The Hanoi Hilton (1987)

R | 126 mins | Drama | 27 March 1987

Director:

Lionel Chetwynd

Writer:

Lionel Chetwynd

Cinematographer:

Mark Irwin

Editor:

Penelope Shaw

Production Designer:

R. Clifford Searcy

Production Company:

Cannon Films, Inc.
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HISTORY

The Hanoi Hilton was the first big-screen American feature film for British-Canadian director Lionel Chetwynd, who was primarily known as a film and television writer, although he had directed the 1978 Canadian feature film Two Solitudes.
       Chetwynd interviewed more than 100 prisoners of war (POWs) who were held at Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi to write the film. The 9 Nov 1986 LAT reported that Chetwynd felt compelled to make the film because he did not want an ugly part of American history glossed over for future generations. He also told the 3 Nov 1986 DV that he made the film because he did not want “children to know the Vietnam War only through the Rambo experience,” referring to actor Sylvester Stallone’s successful Rambo film franchise.
       Chetwynd completed his screenplay in 1978 and over the years, the film was in development for both the big screen and television. The 29 Sep 1986 HR reported that Columbia Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and HBO all tried to develop the project, but had issues with the ensemble nature of the script, preferring instead that Chetwynd rewrite it to be a star vehicle focusing on one main character. The 5 May 1987 Washington Times reported the studios also had issues with the interrogator known as “Fidel the Cuban,” which was too close to the name of Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba. However, “Fidel the Cuban” was the actual name of brutal interrogator used in Hanoi, and Chetwynd insisted the name be used. The studios were also uncomfortable with the peace delegation led by a ... More Less

The Hanoi Hilton was the first big-screen American feature film for British-Canadian director Lionel Chetwynd, who was primarily known as a film and television writer, although he had directed the 1978 Canadian feature film Two Solitudes.
       Chetwynd interviewed more than 100 prisoners of war (POWs) who were held at Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi to write the film. The 9 Nov 1986 LAT reported that Chetwynd felt compelled to make the film because he did not want an ugly part of American history glossed over for future generations. He also told the 3 Nov 1986 DV that he made the film because he did not want “children to know the Vietnam War only through the Rambo experience,” referring to actor Sylvester Stallone’s successful Rambo film franchise.
       Chetwynd completed his screenplay in 1978 and over the years, the film was in development for both the big screen and television. The 29 Sep 1986 HR reported that Columbia Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and HBO all tried to develop the project, but had issues with the ensemble nature of the script, preferring instead that Chetwynd rewrite it to be a star vehicle focusing on one main character. The 5 May 1987 Washington Times reported the studios also had issues with the interrogator known as “Fidel the Cuban,” which was too close to the name of Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba. However, “Fidel the Cuban” was the actual name of brutal interrogator used in Hanoi, and Chetwynd insisted the name be used. The studios were also uncomfortable with the peace delegation led by a character modeled after actress Jane Fonda, who famously visited Hanoi as part of an anti-war campaign. Chetwynd insisted the Fonda-like character remain in the script since it was a part of the POWs’ experience.
       Finally, Chetwynd took the script to Cannon Pictures chairman Menahem Golan, explaining that the story was about “endurance with dignity.” Golan greenlit the film with a $5 million budget.
       Principal photography began on 8 Oct 1986 in Los Angeles, CA, according to a 31 Oct 1986 DV production chart. Filming took place almost entirely on the Veterans Administration (VA) hospital grounds in the Westwood section of Los Angeles. A 100-year-old building, which had been used over the years as a tuberculosis hospital and later a psychiatric facility, was used because it closely resembled Hanoi’s Hoa Lo prison.
       The Hanoi Hilton opened on 27 Mar 1987 on two screens, at the Coronet Theatre in New York City and the Plaza Theatre in Los Angeles, taking in $38,659 in its first ten days of release according to a 7 Apr 1987 DV box-office report. The film was scheduled to open in a few more cities in May 1987, the 5 May 1987 Washington Times reported.
       Reviews tended to be negative. The 27 Mar 1987 NYT called it “an earnest but clumsy tribute to the heroism of the American servicemen.” The 27 Mar 1987 LAT review called it a “one-note, furiously self-righteous film: a gloomy parade of cardboard suffering, swaggering villains and speeches that sound as if they were lifted from the Readers Digest. ” The 25 Mar 1987 DV review called it “lame” and “propaganda pure and simple.”
       There was also a strong backlash against the film, because, as Cannon chair Menahem Golan explained, it managed to be both anti-war and pro-American at the same time, an unusual niche no previous Vietnam War movie had found. Several POWs felt the need to defend the film. Retired U.S. Navy Captain David Carey, who spent six years at Hoa Lo prison and was one of the men Chetwynd interviewed for his screenplay, told the 30 Apr 1987 DV that the film was “amazingly accurate” and that the media backlash was due to the fact the story contradicted many notions about what transpired during the Vietnam War. Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Jack Bomar, who was a POW for six years, talked to Chetwynd for his screenplay, and served as technical advisor for the film, noted to the 5 May 1987 Washington Times that none of the people criticizing the film were imprisoned, and therefore, they did not have the authority to speak about what did or did not happen.
       End credits begin with the following statement: “From 1963 until the fall of Saigon in 1975, 3.4 million American men and women served in Southeast Asia; of these, 58,135 never returned. Of the prisoners-of-war, 725 were repatriated, leaving 2,421 still unaccounted for.” End credits continue: “We are particularly grateful for the assistance and caring support of: Hon. Everett Alvarez, Jr, Shot down – August 5, 1964, P.O.W. – 8 ½ years; Captain Rodney A. Knutson, USN, Shot down – October 17, 1965, P.O.W. – 7 ½ years; Cmdr. David R. Wheat, USN (Ret.), Shot down – October 17, 1965, P.O.W. – 7 ½ years; Col. Fred V. Cherry, USAF (Ret.), Shot down – October 22, 1965, P.O.W. – 7 ½ years; Lt. Col. Harland P. Chapman, USMC (Ret.), Shot down – November 5, 1965, P.O.W. – 7 ½ years; Cmdr. Chuck Baldock, USN (Ret.), Shot down – March 17, 1966, P.O.W. – 7 years; Col. Jack W. Bomar, USAF (Ret.), Shot down – February 4, 1967, P.O.W. – 6 years; Douglas B. Hegdahl, Captured – April 6, 1967, P.O.W. – 2 ½ years; Col. Leo K. Thorsness, USAF (Ret.), Shot down – April 30, 1967, P.O.W. – 6 years; Capt. Read B. MeCleary, USNR, Shot down – May 26, 1967; P.O.W. – 6 years; Col Hervey S. Stockman, USAF (Ret.), Shot down – June 11, 1967, P.O.W. – 5 ½ years; Col. Kenneth R. Hughey, USAF (Ret.), Shot down – July 6, 1967, P.O.W. – 6 years; Lt. Col. Melvin Pollack, USAF (Ret.), Shot down – July 6, 1967, P.O.W. – 6 years; Capt. David J. Carey, USN (Ret.), Shot down – August 31, 1967, P.O.W. – 6 years; Senator John McCain, Shot down – October 26, 1967, P.O.W. – 5 ½ years; Capt. James M. Hickerson, USN (Ret.), Shot down – December 22, 1967, P.O.W. – 5 ½ years; Col. Terry J. Uyeyama, USAF (Ret.), Shot down – May 18, 1968, P.O.W. – 5 years.”
       End credits also state: “Special Thanks to: Msgt. Charles E. Davis, U.S. Air Force Technical Advisor; Mark Wilson, DoD, Motion Media Depository; Mr. Donald Baruch, DoD, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs; West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Hospital, Charles G. Rundell, Sharon Koller; Capt. Rodney A. Knutson, Officers and Crew of the U.S.S. Mobile; Maj. J.R. Fowler, Jr., U.S. Air Force; Ltc. William A. Knapp, U.S. Army; 146th Tactical Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard; 63rd Military Airlift Wing, Military Air Command; Continental Airlines”; and "The Producers gratefully acknowledge the cooperation and the assistance provided by the Department of Defense in the production of this film."

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
31 Oct 1986.
---
Daily Variety
3 Nov 1986.
---
Daily Variety
25 Mar 1987
p. 3, 14.
Daily Variety
7 Apr 1987.
---
Daily Variety
30 Apr 1987.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Sep 1986
p. 1, 8.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Mar 1987
p. 6, 49.
Los Angeles Times
9 Nov 1986.
---
Los Angeles Times
27 Mar 1987
p. 8.
New York Times
27 Mar 1987
p. 13.
Variety
25 Mar 1987
p. 18.
Washington Times
5 May 1987
Section B, p. 1, 3.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
The Cannon Group, Inc. Presents
A Golan-Globus Production
of a Film by Lionel Chetwynd
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d 2d asst dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Co-exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
3d asst cam
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Company grip
Best boy elec
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
Negative cutting
Negative cutting
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
Swing gang
Swing gang
Swing gang
Prop master
Asst prop master
Fixtures
Carpenter
Painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Costumer
Costumer
Costumer
Costumer
MUSIC
Mus composed and cond by
Mus supv
Supv mus ed
Asst mus ed
Asst mus ed
Orch
Asst orch
New York scoring session prod by
New York scoring sessions eng by
New York scoring sessions rec at
London scoring sessions eng by
London scoring sessions rec at
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Supv sd ed
Dial ed
Sd eff ed
Foley ed
Foley ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Foley artists
Foley artist
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Cannon spec eff lab
Cannon spec eff lab
Spec eff coord
Title des
Title des
Main titles and opticals
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Key and spec eff makeup
Makeup artist
Makeup asst
Miss Carlin's hairstylist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Exec in charg of prod
Prod exec
Asst prod coord
Loc mgr
Loc sout
Prod accountant
Accountant asst
Scr supv
Unit pub
Exec asst to Mr. Chetwynd
Secy to Mr. Chetwynd
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Casting assoc
Craft service
Animal trainer
Animal handler
Animals supplied by
Animals supplied by
Transportation coord
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Transportation co-capt
Extras casting
Military vehicles
Post prod supv
Prod services and equipment provided by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
Stunt player
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
“Hero’s Heart,” music and lyrics by Jimmy Webb, performed by Joe Pizzulo, produced by Fred Mollin
“Dance Of The Bamboos,” “Dance Of The Bells,” “My Native Land,” “Let Us Sew Warm Clothes...,” and “When The Ta-Lu Sounds,” performed by The Vietnamese National Song and Dance Ensemble, courtesy of Monitor Records
“Joy To The World,” and “Hark The Herald Angels Sing,” arranged by Henrik Nielsen, courtesy of Capitol Production Music.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
27 March 1987
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 27 March 1987
Production Date:
began 8 October 1986
Copyright Claimant:
Cannon Films, Inc. & Cannon International
Copyright Date:
29 October 1987
Copyright Number:
PA345209
Physical Properties:
Sound
Recorded in Ultra-Stereo®
Color
Duration(in mins):
126
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
28540
SYNOPSIS

In 1964, thirty-four-year-old American Air Force pilot Lieutenant Commander Patrick Williamson’s plane is shot down over North Vietnam. He is captured by peasant farmers and taken to Hanoi, where he is put in Hoa Lo Prison. Williamson will only tell his captors his name, rank, and serial number, per the Geneva Convention. The prison head, Major Ngo Doc, tells him since America has never officially declared war on North Vietnam, they are under no obligation to adhere to the Geneva Convention. Williamson is not a prisoner of war, but instead is a criminal. Williamson is kept in solitary confinement for a year, then in the fall of 1965, he is transferred to a prison block with other American prisoners of war (POWs), who jokingly call the place “The Hanoi Hilton.” Williamson meets Lieutenant Paul Kennedy who has been there for six months, Captain Earl Hubman who has been there for four months, and Major Bill Oldham, a career Marine who has been there for three weeks. Oldham suffered a broken leg when his plane was shot down, but the North Vietnamese offer no medical assistance. However, the POWs do their best to tend to his wounds. Shortly after that, Air Force Colonel Cameron Cathcart is captured and brought to the Hanoi Hilton. As senior ranking officer, Cathcart insists they maintain military discipline even though they are in prison. Cathcart orders the men to save every scrap of metal they can find and to be nice to their North Vietnamese captors, but to know that America will prevail in the end. The men tap on the wall using Morse code to communicate with those men in adjoining cells, or use ... +


In 1964, thirty-four-year-old American Air Force pilot Lieutenant Commander Patrick Williamson’s plane is shot down over North Vietnam. He is captured by peasant farmers and taken to Hanoi, where he is put in Hoa Lo Prison. Williamson will only tell his captors his name, rank, and serial number, per the Geneva Convention. The prison head, Major Ngo Doc, tells him since America has never officially declared war on North Vietnam, they are under no obligation to adhere to the Geneva Convention. Williamson is not a prisoner of war, but instead is a criminal. Williamson is kept in solitary confinement for a year, then in the fall of 1965, he is transferred to a prison block with other American prisoners of war (POWs), who jokingly call the place “The Hanoi Hilton.” Williamson meets Lieutenant Paul Kennedy who has been there for six months, Captain Earl Hubman who has been there for four months, and Major Bill Oldham, a career Marine who has been there for three weeks. Oldham suffered a broken leg when his plane was shot down, but the North Vietnamese offer no medical assistance. However, the POWs do their best to tend to his wounds. Shortly after that, Air Force Colonel Cameron Cathcart is captured and brought to the Hanoi Hilton. As senior ranking officer, Cathcart insists they maintain military discipline even though they are in prison. Cathcart orders the men to save every scrap of metal they can find and to be nice to their North Vietnamese captors, but to know that America will prevail in the end. The men tap on the wall using Morse code to communicate with those men in adjoining cells, or use signals under the doors. While the guards take a daily siesta, Cathcart and the others can talk freely, even if they cannot see each other. Using the scrap metal, they eventually loosen the screws on the transoms above the cell doors and lift the transoms to see each other while the guards are away. In early 1966, prison head Major Ngo Doc orders Cathcart to end the military ranks among the prisoners. When Cathcart refuses, Ngo Doc promises to randomly select a prisoner and inflict the same pain on him that the Americans are inflicting on the Vietnamese people. The men’s feet are frequently locked in stocks on their beds. However, one morning, a POW wakes up to find rats crawling on him and is whipped with a belt. When Lieutenant Donald Gregory arrives at the prison after being shot down, he is taken to Room Eighteen and tortured until he tells the North Vietnamese what they want to know. Soon after, Col. Cathcart is taken to Room Eighteen and he also breaks. Cathcart warns the other men they will not be able to survive the torture, then is taken to a different part of the prison. As the next senior ranking officer, Lt. Williamson assumes command. Soon after, Major Fisher of the Army’s 82nd Airborne is brought in. Fisher was stationed at the Pentagon and was only in Vietnam for an advisory visit, but was shot down north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). In the spring 1966, the prison installs a public address system through which an announcer, whom the men call “Hanoi Hannah,” routinely tells the prisoners that they have committed crimes against the Vietnamese people. Hanoi Hannah also offers news of America and of the war, but always reiterates that the Americans are losing. They also play recordings on the PA system of Col. Cathcart and Lt. Gregory renouncing the cruelty they have inflicted against the innocent Vietnamese people. A British journalist comes to the prison to interview some of the POWs. Captain Hubman shows wounds from his torture and urges the journalist to include the names of the POWs in his story, explaining that the North Vietnamese can kill a soldier who is listed as Missing in Action (MIA), but are not allowed to kill a soldier who is confirmed as a POW. But the journalist is not interested in telling that story. Sometime later, the men are marched through Hanoi where the citizens scream obscenities and hurl vegetables and rocks at them, while movie cameras capture it for use in propaganda films. The food rations the men are given are minimal, often inedible, and mixed with bugs or feces. For Christmas 1969, the men are treated to a traditional American holiday meal with turkey and mashed potatoes. Major Ngo Doc tells the men the war is nearing an end and also has letters from home for them. However, the major only gives them empty envelopes addressed to them. He will give them the letters once they tell him what he wants to know. He also promises that those who cooperate will receive an “early release” and be freed. As more POWs come into the Hanoi Hilton, they bring news from home. The men who have been there for years are distressed to learn the war is losing favor among the America people, and are stunned to learn that America landed a man on the moon. The North Vietnamese bring in a Cuban interrogator known as “Fidel the Cuban,” who lived for a time in Spanish Harlem in New York City and speaks perfect English, to play psychological games on the men to obtain their cooperation. While Fidel the Cuban succeeds with some of the men, others resist. After one man spits at the Cuban, he is killed. By spring 1970, there are 250 POWs at the Hanoi Hilton. The men devise rhymes and songs to help remember all the POWs names so if any man escapes, he can tell American military leaders. Hanoi Hannah continues her daily propaganda announcements about events in America, but also offers disturbing news about what is happening to the POWs’ families, information taken from the letters from home which the captors are holding. An American delegation led by an actress named Paula comes to interview the men, but they are only interested in hearing them renounce the war. As the delegation leaves, Major Ngo Doc releases three POWs, all men who cooperated with their captors. Later, two men escape the prison, but are quickly recaptured. In retaliation, Major Ngo Doc threatens to execute Lt. Williamson since he is the senior ranking officer, but his execution is stayed with the news that North Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh has died. Soon after, things begin to change at the prison. Major Ngo Doc is reassigned because he could not break enough of the men. When another prison is bombed, more POWs are moved into the Hanoi Hilton. Although American planes are bombing Hanoi regularly, they specifically avoid dropping bombs in the area where the prison in located. Soon the men are sleeping in a common area rather than individual cells. They also start getting letters from home, better food, and even cigarettes. As newly captured prisoners come in, they bring news of cultural changes in America like feminism and consciousness raising groups, ideas that mystify the older prisoners. In spring 1973, the men are moved to an airfield where they see an American Air Force plane landing. They are cautiously hopeful they are being released, but suspicious that it is another trick. But when American military officers get off the airplane and greet the men, they start cheering, knowing for certain they are going home.
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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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