The Green Berets (1968)

G | 141 mins | Melodrama | 19 June 1968

Producer:

Michael Wayne

Cinematographer:

Winton Hoch

Editor:

Otho Lovering

Production Designer:

Walter M. Simonds

Production Company:

Batjac Productions, Inc.
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HISTORY

On 15 Sep 1965, Var announced that producer David Wolper and United Artists (UA) had made “a handshake deal” with Robin Moore to purchase screen rights to his 1965 novel, The Green Berets, despite opposition from the U.S. Department of Defense, which disapproved of the book’s “top secret disclosures” about the U.S. Army’s Special Forces (a.k.a. Green Berets). At the time, Columbia Pictures had a competing project, for which it had already registered the title, The Green Beret.
       Numerous contemporary sources, including the 10 May 1967 Var, discussed the fact that no major films about the Vietnam War had yet been produced. The Green Berets was set to be the first; however, according to Robin Moore in an interview aired on CBS-Radio’s Mike Wallace at Large, the Department of Defense fought to stop it. Moore claimed that David Wolper was threatened with “reprisals” by the Department of Defense’s Assistant Secretary of Defense for Information, Arthur Sylvester, and forced to renege on his deal. Moore also stated that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) had considered the project and was similarly scared away. Moore believed that the Department of Defense not only disliked the novel’s content, but the fact that it popularized the Special Forces unit at a time when the Pentagon was considering cutting the Green Berets entirely. Further angering the Department of Defense, according to Moore, was the popularity of a song he co-wrote with Barry Sadler, titled “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” Wolper, UA, and MGM denied Moore’s account, citing more banal reasons for dropping the project, such as Columbia’s ownership of The Green Beret ... More Less

On 15 Sep 1965, Var announced that producer David Wolper and United Artists (UA) had made “a handshake deal” with Robin Moore to purchase screen rights to his 1965 novel, The Green Berets, despite opposition from the U.S. Department of Defense, which disapproved of the book’s “top secret disclosures” about the U.S. Army’s Special Forces (a.k.a. Green Berets). At the time, Columbia Pictures had a competing project, for which it had already registered the title, The Green Beret.
       Numerous contemporary sources, including the 10 May 1967 Var, discussed the fact that no major films about the Vietnam War had yet been produced. The Green Berets was set to be the first; however, according to Robin Moore in an interview aired on CBS-Radio’s Mike Wallace at Large, the Department of Defense fought to stop it. Moore claimed that David Wolper was threatened with “reprisals” by the Department of Defense’s Assistant Secretary of Defense for Information, Arthur Sylvester, and forced to renege on his deal. Moore also stated that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) had considered the project and was similarly scared away. Moore believed that the Department of Defense not only disliked the novel’s content, but the fact that it popularized the Special Forces unit at a time when the Pentagon was considering cutting the Green Berets entirely. Further angering the Department of Defense, according to Moore, was the popularity of a song he co-wrote with Barry Sadler, titled “The Ballad of the Green Berets.” Wolper, UA, and MGM denied Moore’s account, citing more banal reasons for dropping the project, such as Columbia’s ownership of The Green Beret title, and general lack of enthusiasm. Although not directly related to the film, Columbia chief Mike Frankovich gave credence to Moore’s assertions when he acknowledged that the Department of Defense had approached him about his Green Beret project, to make sure it was not based on Moore’s novel, because “they didn’t think it was good for the war.”
       After David Wolper relinquished the rights to Moore’s novel, John Wayne purchased them for $50,000, as stated in a 24 Dec 1967 NYT article. Wayne’s Batjac Productions, Inc. initially had a difficult time finding a studio to finance the project, according to the 27 Sep 1967 NYT. However, by mid-Jun 1966, Wayne had made a deal with Universal Pictures to make The War Wagon (1967, see entry) and The Green Berets, as noted in the 24 Jun 1966 LAT. In preparation for the picture, Wayne and screenwriter James Lee Barrett made trips to Vietnam, the 6 Jul 1966 and 31 Aug 1966 DV reported. Wayne, who visited wounded soldiers while on a three-week tour there, was vocally in support of the war. The 1 Oct 1966 NYT also described him as strongly opposed to antiwar protestors.
       Wayne was able to get the support of the Pentagon by writing a letter to President Lyndon B. Johnson. With the help of Johnson’s aides, he and his son, producer Michael Wayne, visited the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C., and assuaged their fears by promising the film would not actually be based on Moore’s book, and would only include a few of its action sequences. Michael Wayne was quoted in the 10 May 1967 Var as saying, “In Washington, they have known my father for many years, and they had confidence in his part in this.”
       Universal Pictures fell out of the project over creative differences with Wayne, who then took it to Warner Bros.—Seven Arts, Inc., where the film was set up as of mid-Jun 1967, as announced in the 22 Jun 1967 DV. The production budget was estimated to be between $7 and $8 million in the 27 Sep 1967 NYT and 23 Oct 1967 LAT.
       Mervyn LeRoy was brought on to co-direct with John Wayne and Ray Kellogg, the 9 Sep 1967 LAT reported. Although later sources confirmed LeRoy’s involvement, the 28 Dec 1967 DV stated that LeRoy’s name had been removed from directing credits on Warner Bros.—Seven Arts’ latest press releases.
       Principal photography began 9 Aug 1967, as announced in that day’s Var. The bulk of filming took place at Fort Benning, a U.S. Army base near Columbus, GA, which stood in for Vietnam. Filming was scheduled around the clock, according to the 22 Oct 1967 LAT, which stated that a daytime crew worked until dinner, at which point a nighttime crew relieved them. The 27 Sep 1967 NYT stated that Kellogg oversaw action sequences filmed at night (roughly thirty percent of the picture), while LeRoy handled scenes in which Wayne was required to act. Despite his disappointment in the screenplay, Robin Moore visited the set, and was enticed to play a cameo role. The 1 Nov 1967 Var noted that Moore also voluntarily performed stunts, which resulted in a broken collarbone. Production was still underway in Georgia as of 23 Oct 1967, as stated in an LAT item published that day. An article in the 24 Dec 1967 NYT noted that when tree leaves turned brown due to a “premature frost,” filmmakers were forced to build a costly twenty-acre jungle in Hollywood, CA, to finish shooting.
       The 3 Aug 1967 LAT named Bruce Dern as a co-star. Paul Genge was listed as a cast member in the 28 Aug 1967 LAT, and the 14 Sep 1967 LAT noted that Eddy Donno was performing stunts on the picture. According to a 2 Dec 1967 LAT brief, Vera Miles was cast in the role of “Col. Mike Kirby’s” wife. In an interview published in the 8 Dec 1967 LAT, Raymond St. Jacques noted that two or three actors rejected the role of “Doc McGee” before it was offered to him, and although it was a small part that had been written off by some as “a token,” the role was built up.
       Costs were kept down with the help of the U.S. Army, which provided weapons, airplanes, and personnel, in addition to the use of Fort Benning, as stated in an article by Joan Barthel in the 24 Dec 1967 NYT. While some soldiers took leave to appear as paid background actors, others were allegedly “detailed to the movie set in place of their usual duties.” A platoon of Hawaiian soldiers were said to have taken administrative leave from Fort Devens, MA, to work on the film, which, according to NYT, meant that taxpayer money had funded their participation. The government’s financial support of the film sparked controversy, including a letter to the editor that was published in the 14 Jan 1968 NYT, in which a reader expressed outrage at Barthel’s reporting, and accused the filmmakers and the government of legal and moral corruption. Soon after, John Wayne published a statement on the picture in the 28 Jan 1968 LAT, in which he did not respond to accusations of corruption but did point out that he and his fellow filmmakers were “not debating whether it is right or wrong for the United States to be in this war. We are showing the mettle of the American fighting men.” A year after the film was released, the 27 Jun 1969 DV stated that Representative Benjamin Rosenthal, a Democrat from New York, revealed that the Department of Defense had only charged Batjac Productions $18,623, while the costs the film imposed on the U.S. Army were closer to $1 million. Rosenthal further accused the Pentagon of supporting the film as propaganda. Michael Wayne responded that the filmmakers paid adequately, and also made $150,000 worth of improvements to Fort Benning.
       The Green Berets premiered on 19 Jun 1968 at New York City’s Warner Theatre, and was met with consistently negative reviews. Renata Adler’s criticism of the film, published in the 20 Jun 1968 NYT, was noted for being particularly scathing, and likened, in the 26 Jun 1968 Var, to Judith Crist’s notorious review of Cleopatra (1963, see entry). The picture became a target for antiwar protestors, beginning with the 19 Jun 1968 premiere, when thirteen out of 150 picketers were arrested, according to the 21 Jun 1968 DV. Earlier that day, rumors of bomb threats to the Warner Theatre had circulated, according to the 20 Jun 1968 DV, although the theater had denied any such threats and the premiere had proceeded as planned. As noted in the 3 Jul 1968 Var, protests were still underway, organized by members of such groups as Youth Against War & Fascism, the U.S. Committee to Aid the National Liberation Front, Veterans & Reservists to End the War in Vietnam, and The Bond newspaper for American servicemen. The 26 Jun 1968 Var noted that, while some demonstrators supported Wayne’s right to free speech, they opposed the use of soldiers who were given no choice but to work on the film as part of their duties. In response to the ongoing opposition, two city policemen were stationed outside the Warner Theatre, located in Times Square.
       The film provoked protests in Germany when it opened there on 30 Aug 1968. Within days, it was pulled from exhibition at two theaters in Frankfurt and Munich, after demonstrators had incited scuffles with moviegoers and had hurled tomatoes and rotten eggs at the screen, as reported in the 11 Sep 1968 Var. German reviews were reportedly as negative as American ones, citing similar critiques such as “oversimplification of the issues, naïve portrayal of the American heroes and Viet Cong villains, and strong militarism.” The 25 Sep 1968 Var stated that the German Peace Association had appealed to the West German Ministry of the Interior, asking that the government ban The Green Berets and all other John Wayne films. Additionally, German newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung published an editorial against the film, likening it to the Third Reich propaganda film, Kolberg (1945).
       In the wake of critical backlash and protests, an 8 Jul 1968 DV brief noted that the picture had recently set two house records at theaters in Minneapolis, MN. The 12 Jul 1968 DV added that The Green Berets achieved an “opening day record” for Warner Bros—Seven Arts when it opened on 10 Jul 1968 at twenty-nine New York City theaters, and grossed $56,754 in one day. By 8 Jan 1969, Var reported that the movie had grossed $8.7 million in film rentals, to date.
       John Wayne made a personal appearance at the Atlanta, GA, opening on 4 Jul 1968 at the Fox Theatre, and also at that day’s “Salute to America” parade in the city, the 26 Jun 1968 Var stated. According to the 28 Jun 1968 LAT, Wayne commissioned a monument to the Green Berets that he planned to present to the Special Forces commander at the Atlanta premiere, to later be installed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
       The 17 May 1968 LAT stated that Robin Moore and Barry Sadler’s song, “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” would play over the titles.
       Ben Wetzler worked as a camera operator on the set shortly before his death on 12 Feb 1968, according to his obituary in the 21 Feb 1968 Var. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
6 Jul 1966
p. 13.
Daily Variety
31 Aug 1966
p. 2.
Daily Variety
10 May 1967
p. 1, 15.
Daily Variety
22 Jun 1967
p. 1.
Daily Variety
28 Dec 1967
p. 10.
Daily Variety
17 Jun 1968
p. 3, 5.
Daily Variety
20 Jun 1968
p. 1.
Daily Variety
21 Jun 1968
p. 1.
Daily Variety
8 Jul 1968
p. 3.
Daily Variety
12 Jul 1968
p. 3.
Daily Variety
27 Jun 1969
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
24 Jun 1966
Section C, p. 13.
Los Angeles Times
3 Aug 1967
Section C, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
28 Aug 1967
Section D, p. 31.
Los Angeles Times
9 Sep 1967
p. 19.
Los Angeles Times
14 Sep 1967
Section D, p. 17.
Los Angeles Times
22 Oct 1967
Section S, p. 17.
Los Angeles Times
23 Oct 1967
Section C, p. 30.
Los Angeles Times
2 Dec 1967
Section B, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
8 Dec 1967
Section D, p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
28 Jan 1968
p. 21, 41.
Los Angeles Times
17 May 1968
Section D, p. 19.
Los Angeles Times
28 Jun 1968
Section F, p. 18.
Los Angeles Times
3 Jul 1968
Section G, p. 1, 6.
New York Times
1 Oct 1966
p. 36.
New York Times
27 Sep 1967
p. 41.
New York Times
24 Dec 1967
p. 4, 22, 29.
New York Times
14 Jan 1968
Section SM, p. 4, 12.
New York Times
20 Jun 1968
p. 49.
Variety
15 Sep 1965
p. 22.
Variety
10 May 1967
p. 7, 16.
Variety
9 Aug 1967
p. 16.
Variety
1 Nov 1967
p. 22.
Variety
21 Feb 1968
p. 79.
Variety
3 Apr 1968
p. 3.
Variety
26 Jun 1968
p. 5, 16.
Variety
3 Jul 1968
p. 20.
Variety
11 Sep 1968
p. 1, 110.
Variety
25 Sep 1968
p. 2.
Variety
8 Jan 1969
p. 15.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2nd unit dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Scr supv
Defense dept. project officer
Sp forces adv
Fort benning project officer
Constr coordinator
Title des
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Green Berets by Robin Moore (New York, 1965).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
19 June 1968
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 19 June 1968
New York opening: 19 June 1968
Los Angeles opening: 3 July 1968
Production Date:
began 9 August 1967
Copyright Claimant:
Batjac Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
1 July 1968
Copyright Number:
LP36530
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
141
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
21657
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Colonel Mike Kirby of the U. S. Special Forces takes charge of a strike camp located deep in Viet Cong territory near Da Nang, Vietnam. On hand to report on the unit's action is George Beckworth, a liberal war correspondent whose newspaper has voiced serious misgivings about American intervention in Vietnam. Despite the best efforts of Kirby's men, assisted by South Vietnamese regulars and Montagnard tribesmen, the camp is captured by the enemy. Upon witnessing the torture of a Viet Cong infiltrator during interrogation, Beckworth protests against the Green Berets' tactics, but when he learns of Viet Cong atrocities, he changes his mind about the nature of the conflict and even joins in the fighting. Eventually, Kirby and his men are able to retake the camp after a U. S. Air Force plane has decimated the enemy ranks. Then, aided by Lin, a seductive Vietnamese model whose father was killed by the Viet Cong, Kirby and Vietnamese Colonel Cai capture a high-ranking enemy officer and lead him back to headquarters for questioning. Before the unit returns to the camp, however, Petersen is killed by a booby trap. Kirby must then explain to Hamchunk, a war orphan whom Petersen adopted, that his idol died so the children like him might ... +


Colonel Mike Kirby of the U. S. Special Forces takes charge of a strike camp located deep in Viet Cong territory near Da Nang, Vietnam. On hand to report on the unit's action is George Beckworth, a liberal war correspondent whose newspaper has voiced serious misgivings about American intervention in Vietnam. Despite the best efforts of Kirby's men, assisted by South Vietnamese regulars and Montagnard tribesmen, the camp is captured by the enemy. Upon witnessing the torture of a Viet Cong infiltrator during interrogation, Beckworth protests against the Green Berets' tactics, but when he learns of Viet Cong atrocities, he changes his mind about the nature of the conflict and even joins in the fighting. Eventually, Kirby and his men are able to retake the camp after a U. S. Air Force plane has decimated the enemy ranks. Then, aided by Lin, a seductive Vietnamese model whose father was killed by the Viet Cong, Kirby and Vietnamese Colonel Cai capture a high-ranking enemy officer and lead him back to headquarters for questioning. Before the unit returns to the camp, however, Petersen is killed by a booby trap. Kirby must then explain to Hamchunk, a war orphan whom Petersen adopted, that his idol died so the children like him might live. +

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

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