Under Fire (1983)

R | 127 mins | Drama | 21 October 1983

Director:

Roger Spottiswoode

Producer:

Jonathan Taplin

Cinematographer:

John Alcott

Editor:

Mark Conte

Production Designers:

Agustin Ytuarte, Toby Carr Rafelson

Production Company:

Lion's Gate Films
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HISTORY

Opening credits are preceded by the following statement: "Popular resistance to a series of unpopular dictators was growing in Nicaragua for over 50 years. By the spring of 1979, Nicaraguans from all walks of life joined together in a final attempt to overthrow President Anastasio “Tacho” Somoza. As the fighting got worse in Central America, journalists throughout the world began to realize this could become a major international story."
       End credits include the following statements: "The producers would like to thank E. Leitz Inc. for providing Leica cameras"; "Special thanks to Doris Keating, Jill Trump and Drew Michaels." Actress Andaluz Russell's name is misspelled "Andaluz Russel" in end credits.
       The song, "Caravan," by Juan Tizol, is sung by the cast during the party sequence, early in the film.
       A news item in the 11 Jan 1981 HR announced director Roger Spottiswoode’s plans to star actor Treat Williams in his upcoming production, Under Fire. Principal photography was to begin in South Africa. The 16 Dec 1981 Var estimated the budget at $6 million. Jonathan Taplin, president of Lion’s Gate Films, was to be executive producer, with Terry Carr as producer. Clayton Frohman’s original screenplay was in the process of being rewritten. Although Treat Williams was reportedly cast in the starring role, no agreement had yet been signed.
       An article in the Nov 1983 Esquire stated that Taplin first brought the project to United Artists Corp. (UA) in 1979. Frohman’s screenplay was equal parts love story and political drama, but actor Richard Gere and director Franc Roddam, both of whom had agreed to make ...

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Opening credits are preceded by the following statement: "Popular resistance to a series of unpopular dictators was growing in Nicaragua for over 50 years. By the spring of 1979, Nicaraguans from all walks of life joined together in a final attempt to overthrow President Anastasio “Tacho” Somoza. As the fighting got worse in Central America, journalists throughout the world began to realize this could become a major international story."
       End credits include the following statements: "The producers would like to thank E. Leitz Inc. for providing Leica cameras"; "Special thanks to Doris Keating, Jill Trump and Drew Michaels." Actress Andaluz Russell's name is misspelled "Andaluz Russel" in end credits.
       The song, "Caravan," by Juan Tizol, is sung by the cast during the party sequence, early in the film.
       A news item in the 11 Jan 1981 HR announced director Roger Spottiswoode’s plans to star actor Treat Williams in his upcoming production, Under Fire. Principal photography was to begin in South Africa. The 16 Dec 1981 Var estimated the budget at $6 million. Jonathan Taplin, president of Lion’s Gate Films, was to be executive producer, with Terry Carr as producer. Clayton Frohman’s original screenplay was in the process of being rewritten. Although Treat Williams was reportedly cast in the starring role, no agreement had yet been signed.
       An article in the Nov 1983 Esquire stated that Taplin first brought the project to United Artists Corp. (UA) in 1979. Frohman’s screenplay was equal parts love story and political drama, but actor Richard Gere and director Franc Roddam, both of whom had agreed to make the film, asked the writer to place more emphasis on the political aspects. However, neither was satisfied with the second draft and withdrew, as did UA, which disapproved of the revisions. The project was revived when Taplin became president of Lion’s Gate Films in 1981, and following another rewrite by Ronald Shelton, a distribution deal was signed with Orion Pictures Corporation. Principal photography began 23 Aug 1982 in Oaxaca, Mexico, as reported in the 6 Aug 1982 DV.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the producers “worked closely” with federal, state, and local authorities, as well as the military, the police, the news media, and private citizens during ten weeks of filming in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. The first eight weeks of production were spent in and around the city of Oaxaca, followed by two weeks in Tuxtla Gutierrez and Chiapa de Corzo. Construction crews transformed city streets into war zones virtually overnight, and restored them just as quickly. However, after a modest Oaxaca restaurant, Los Pinitos, was remodeled as the elegant “Viking Club,” its owners declined having it changed back to its original state.
       Residents of an entire Mexican village were transported to Oaxaca by bus to create the religious procession sequence. City residents were also invited to participate in the staged victory celebration that concludes the film, which included a free concert by the vocal group, Los Folkloristas. The Mexican army provided troop carriers, tanks, jeeps, helicopters, and a Douglas DC-3 airplane, and as many as seventy-five Mexican soldiers per day, playing either Nicaraguan “Guardia” or Sandinista rebel troops.
       A two-page advertisement in the 5 Jul 1983 HR announced exhibitor screenings in thirty-two American cities on 7 Jul and 12 Jul 1983. National release was scheduled for 21 Oct 1983.
       The 19 Oct 1983 LAT reported that Orion Pictures was promoting Under Fire as a “romantic thriller,” after marketing research demonstrated that only twelve percent of respondents were aware of Nicaragua or its revolution. Orion was also concerned about the film’s political content, following recent revelations that the U.S. government was sponsoring a civil war to depose the Sandinista government. A preview screening in Washington, D.C., drew negative comments from Richard Helms, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who described it as “totally unrealistic.” New World Pictures was preparing to release a competing film titled Last Plane Out, based on the book by former politician and business consultant Jack Cox, co-written with deposed dictator Anastasio Somoza. Although Cox dismissed Under Fire as a work of fiction, director Roger Spottiswoode argued that he and Ronald Shelton did extensive research on Nicaragua, which included first-hand accounts from war correspondents. Cox made no mention of the fictional elements in his own film.
       The 23 Oct 1983 LAHExam noted that Spottiswoode and Shelton intended the plot of the $8.5 million production to focus on the tribulations of war photographers and the power of the images they produce, rather than any specific event. Although the project was originally set during the Vietnam War, it was later decided to place it in the more contemporary setting of the Nicaraguan revolution. Spottiswoode and Shelton visited Nicaragua, studied the country’s history through books and documentaries, and interviewed numerous journalists who witnessed the conflict. Their research revealed that the majority of Nicaraguans opposed Somoza and supported the Sandinistas, as opposed to the common belief that the revolution was part of an “international communist conspiracy.” According to the 30 Oct 1983 NYT, the filmmakers included scenes and characters based on anecdotes from the war, such as the Sandinista baseball enthusiast “who could pitch grenades with uncanny accuracy.” The speech made by the character, “Jazy,” in which he criticizes the two protagonists for supporting the rebels, reflected the attitude of then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig. The photograph, depicting slain rebel leader Rafael as being alive, was inspired by a similar portrait of Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara, following his death in 1967.
       Under Fire opened to mixed reviews. The 27 Oct 1983 HR reported a “disappointing” opening weekend, with grosses totaling $1.8 million from 1,816 screens. Although Orion Pictures anticipated minimal losses from the film, the studio’s modest earnings over the previous ten months caused a twenty-percent devaluation of its stock.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Back Stage
30 Sep 1983
---
Daily Variety
6 Aug 1982
---
Esquire
Nov 1983
p. 195
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jan 1981
---
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jul 1983
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 1983
p. 3, 17
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 1983
p. 13
LAHExam
22 Sep 1983
Section A, p.2
LAHExam
23 Oct 1983
Section E, p. 1, 6
Los Angeles Times
19 Oct 1983
p. 1, 5
Los Angeles Times
21 Oct 1983
p. 1, 13
New York Times
21 Oct 1983
p. 13
New York Times
30 Oct 1983
pp. 9-10
Variety
16 Dec 1981
p. 5, 22
Variety
7 Sep 1983
p. 17, 24
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
An Orion Pictures Release
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
Jesus Marin
1st asst dir (Mexico)
Prod mgr (Mexico)
2d unit dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
Asst prod mgr
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit cam
Cam op
Gaffer
1st asst cam
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
Key grip
Head elec
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Toby Rafelson
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Supv ed
1st asst ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dresser
Prop master
Prop man
Asst prop man
COSTUMES
Ward and cost
Ward asst
Ward asst
Ward asst
MUSIC
Scoring mixer
Mus ed
Mus prod by
Orig soundtrack comp by
Featuring guest soloist
SOUND
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
ADR and foley mixer
Sd eff supv
Sd ed
ADR ed
Asst sd ed
Boom man
Asst boom man
GS-1 digital synthesizer by
Post prod facilities
VISUAL EFFECTS
Sd eff supv
Spec eff
Titles by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Tech adv
Prod coord
Mexican prod coord
Asst to the prod
Prod accountant
Mexican prod accountant
Post prod accountant
Prod assoc
Prod asst
Military adv
Transportation capt
Airport coord contact
Extras casting
Asst to casting
Unit pub
Air freight by
Travel by
Video services
Cover format by permission from
The weekly newsmagazine
Magnetic Audio/ Video
Products division/3M - 250 magnetic film
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
Stunt person
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
“Dear John – 1979,” composed and performed by Pat Metheny, published by Pat Meth Music Co. BMI; “Our Love May Never See Tomorrow,” written by Peggy Turner; “The Sandinista Hymn,” music by Carlos Mejia Godoy.
PERFORMED BY
SONGWRITERS/COMPOSERS
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
21 October 1983
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 21 Oct 1983
Production Date:
23 Aug--late Oct/early Nov 1982
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Under Fire Associates, a Greenberg Brothers partnership
5 January 1984
PA198871
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Prints
Prints by Deluxe®
Duration(in mins):
127
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25367
SYNOPSIS

In 1979 Chad, photojournalist Russel Price documents a band of rebel troops riding elephants into battle. While traveling in a rebel convoy, Russel discovers Oates, an American mercenary, among the soldiers. Oates, an agent of the Chad government, is surprised when Russel informs him that he is with the wrong army. Before a government fighter plane interrupts their conversation, Oates recommends the civil war in Nicaragua as a more agreeable assignment. That evening, the corps of American correspondents in Chad throw a farewell party for their colleague, Alex Grazier, who has accepted a position as a television news reporter in New York City. His girl friend, Claire, refuses to return to the United States, preferring to continue as a foreign correspondent. Desperate to save the romance, Alex promises to turn down the job offer and accompany Claire to Nicaragua, on her next assignment. When Russel joins the party, Claire informs him that she is leaving Alex, knowing that the photographer is in love with her. Weeks later, Russel arrives in Managua, Nicaragua, and photographs a police riot, instigated by the presence of Sandinista rebels at a religious celebration. At a luxury hotel, Russel presents Alex with the latest issue of Time magazine, featuring their story on the Chad civil war. Alex introduces his colleague to Isela Cruz, a translator, who is evasive when discussing the Sandinistas’ charismatic leader, Rafael. ...

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In 1979 Chad, photojournalist Russel Price documents a band of rebel troops riding elephants into battle. While traveling in a rebel convoy, Russel discovers Oates, an American mercenary, among the soldiers. Oates, an agent of the Chad government, is surprised when Russel informs him that he is with the wrong army. Before a government fighter plane interrupts their conversation, Oates recommends the civil war in Nicaragua as a more agreeable assignment. That evening, the corps of American correspondents in Chad throw a farewell party for their colleague, Alex Grazier, who has accepted a position as a television news reporter in New York City. His girl friend, Claire, refuses to return to the United States, preferring to continue as a foreign correspondent. Desperate to save the romance, Alex promises to turn down the job offer and accompany Claire to Nicaragua, on her next assignment. When Russel joins the party, Claire informs him that she is leaving Alex, knowing that the photographer is in love with her. Weeks later, Russel arrives in Managua, Nicaragua, and photographs a police riot, instigated by the presence of Sandinista rebels at a religious celebration. At a luxury hotel, Russel presents Alex with the latest issue of Time magazine, featuring their story on the Chad civil war. Alex introduces his colleague to Isela Cruz, a translator, who is evasive when discussing the Sandinistas’ charismatic leader, Rafael. At a nightclub, Alex performs with a jazz combo, while television reporter Regis Seydor tells Claire and Russel about fellow club patron Marcel Jazy, a Frenchman in the employ of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and an advisor to dictator Anastasio “Tacho” Somoza. A group of masked rebels enters and takes a hostage, leaving behind a hand grenade that kills one person. The next day, Russel is arrested for taking “too many pictures” and released a short time later, due to Jazy’s intervention. Believing Jazy can lead them to Rafael, Russel and Claire interview the Frenchman, who admits to being a spy, although his flamboyant lifestyle often renders him ineffective. Jazy ends the interview at the request of his girl friend, Miss Panama, a simple-minded beauty queen with whom Somoza is also in love. As Claire and Russel leave, Jazy directs them to the city of Leon, where Rafael is rumored to be hiding. They arrive in Leon as Sandinistas fend off government troops, known as the Guardia. A small band of rebels leads Claire and Russel to a church, where Pedro, a former baseball player, pitches a grenade into the bell tower and kills three Guardia snipers. Russel enters the tower to photograph the carnage and finds Oates, the mercenary, hiding among the bodies. As Russel, Claire, and the rebels leave the church, Oates takes aim from the roof and shoots Pedro in the back. That night, Russel and Claire make love, but the photographer is remorseful over Pedro’s death, believing he could have prevented it. The following day, Alex leaves Nicaragua for New York City, knowing that he has lost Claire to Russel. During a reception at the presidential palace, Claire interviews Somoza, questioning him about his financial holdings, the civil war, and rumors of a Guardia torture chamber. The dictator ignores the questions, preferring to tell of his weekly visits to his father’s grave. Hub Kittle, Somoza’s public relations agent, interrupts for a private conference with the dictator, followed by the announcement that Rafael has been killed near the city of Matagalpa. Believing Rafael to be alive, Russel and Claire travel to Matagalpa, and arrive as Sandinistas drive the Guardia from the city. They gain access to rebel headquarters and encounter Isela Cruz, who grants their request to meet Rafael. She takes the reporters by boat to a rural village, where she reveals that Rafael is dead. However, the Sandinistas need Russel’s help to convince the United States that Rafael is alive in order to discourage arms shipments to Somoza. Russel refuses to misrepresent the facts, but after a discussion with Claire, both are convinced that a forged photograph would shorten the war and save lives. The next morning, Commandante Cinco and one of his comrades pose with Rafael’s body, while displaying a newspaper reporting their leader’s death. Russel takes the picture, and several candid photographs of the people in the village, before returning to Managua. Within days, the forgery appears in news outlets around the world and Rafael becomes an icon of antifascism. Alex returns to Nicaragua to interview Rafael, and asks Russel to arrange a meeting. While driving through Managua, they are stopped at a Guardia roadblock, and discover Oates conducting the execution of suspected rebels. When asked why they were killed, Oates shows Russel a box containing the photographs he took in the Sandinista village, stolen from his hotel room by Jazy. Afterward, Russel and Claire break into Jazy’s home and find a room wallpapered with pictures of Sandinistas and their allies, all marked for death. That evening, Russel and Claire tell Alex that the photograph of Rafael is a forgery. Alex is disappointed in them, but promises to keep their secret if Russel can arrange an interview with Jazy. The next day, Russel and Alex are unable to find Jazy’s house, and when Alex asks Guardia troops for directions, he is shot and killed. After photographing the incident, Russel is pursued by the soldiers and takes refuge in a shantytown. Meanwhile, Somoza holds a press conference announcing Alex’s death at the hands of “Sandinista terrorists.” Although she is dismayed by the news, Claire realizes Russel may be in danger and searches for him. The Guardia eventually abandon their pursuit and Russel is reunited with Claire. They reach Jazy’s home to find the Frenchman held at gunpoint by three teenaged Sandinistas, who accuse him of murder. When Russel confirms the accusation, Jazy criticizes him for supporting the rebels, predicting that Nicaragua will remain a dictatorship, regardless of the war’s outcome. The boys leave after killing Jazy, and Russel stays behind while Claire delivers his film canisters to the hotel. She returns to the house to find Russel has left, and wanders the city looking for him, surrounded by refugees. Claire spends the night at a makeshift hospital, where she sees a news broadcast displaying images of Alex’s murder. Facing an imminent Sandinista victory, Somoza flees to Miami, Florida, accompanied by Miss Panama. Claire wakens the next morning and returns to the hotel, relieved to find Russel alive. They join the celebration outside as Rafael’s casket is paraded through the streets, and encounter Oates among the revelers. Although Russel refuses to speak to him, the mercenary promises they will meet again in Thailand. Claire wonders if they allowed themselves to be seduced by the revolution, but Russel has no regrets.

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

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