Cast & Crew
Disillusioned and uncertain about his future, a Vietnam veteran journeys back to Southeast Asia to search among thousands of war orphans for the son he left behind.
Terry K Meade
John W. Wheeler
Television was already active in this arena, and John Erman's atmospheric TV movie Green Eyes fully merited the Peabody Prize it won for ABC with its "touching, moving" depiction of the heartache endured by an African-American man who goes back to Vietnam in search of the child he left behind when he returned to his Chicago home as a wounded veteran. The drama also earned a Humanitas Prize for David Seltzer, who wrote the teleplay, and Eugene Logan, who collaborated with him on the original story. Although it was shot in the Philippines rather than Vietnam, use of well-chosen archival footage along with canny location work by director Erman, cinematographer Terry K. Meade, and art director Phil Barber presents a portrait of war-generated turmoil, poverty, and bewilderment that's always persuasive and sometimes truly harrowing.
Green Eyes begins with newsreel images of soldiers stepping onto American soil after flying home from the war. Lloyd Dubeck, played with quiet assurance by Paul Winfield, is one such veteran, walking with a permanent limp caused by a battle injury. Before going to see his family he visits the rural home of Noel Cousins (Jonathan Lippe), a combat buddy who went missing in action and is presumed dead. Noel's uncle (Dabbs Greer), a World War II veteran, signals the film's underlying attitude to the Vietnam conflict when he rejects Lloyd's well-meant words about patriotism and sacrifice, responding that this particular war has been a worthless waste of blood and treasure.
Lloyd's mood darkens more when he gets to Chicago and finds that his family was forced to move after being evicted when they couldn't pay the rent. Looking for work, he discovers that he's too disabled for physical jobs, not educated enough for desk jobs, and handicapped by his uniform because employers hate the war. On top of this, he deeply misses his Vietnamese lover Em Thuy (Victoria Racimo) and the baby he has never seen - called Green Eyes, the child's most striking feature - and eventually he overrides his mother's objections and travels back to Saigon.
The film's portrayal of urban deprivation in Chicago was bleak, but the misery in Saigon is genuinely harsh. Beggars plead for help on every side, many of them disfigured by injuries, malnutrition, and disease, and the surroundings are correspondingly desolate. Making things even worse, Lloyd is tormented by guilt-ridden flashbacks to the war, where his unit committed the sort of atrocities that were all too frequent in Vietnam.
Lloyd finally tracks down Em Thuy's mother, who tells him that the baby died and Dem Thuy has gone away. Refusing to believe the baby is dead, Lloyd decides to search every orphanage he can locate, and at one of them he meets Margaret Sheen (Rita Tushingham), an English aid worker who encourages him to light a candle in the darkness by helping out with the children in her care. Saigon holds untold numbers of abandoned boys and girls, he learns, including a high proportion of mixed-race kids regarded as useless burdens by their mothers; once he's aware of this, Lloyd decides to assist Margaret while continuing his quest for his own child. Other important characters are Trung (Lemi), a wily but irresistible homeless boy who latches on to Lloyd as a father figure, and Lloyd's old friend Noel, who survived the explosion that supposedly killed him and now thrives on the comfortable profits of various black-market enterprises. Lloyd finds Em Thuy in the end - she's now the poor but happily married mother of a new baby - and must then decide how and where he will choose to live the remainder of his life.
Green Eyes was only the second TV movie directed by Erman, but throughout the 1960s he had directed episodes of major shows (NBC's Star Trek, ABC's The Fugitive) and in the year when Green Eyes aired he was one of the directors of ABC's Roots, earning one of the 37 Emmy nominations garnered by that phenomenally popular miniseries about African-American history. In all he was nominated for nine Emmys as best director of a TV movie or miniseries, averaging one for every three and a half productions. Green Eyes also benefits from marvelous acting by Winfield, an Academy Award nominee for Martin Ritt's Sounder (1972) five years earlier, and Tushingham, who became a star in the 1960s with numerous British New Wave films and David Lean's international hit Doctor Zhivago (1965). Both excel in Green Eyes.
Seltzer came to Green Eyes fresh from the success of The Omen, a 1976 horror hit he wrote for director Richard Donner, and the Green Eyes screenplay was clearly a labor of love. He had visited Saigon in 1973 to research a documentary about war orphans, and he gave an interviewer a vivid description of what he encountered there: "Children were spilling out of the orphanages. They were in the streets - it looked like Calcutta. One orphanage had 3,000 children, a staff of ten and food every day for only a few hundred. There were rooms full of babies, literally acres of babies, languishing." Even under these destitute circumstances, kids desperate for affection would leave the food line and come over to Seltzer when they found that he would give them a hug. In all, the city held an estimated 100,000 half-American orphans and another half-million Vietnamese children without homes or parents. Like the film's fictional hero, Seltzer befriended a street boy named Trung and went to work for a relief organization. His experiences give the film a genuine ring of truth.
According to the Peabody organization, its first Vietnam-related prize was given in 1965 to journalist Morley Safer, honoring him for opening Americans' eyes to the realities of the war; winning shows in the years after Green Eyes have included Paul Krasny's When Hell Was in Session (NBC, 1979), David Greene's Friendly Fire (ABC, 1979), the thirteen-part Vietnam: A Television History (PBS, 1983), and Bill Couturie's Dear America: Letter Home from Vietnam (HBO, 1988). The judges have repeatedly recognized the importance of productions about complex and controversial arising from the Vietnam War and its aftermath, and Green Eyes still works as a stirring, enlightening, and richly humanistic drama.
Director: John Erman
Producer: John Erman, David Seltzer
Screenplay: David Seltzer; story by David Seltzer and Eugene Logan
Cinematographer: Terry K. Meade
Film Editing: John W. Wheeler
Art Direction: Phil Barber
Music: Fred Karlin
With: Paul Winfield (Lloyd Dubeck), Rita Tushingham (Margaret Sheen), Jonathan Lippe (Noel Cousins), Victoria Racimo (Em Thuy), Lemi (Trung), Royce Wallace (Mrs. Dubeck), Robert DoQui (Hal), Claudia Bryar (Mrs. Cousins), Dabbs Greer (Mr. Cousins), Joseph Hieu (Minh)
by David Sterritt
Aired in United States January 3, 1977