Who in their right minds would want to watch, let alone Netflix or buy, the forthcoming Bluray of John Wayne‘s The Green Berets when it streets on 1.10.10? The only star-fortified Hollywood film that was wholly supportive of the U.S.war effort in Vietnam, The Green Berets (directed by Wayne and released in July 1968) became legendary for its ludicrousness — a turgid propaganda film that screamed “reality detachment!” at every turn.
It’s set in Vietnam, of course, and is basically about a special Green Beret mission to capture a North Vietnamese general. (Or so I recall.) It feels informed by 1950s war movie cliches — totally divorced from the raggedy look and feel of the war as portrayed by Oliver Stone in Platoon, and not even imagining, much less trying for, the operatic psychedelia that Francis Coppola brought to Apocalypse Now. It is, however, a dream — a dream taking place in John Wayne’s head. It’s one of Roger Ebert‘s most-hated flicks — a “heavy-handed, remarkably old-fashioned film,” he wrote.
There are no Platoon-type lefties or complainers or pot-smokers in the Green Beret ranks, of course. We’re talking serious commandos who don’t fool around, which means no Willem Dafoe-ish Jesus-type sergeants either. All of the American good guys (including Wayne, Jim Hutton, Bruce Cabot and Aldo Ray) are older, beefier, sentimental, right-minded lunks who love Vietnamese kids and energetically dispense medicine to the peasants. The only lefty is an anti-war journalist, played by David Janseen, although he comes around during the third act.
Nothing seems remotely authentic in The Green Berets. The gulps and wrongos and what-the-fuckos come fast and furious. Because Wayne filmed it in Fort Benning, Georgia, there are white birch and pine trees in the Vietnam jungle. And the Asian-American actors Wayne hired to play South Vietnamese military intelligence advisors don’t look even a bit Vietnamese. (They represent a midway point between actual Vietnamese and Marlon Brando ‘s Sakini in Teahouse of the August Moon) I recall a line in Pauline Kael‘s review about how the North Vietnamese general “mews” like a kitten when Wayne’s team takes him prisoner. (Which happens just before he’s about to have his way with a slinky Asian hottie inside a plantation villa.) Really, it’s one hoot after another.
So again, honestly — who would want to spend two hours with this thing? Is someone at Warner Home Video trying to get people thinking about what a certain-to-fail fiasco our Afghanistan mission is?
DVD Beaver’s Gary Tooze has recounted the film’s troubled production and distribution history:
“Long before box office or critical response became a factor, Wayne had different worries prior to production. He needed some of the resources of the Pentagon to make his film as realistic as possible, but the military brass at the Pentagon were no fans of the 1965 national bestseller on which the movie was based. Robin Moore‘s collection of short stories called ‘The Green Berets‘ portrayed the crack commando unit as lawless, sadistic, and racist. Moore, who plays a cameo in the film and claimed to have trained as a Green Beret, stated that these attributes were the signs of ‘real men.’
“A feature-length, big budget movie that was to be based on such a depiction of the American military elite made the Pentagon quite nervous. Naturally, Pentagon officials demanded changes to the script before Wayne and company were granted access to Fort Benning, Georgia, with all its modern hardware at their disposal.
“These conflicts in pre-production, as well as normal shooting delays, hampered the film’s release until July, 1968, a full six months after the Communists’ Tet Offensive, which was the beginning of the end for an American victory in Vietnam. The delayed release proved unfortunate since The Green Berets arrived on the heels of the notorious My Lai massacre in March, 1968, an incident which seriously undermined the film’s credibility.”