Go Tell the Spartans (1978)

R | 114 mins | Drama | 1978

Director:

Ted Post

Writer:

Wendell Mayes

Cinematographer:

Harry Stradling, Jr.

Editor:

Millie Moore

Production Designer:

Jack Senter

Production Companies:

Spartan, Mar Vista Productions
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HISTORY

The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Brion Baer, a student at University of California, Los Angeles, with Jonathan Furner as academic advisor.

In Go Tell the Spartans both “Maj. Asa Barker” and “Cpl. Stephen Courcey” choose not to abandon their Vietnamese allies by “exfiltrating” from Muc Wa; however, in Daniel Ford's novel, The Incident at Muc Wa, Courcey is the only American who stays behind.
       The film opens with title cards containing the following written statement: “In 1954, the French lost their war to keep their Indo-China colonies and those colonies became North and South Vietnam. Then the North aided a rebellion in the South and the United States sent in ‘Military Advisors’ to help South Vietnam fight the Communists. In 1964, the war in Vietnam was still a little one-- confused and far away.” A title card precedes the end credits and reads: “1964.”
       According to a 4 Oct 1977 NYT article, the film took seven years to make. Before Burt Lancaster was cast as Barker, William Holden was attached to the role in 1972; at the time, the film was budgeted at $7 million, as stated in Kate Buford’s biography, Burt Lancaster: An American Life (New York, 2000). When Ted Post came on to direct in 1977, he sent the script to Lancaster, who eagerly agreed to play Barker. Lancaster was recuperating from knee surgery at the time, which is why his character limps throughout the movie.
       Principal photography took place in Valencia, CA, in ...

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The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Brion Baer, a student at University of California, Los Angeles, with Jonathan Furner as academic advisor.

In Go Tell the Spartans both “Maj. Asa Barker” and “Cpl. Stephen Courcey” choose not to abandon their Vietnamese allies by “exfiltrating” from Muc Wa; however, in Daniel Ford's novel, The Incident at Muc Wa, Courcey is the only American who stays behind.
       The film opens with title cards containing the following written statement: “In 1954, the French lost their war to keep their Indo-China colonies and those colonies became North and South Vietnam. Then the North aided a rebellion in the South and the United States sent in ‘Military Advisors’ to help South Vietnam fight the Communists. In 1964, the war in Vietnam was still a little one-- confused and far away.” A title card precedes the end credits and reads: “1964.”
       According to a 4 Oct 1977 NYT article, the film took seven years to make. Before Burt Lancaster was cast as Barker, William Holden was attached to the role in 1972; at the time, the film was budgeted at $7 million, as stated in Kate Buford’s biography, Burt Lancaster: An American Life (New York, 2000). When Ted Post came on to direct in 1977, he sent the script to Lancaster, who eagerly agreed to play Barker. Lancaster was recuperating from knee surgery at the time, which is why his character limps throughout the movie.
       Principal photography took place in Valencia, CA, in Oct and Nov 1977, where sixty local Vietnamese refugees were hired to play Vietcong and South Vietnamese soldiers. Although the original shooting schedule was forty days, budget cuts led to a shorter, thirty-one day schedule. The 4 Oct 1977 NYT cited a $3 million budget, raised by Mar Vista Productions largely from doctors, lawyers, and real estate brokers. However, Buford noted that the production ran out of money toward the end of filming and was almost forced to shut down. Costs were reduced to $1.5 million, with the last $150,000 needed to complete photography personally funded by Lancaster.
       According to Buford’s biography, Go Tell the Spartans was “barely distributed” by the failing Avco Embassy Pictures, and grossed $3 million. In an 8 Dec 1978 New Republic item, Stanley Kauffman acknowledged the film’s limited release when he advised readers to “go try and find” this “spottily distributed” film, which he judged “the best so far” on the Vietnam War.
       Critical reaction was generally positive. A 6 Sep 1978 LAT review stated that the film “effectively points up the absurdities of Vietnam yet avoids an ax-grinding, told-you-so stance to achieve a truly tragic tone,” while a 15 Jun 1978 HR lauded the picture as a refreshing departure from “the usual overblown stereotypical war picture.” The 23 Sep 1978 NYT review was less favorable, however, describing Mayes's screenplay as “cliche-ridden,” and faulting the film's ideology as one that “returns us to the normalcy of the war-movie world in which 'we' are still the good guys.”
       In 1979, Wendell Mayes’s screenplay was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for “Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium.”

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Tribune
1 Oct 1978
Section A, pp. 1-2.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jun 1978
p. 2, 21.
Los Angeles Times
6 Sep 1978
p. 1, 10.
New Republic
8 Dec 1978.
---
New York Times
4 Oct 1977
pp. 39-40.
New York Times
23 Sep 1978.
---
Variety
14 Jun 1978
p. 20.
Washington Post
28 Jul 1978
Section B, p. 1, 4.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Mar Vista Productions presentation of
A Spartan Comedy production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d asst cam
Key grip
2d grip
Dolly grip
Generator op
Best boy
Elec op
Lamp op
Still photog
Processing
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Const
Set dresser
Prop master
Asst props
Propman
COSTUMES
Cost
Asst cost
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Mus ed
SOUND
Looping ed
Sd mixer
Sd boom
Cableman
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Asst spec eff
Titles and opt
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Asst to the prods
Casting
Prod coord
Scr supv
Transportation
First aid
Craft service
Casting coord
Extras coord
Prod asst
Unit pub
Accounting
Tech consultant
STAND INS
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Incident at Muc Wa by Daniel Ford (Garden City, 1967).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
1978
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 6 Sep 1978; New York opening: week of 23 Sep 1978
Production Date:
Oct--Nov 1977
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Spartan Film Partners, Ltd.
26 April 1978
PA2297
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
114
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In 1964, Major Asa Barker leads a unit of American military advisors stationed in Penang, South Vietnam. When a group of replacement troops arrive, Barker meets with them individually. They include the incompetent yet blindly optimistic Southerner, Lieutenant Raymond Hamilton; war-hardened, alcoholic Sergeant “Oleo” Oleonowski, who served in Korea under Major Barker; Corporal Abraham Lincoln, an opium addict; and the compassionate yet inexperienced Corporal Courcey. Barker’s commanding officer, General Harnitz, orders Barker to reoccupy and garrison an abandoned village called Muc Wa, but Barker disapproves of the mission, telling his executive officer, Captain Alfred “Al” Olivetti, that by attempting to occupy numerous strategically unimportant sites, the U.S. will repeat the mistakes of the French in the First Indochina War. However, Barker proceeds warily with the assignment, naming Hamilton the commanding officer at Muc Wa in order to spare the burnt-out Oleo from too much responsibility. Also assigned to the Muc Wa unit are the remaining new recruits, Lincoln and Courcey, as well as Sergeant “Cowboy” Nguyen, a merciless Vietnamese soldier who is highly skilled as a translator, and a group of South Vietnamese soldiers. Before leaving, Oleo airs his misgivings about the mission, telling Barker that the South Vietnamese troops are no more than poorly trained farmers and that Muc Wa will be an easy target for their enemy, the Vietcong. Barker is unconvincing in reassuring Oleo. While Barker and Olivetti stay behind in Penang, the Muc Wa unit sets out on foot. Although Hamilton has been placed in charge, Oleo emerges as the natural leader, spotting an explosive trap shortly into their journey. The Vietcong soldier who set the trap attempts to escape, but is caught by the ...

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In 1964, Major Asa Barker leads a unit of American military advisors stationed in Penang, South Vietnam. When a group of replacement troops arrive, Barker meets with them individually. They include the incompetent yet blindly optimistic Southerner, Lieutenant Raymond Hamilton; war-hardened, alcoholic Sergeant “Oleo” Oleonowski, who served in Korea under Major Barker; Corporal Abraham Lincoln, an opium addict; and the compassionate yet inexperienced Corporal Courcey. Barker’s commanding officer, General Harnitz, orders Barker to reoccupy and garrison an abandoned village called Muc Wa, but Barker disapproves of the mission, telling his executive officer, Captain Alfred “Al” Olivetti, that by attempting to occupy numerous strategically unimportant sites, the U.S. will repeat the mistakes of the French in the First Indochina War. However, Barker proceeds warily with the assignment, naming Hamilton the commanding officer at Muc Wa in order to spare the burnt-out Oleo from too much responsibility. Also assigned to the Muc Wa unit are the remaining new recruits, Lincoln and Courcey, as well as Sergeant “Cowboy” Nguyen, a merciless Vietnamese soldier who is highly skilled as a translator, and a group of South Vietnamese soldiers. Before leaving, Oleo airs his misgivings about the mission, telling Barker that the South Vietnamese troops are no more than poorly trained farmers and that Muc Wa will be an easy target for their enemy, the Vietcong. Barker is unconvincing in reassuring Oleo. While Barker and Olivetti stay behind in Penang, the Muc Wa unit sets out on foot. Although Hamilton has been placed in charge, Oleo emerges as the natural leader, spotting an explosive trap shortly into their journey. The Vietcong soldier who set the trap attempts to escape, but is caught by the South Vietnamese troops. While the others look on, Cowboy beheads the man with a machete. The sight causes Hamilton to vomit, and when Courcey cannot stop staring, Oleo says, “It's their war.” Reaching Muc Wa, the group sets up a base and explores their surroundings. Courcey and Hamilton discover a graveyard containing over three hundred French gravestones. An inscription over the entrance reads: “Stranger, when you find us lying here, go tell the Spartans we obeyed their orders.” Courcey explains that these were the words of the Greek poet Simonides's epitaph for the three hundred Spartans who died in the Battle of Thermopylae. Hamilton later acknowledges the bravery of the French, but asserts that his group will not lose because they are American. Later, Cowboy and Courcey discover a Vietnamese family gathering food by a river. Although Cowboy insists the family is Vietcong and wants to kill them, Courcey overrules him and brings them back to the camp as refugees. Oleo reprimands Courcey, believing that the Americans should defer to Cowboy's judgment when attempting to identify Vietcong. Hamilton disagrees and welcomes the refugees to their base. Later, when spotting an elderly, one-eyed Vietcong soldier in the graveyard, Courcey does not draw his gun fast enough, and the man escapes. Courcey warns the others shortly before the Vietcong launch an attack that night, which the Americans successfully fend off. Courcey, who shot and killed some of the Vietcong attackers, is shocked to discover that one was a young girl. The enemy attacks in greater force the following night, and Hamilton is shot to death when he attempts to rescue a wounded South Vietnamese soldier. Devastated, Oleo gets drunk the next morning and kills himself. With both Hamilton and Oleo dead, Barker sends Olivetti to take charge of Muc Wa, then goes to see Colonel Minh, the province chief of the South Vietnamese Army, whom Barker secretly calls “Lardass.” Minh initially refuses Barker’s request for three hundred South Vietnamese troops, explaining that his forces are needed in Saigon to combat an expected coup; however, Barker is able to bribe him with a large supply of artillery. That night, with the three hundred reinforcements not yet arrived, Muc Wa is greatly outnumbered by Vietcong in another firefight. Olivetti requests air support, which General Harnitz refuses to provide, citing the expected coup in Saigon. Barker personally persuades Harnitz to provide the air support, which helps repel the attack. The next day, as Barker leads the South Vietnamese reinforcements to Muc Wa, he learns that 1,000 Vietcong soldiers are also on their way and Harnitz has ordered the base’s evacuation, claiming that Muc Wa is not strategically important enough to justify a such a large confrontation. Barker sends the South Vietnamese back to Penang as he boards a helicopter to Muc Wa. With the approaching attack, it becomes apparent that escape via aircraft is the only way out of Muc Wa. However, the helicopter only has room for a handful of American military advisors and the severely wounded. Although Cowboy and the other South Vietnamese are desperate to board the helicopter, Barker pushes them back. Unwilling to abandon his allies, Courcey refuses Barker's order to board, prompting Barker to stay behind as well, knowing he has joined a tragic cause. As the group at Muc Wa prepares for their evacuation on foot, Barker reveals to Courcey his belief that the U.S. involvement in Vietnam is pointless. That night, Cowboy catches the camp's Vietnamese refugees attempting to escape with guns and ammunition, and shoots them dead, confirming that they were Vietcong. Attempting an escape, Barker’s group encounters an overwhelming attack, and Cowboy is the first of many to die. When both Barker and Courcey are shot, Barker carries the younger soldier to temporary safety before both lose consciousness. Later, a South Vietnamese soldier discovers Courcey still alive, and takes him to a more secluded spot as the fighting continues. The next morning, Courcey awakens to a landscape covered with dead bodies and sees Barker’s corpse naked and face down in the mud. He stumbles into the French graveyard where he spies the one-eyed Vietcong man, wounded but still alive. The man weakly tries to aim his gun, but it drops out of his hands. Courcey announces that he is going home if they will let him, then limps out of the graveyard.

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

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