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John Wayne's second directorial effort, The Green Berets, was met with much controversy when first released in 1968. While The Alamo (1960) was received with some critical derision, the Vietnam War epic was lambasted by most critics for its simplistic depiction of the conflict. But despite overwhelming protest and attacks on the movie in the press, Wayne was famously resolute in defense of the film. Audiences rewarded Wayne's persistence by pouring over $11 million into the box office coffers. It was his opinion that The Green Berets was a financial success because the "ridiculously one-sided criticism of the picture only made people more conscious of it," proving that "the reviews were not very effective." The Duke always maintained that he was simply trying to remind the audience that soldiers were dying for them. He knew about this firsthand because he had volunteered for a tour of Vietnam combat zones where he entertained troops, often at the risk of his own safety. It was this experience that inspired his movie.
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.
But for fans of John Wayne, The Green Berets is significant because it is one of his most personal projects and genuinely reflects his true feelings about the Vietnam situation. It also holds the dubious distinction of being the only pro-war film made in the sixties and is justly famous for a hilarious gaffe in the final scene: the film ends with a shot of the sun setting in the China Sea to the east of Vietnam.
Director: Ray Kellogg, John Wayne
Producer: Michael Wayne
Screenplay: James Lee Barrett, based on the novel by Robin Moore
Cinematography: Winton C. Hoch
Editor: Otho Lovering
Music: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: John Wayne (Col. Mike Kirby), David Janssen (George Beckworth), Jim Hutton (Sergeant Petersen), Aldo Ray (Sergeant Muldoon), Raymond St. Jacques (Doc McGee).
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by Scott McGee