aug 1978.
---
Los Angeles Times
3 Dec 1978
Calendar, p. 1, 47.
Los Angeles Times
25 Dec 1978
Section IV p. 24.
Los Angeles Times
2 Mar 1979
Section IV, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
6 Mar 1979.
---
Los Angeles Times
12 Mar 1979
Section IV, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
8 Apr 1979.
---
Los Angeles Times
15 Apr 1979
Calendar, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
11 Apr 1979
Section IV, p. 1, 11.
Los Angeles Times
18 Apr 1979
Section 1, p. 3, 24-25.
Los Angeles Times
25 Aug 1979.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Dec 1979
Section IV, p. 72.
Los Angeles Times
12 Feb 1980.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 May 1980
Section IV, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
24 Oct 1980
Calendar, p. 1, 21, 24.
Miami Herald
23 Feb 1979
Section C, p. 1, 11.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
13 Dec 1978
p. 55.
Motion Picture Product Digest
13 Dec 1978.
---
New Times
18 Jan 1979
pp. 88-89.
New York
4 Dec 1978.
---
New York
18 Dec 1978.
---
New York
5 Mar 1979
pp. 45-47.
New York
4 Jun 1979.
---
New York
18 Jun 1979.
---
New York Times
7 Aug 1977
p. 11, 19.
New York Times
23 Nov 1978
Section C, p. 19.
New York Times
15 Dec 1978
Section III, p. 5.
New York Times
11 Apr 1979
Section C, p. 17.
New York Times
26 Apr 1979
Section C, p. 15.
New Yorker
18 Dec 1978
p. 66.
Newsweek
7 Nov 1977.
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Newsweek
11 Dec 1978
p. 113.
People
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Playboy
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Rolling Stone
8 Mar 1978
pp. 27-28.
Saturday Review
17 Feb 1979
pp. 50-51.
The Chronicle of Higher Education
8 Jan 1979
pp. 14-15.
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7 Mar 1999.
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Time
18 Dec 1978
p. 86.
Variety
2 Feb 1977.
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Variety
1 Jun 1977.
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Variety
29 Jun 1977.
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Variety
17 Aug 1977.
---
Variety
24 Aug 1977.
---
Variety
14 Sep 1977.
---
Variety
16 Nov 1977.
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Variety
4 Oct 1978.
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Variety
22 Nov 1978.
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Variety
29 Nov 1978
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Variety
13 Dec 1978.
---
Variety
17 Jan 1979.
---
Variety
14 Dec 1979.
---
Variety
24 Feb 1979
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Variety
14 Mar 1979.
---
Variety
4 Apr 1979.
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Variety
11 Apr 1979.
---
Variety
1 Aug 1979.
---
Variety
28 Nov 1979
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Variety
5 Dec 1979.
---
Village Voice
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Village Voice
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---
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---
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---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
EMI Presents
A Michael Cimino Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr, U.S.A.
Unit prod mgr, U.S.A.
Unit prod mgr, Thailand
Asst dir
2d asst dir
A.D. trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam op
Cam op
Asst cam
Asst cam
Asst cam
Gaffer
Best boy electrician
Elec
Key grip
Best boy grip
Still photog - U.S.A.
Still photog - U.S.A.
Spec still photog
Still photog - Thailand
Still photog - Thailand
Grip
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set decorator-U.S.A.
Set decorator-Thailand
Const coord, U.S.A.
Const coord, Thailand
Painter - Thailand
Greensman
Prop man - U.S.A.
Prop man - U.S.A.
Prop man - Thailand
Leadman - Thailand
Set des
Leadman
Laborer
Gang boss
Gang boss
Standby painter - U.S.
Prop master - Thailand
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Costumer-Men
Costumer-Women
Costumer
MUSIC
Main title theme performed by
Supv mus ed
SOUND
Supv sd eff ed
Looping ed
Sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd mixer
Boom man
Post production sound
Dolby consultant
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Asst spec eff
Asst spec eff, Thailand
Title des
MAKEUP
Special make-up - Thailand
Special make-up - Thailand
Hair stylist
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Exec in charge of prod
Prod consultant
Casting
Asst to Ron Hobbs, Thailand
Asst to Cis Corman, Thailand
Asst to Cis Corman, Thailand
Prod supv, Thailand
Prod supv, Thailand
Prod coord
Military tech adv
Prod secy
Prod asst, Thailand
Prod asst, Thailand
Prod asst, Thailand
Scr supv
Mr. Cimino's secy
Unit pub
Transportation coord, U.S.A.
Transportation coord, Thailand
Loc mgr, Thailand
Loc mgr, Thailand
Vietnamese advisor
Marine engineer
EMI prod exec
Auditor
Asst auditor
Prod secy
Prod asst
Caterer
Asst transportation coord
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
STAND INS
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stunt coordinator, U.S.A.
Stunt coord, Thailand
SOURCES
SONGS
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, performed first by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, then by Joe Grifasi
“Midnight Train to Georgia,” written by Jim Weatherly, performed by Gladys Knight and The Pips
“Tattletale Eyes,” written by Martha Jo Emerson, performed by George Jones and Tammy Wynette
+
SONGS
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio, performed first by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, then by Joe Grifasi
“Midnight Train to Georgia,” written by Jim Weatherly, performed by Gladys Knight and The Pips
“Tattletale Eyes,” written by Martha Jo Emerson, performed by George Jones and Tammy Wynette
"God Bless America," written by Irving Berlin, performed by Chuck Aspegren, Meryl Streep, John Cazale, John Savage, George Dzundza, Rutanya Alda and Robert De Niro.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
8 December 1978
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 8 December 1978 at Mann's National Theatre
New York opening: 15 December 1978 at the Coronet Theatre
Copyright Claimant:
EMI FIlms, Inc.
Copyright Date:
6 November 1978
Copyright Number:
PA34265
Physical Properties:
Sound
Recorded in Dolby® Stereo
Color
Color by Technicolor®
Widescreen/ratio
Filmed in Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
183
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25008
SYNOPSIS

In a small Pennsylvania town called Clairton, five friends, Steven, Stan, Nick, Axel and Michael, leave their job at the steel mill and get ready for Steven’s wedding that night. While making preparations with the priest at the church, Steven’s mother expresses disapproval of Steven’s fiancée, Angela, because the bride is pregnant and Steven may not be the father. She also complains that she will be stuck alone with the new wife when Steven, Nick and Michael leave to fight in the Vietnam War. At the wedding reception, Michael flirts with Nick’s girlfriend, Linda. When Nick asks Linda to marry him when he and his friends return from war, she says yes. The next morning, Michael, Nick, Stan and Axel go deer hunting. Michael explains his theory of the importance of killing a deer cleanly with one shot. During the hunt, Michael shoots and kills a buck. Later, in Vietnam, the Viet Cong destroy a village. Michael kills an enemy soldier and is unexpectedly reunited with Steven and Nick. All three are captured by the Viet Cong and placed in a prisoner camp on a river where the jailers force the men to play Russian roulette: one bullet is placed in a revolver, then a prisoner holds the gun up to his own head and pulls the trigger. When an injured Steven becomes unhinged and refuses to play, he is beaten and put in a watery pit to die. Michael tells Nick he has an escape plan: Michael will have the Viet Cong put three bullets in the Russian roulette gun and he and Nick will ... +


In a small Pennsylvania town called Clairton, five friends, Steven, Stan, Nick, Axel and Michael, leave their job at the steel mill and get ready for Steven’s wedding that night. While making preparations with the priest at the church, Steven’s mother expresses disapproval of Steven’s fiancée, Angela, because the bride is pregnant and Steven may not be the father. She also complains that she will be stuck alone with the new wife when Steven, Nick and Michael leave to fight in the Vietnam War. At the wedding reception, Michael flirts with Nick’s girlfriend, Linda. When Nick asks Linda to marry him when he and his friends return from war, she says yes. The next morning, Michael, Nick, Stan and Axel go deer hunting. Michael explains his theory of the importance of killing a deer cleanly with one shot. During the hunt, Michael shoots and kills a buck. Later, in Vietnam, the Viet Cong destroy a village. Michael kills an enemy soldier and is unexpectedly reunited with Steven and Nick. All three are captured by the Viet Cong and placed in a prisoner camp on a river where the jailers force the men to play Russian roulette: one bullet is placed in a revolver, then a prisoner holds the gun up to his own head and pulls the trigger. When an injured Steven becomes unhinged and refuses to play, he is beaten and put in a watery pit to die. Michael tells Nick he has an escape plan: Michael will have the Viet Cong put three bullets in the Russian roulette gun and he and Nick will play each other. When it’s Michael’s turn, he will signal Nick to grab a captor’s gun and the two of them will start shooting their guards. Nick is dazed but agrees. Michael and Nick carry out the plan, kill their captors and escape with Steven. The three friends float down the river and soon encounter a helicopter that hovers to rescues them. Although Nick makes it onto the helicopter, Steven falls back into the river and Michael jumps after him as the helicopter flies away. Michael pulls Steven to the shore and carries him on land until they join a procession of Vietnamese refugees. Michael places Steven in the care of soldiers in a and continues on foot alone. Meanwhile, Nick convalesces at the U.S. Army hospital in Saigon, but he remains mentally and emotionally damaged. One night in Saigon, Nick stumbles into a secret lair where spectators bet on men voluntarily playing Russian roulette. Unaware that Michael is among the audience members, Nick disrupts the game by grabbing the gun, which still has one bullet in the chamber. Nick aims the weapon at a competitor’s head and fires, then puts the gun to his own head and pulls the trigger; however, the bullet does not discharge. The angry crowd forces Nick out of the building and he runs down the street until a French man, Julien, approaches him and offers to make Nick rich. As Michael forces his way out of the crowd and tries to reach his friend, Nick jumps into Julien's car. Although Nick sees Michael chasing the car on foot, he turns away and leaves Michael behind. Later, Michael returns home. When he sees that there is a party waiting for him, Michael avoids his friends and goes to a motel. The next day, Michael visits Linda. She is happy to see him, but she is still in love with Nick, even though he never contacted her while he was gone; Nick is missing and the army doesn’t know where he is. When Michael reunites with Stan and Axel, he is surprised to learn that Steven is home, too. Visiting Angela, Michael learns Steven's phone number, but instead of calling his friend, Michael prepares to leave home. Before he goes, Michael runs into Linda, who suggests they comfort each other with sex, but Michael insists he can’t stay in town any longer and leaves. Linda chases after him and they make love in a motel. Later, Michael and his friends go hunting. Michael gets a clear shot of a deer, but he lets the animal live. Back at the cabin, Axel teases Stan about the gun Stan carries around with him and Michael returns in time to see Stan pointing his gun at Axel. Michael grabs the gun away from Stan, who protests that the weapon isn’t loaded, but Michael opens the cylinder to find it is full of bullets. Emptying the chamber of all but one bullet, Michael presses the gun against Stan’s forehead and pulls the trigger. As the friends eye Michael warily, he goes outside and tosses the gun away. When Michael returns to Clairton, he goes to see Linda and they spend another night together. Afterward, Michael calls Steven, then visits him at the Veterans Administration Hospital and encourages him to come home. Steven, who lost both his legs in the war, doesn’t want to leave the hospital. Showing Michael the $100 bills he has been receiving from Saigon every month, Steven claims that he does not know who is sending the cash, but Michael immediately realizes the money is from Nick. Steven is worried about Nick's safety because the U.S. is on the verge of withdrawing from the war Saigon will erupt into violence. Michael finally convinces Steven to come home. Later, Michael travels to Saigon and locates Julien. The French man takes Michael to a building where a crowd places bets on two men playing Russian roulette. Michael sees that Nick is one of the competitors and urges his friend to leave with him, but Nick does not recognize Michael and spits in his face. When Michael buys into the game to compete against his friend, Nick takes his turn with the gun and remains in the contest. Michael puts the gun to his own head, pulls the trigger, and makes it to the next round. Although Michael beseeches Nick to come home, Nick takes another turn and loses the last round of Russian roulette, fatally shooting himself in the head. Later, back in Clairton, after Nick’s friends bury their fallen comrade and gather at the local bar for breakfast, singing “God Bless America” and toasting Nick. +

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

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.