Follow TV Tropes

Following

Film / Go Tell the Spartans

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/gotellthespartans.jpg
Advertisement:

Go Tell the Spartans is a 1978 war film directed by Ted Post, starring Burt Lancaster.

1964: The Vietnam War is underway, but at this early stage of the conflict, US Army troops (which numbered around 16,000 at the time) were still only considered to be "advisers" to the South Vietnamese Army. Major Barker (Lancaster) is ordered by his superiors to occupy Muc Wa, a deserted hamlet. A decade earlier, French troops suffered a major defeat at Muc Wa, and the thinking is that if the Americans can succeed where the French failed, it would be a major show of force. But with few competent soldiers available, Barker must send the only men he has at his disposal. He hopes that nothing will go wrong, because the place is of little strategic value. But in a conflict that has already turned into a quagmire, things aren't so easy.

Advertisement:

One of the first Hollywood films to deal with Vietnam in the aftermath of the war, it only saw a limited release in 1978, but its unflinching portrayal of combat garnered major critical acclaim and it's considered a Cult Classic.


Go Tell the Spartans provides examples of:

  • Avengers, Assemble!: The members of The Squad are briefly introduced one by one in the beginning (Cowboy is showed torturing a prisoner, then Hamilton, Oleonowski, Courcey and Lincoln introduce themselves in Barker's office). A bit later, all the members are brought in the same room for a briefing.
  • The Cavalry: Muc Wa is attacked by hundreds of Viet Cong. Its defenders are outnumbered and outgunned, but helicopters show up to help them.
  • Les Collaborateurs: The South Vietnamese militiamen and mercenaries fight alongside the Americans against the Viet Cong.
  • Advertisement:
  • Cool Old Guy: Maj. Barker (played by Burt Lancaster who was in his sixties) is a bad ass. He goes personally to Muc Wa to exfiltrate his men, and finally he chooses to stay at Muc Wa with Cpl. Courcey.
  • Communications Officer: Cpl. Ackley is the communications expert at Muc Wa. Signalman Toffee has the same role at Penang.
  • Cunning Linguist: Cowboy can speak several languages. He translates the orders for the South Vietnamese militiamen and mercenaries.
  • Demolitions Expert: Cpl. Courcey is a demolitions expert. In the end, he blows up the arms and equipment left behind at Muc Wa.
  • Driven to Suicide: After Lt. Hamilton's death, Sgt. Oleonowski kills himself.
  • Ensign Newbie: Lt. Hamilton, an inexperienced officer, is put in command of the squad sent to Muc Wa.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Cpl. Courcey and Lt. Hamilton decide to host a bunch of Vietnamese civilians in the camp. They are actually Viet Cong supporters. In the end, they steal weapons and try to escape, but they are caught by Cowboy who kills them all, except the girl. The girl is then able to warn the Viet Cong who ambush Courcey, Barker and the South Vietnamese militiamen and mercenaries.
  • A Father to His Men: Maj. Barker cares for his men. In the beginning, he feels that Sgt. Oleonowski is burnt out, so he assigns him a minor task. In the end, he insults Gen. Harnitz to get reinforcements to save his men, then he goes personally to Muc Wa to exfiltrate them, and finally he chooses to stay at Muc Wa with Cpl. Courcey.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on the novel Incident at Muc Wa by Daniel Ford (1967), one of the first books written about the war, back when it was still very much a Ripped from the Headlines situation. Ford had been one of the few American reporters on the ground in Vietnam during the early phase of the conflict.
  • General Failure: Gen. Harnitz decides to occupy Muc Wa, which proves to be very difficult to defend. To make things worse, when Muc Wa is going to be attacked, he first refuses to send reinforcements.
  • The General's Daughter: The general's wife, in Maj. Barker's case. He tells Capt. Olivetti that he is barred from promotion, because he had an affair with the wife of a general.
  • History Repeats: The French were defeated at Muc Wa. The Americans say several time that they will not be defeated like them. They end up being defeated.
  • Home Guard: Troops of the South Vietnamese Popular Force (a local militia), armed with shotguns and old rifles, go with the squad to Muc Wa.
  • I Choose to Stay: Cpl. Courcey chooses to stay at Muc Wa with the Vietnamese. Maj. Barker tries to dissuade him. Since it does not work, he chooses to stay too.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: The general's wife was having oral sex with Maj. Barker in a park, when her husband, another general and the President of the United States caught the lovers in the act.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Cowboy was right: the Vietnamese civilians are Viet Cong supporters. In the end, they steal weapons and try to escape.
  • Knight In Sour Armor: Maj. Barker is aware of the horrors of war from start, but he is still somewhat idealist. In the beginning, he is shocked by the interrogation method of Cowboy. In the end, he chooses to stay at Muc Wa with Cpl. Courcey.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title is taken from an epitaph by the Greek poet Simonides of Ceos. The Americans find a sign with the quote at the cemetery where the French soldiers who died at Muc Wa are buried.
  • Majorly Awesome: Maj. Barker is a bad ass. He goes personally to Muc Wa to exfiltrate his men. In the end, he chooses to stay at Muc Wa with Cpl. Courcey.
  • Meaningful Name: Daniel Ford, the author of the original novel, chose "Muc Wa" as the name for the fictional village because it sounded like "muck war".
  • The Medic: Cpl. Abraham Lincoln is a medic and he treats the wounded men at Muc Wa.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: The girl taken in by Courcey seems to be a submissive girl who is in love with him. However, he does not have sex with her. Subverted, because she is not submissive: she is actually a Viet Cong supporter. In the end, she escapes and she warns the Viet Cong who ambush Courcey, Barker and the South Vietnamese militiamen and mercenaries.
  • Military Maverick: Maj. Barker does not always obey his superiors. When he is ordered to occupy Muc Wa, he does not obey at first. Gen. Harnitz has to come personally to Penang to force him to carry out the orders. Later, he sends an insulting message to Gen. Harnitz to ask for reinforcements.
  • New Meat: Lt. Hamilton and Cpl. Courcey have no combat experience.
  • Non-Indicative Name: A South Vietnamese colonel is nicknamed Lard Ass by the Americans, but he's actually of average build.
  • Old Soldier: Maj. Barker (played by Burt Lancaster who was in his sixties) is an experienced soldier (he fought in World War II and the Korean War). He is still efficient in the field: he goes personally to Muc Wa to exfiltrate his men, and finally he chooses to stay at Muc Wa with Cpl. Courcey.
  • Outrun the Fireball: Courcey and Barker run out of Muc Wa barracks when they blow up the arms and equipment left behind.
  • Psycho for Hire: Cpl. "Cowboy" enjoys torturing and killing people. He is a mercenary hired as an interpreter and an interrogation specialist by the Americans.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The soldiers sent to Muc Wa: idealist rookies, an exhausted veteran, a junkie, a psychopathic South Vietnamese mercenary... Justified because they are the only men available and because Barker thinks that the Viet Cong will not attack Muc Wa.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Cpl. Courcey was sent to Vietnam because he kicked an officer for kicking a dog.
  • Red Right Hand: The one-eyed Viet Cong scout is ominious.
  • La Résistance: The Viet Cong fight against the Americans.
  • Rousing Speech: Subverted. Lt. Hamilton tries to give one before leaving Penang. Cowboy translates it for the Vietnamese, who burst into laughter when Hamilton mentions the fight for liberty. So he stops his speech. Then Cowboy just shouts in Vietnamese "Let's kill the communists!" and the Vietnamese repeat it enthusiastically.
  • Sergeant Rock: Sgt. Oleonowski, a jaded but efficient non-commissioned officer who helps Lt. Hamilton.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: The unit of Sgt. Oleonowski was massacred previously. He is still under shock. After Lt. Hamilton's death, he commits suicide.
  • The Siege: Muc Wa is attacked by the Viet Cong. The squad has to defend it, with the help of South Vietnamese militiamen and mercenaries.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Cowboy visibly enjoys torturing and killing Viet Cong and suspects.
  • The Squad: A squad is sent to Muc Wa. It is made of Lt. Hamilton (the Ensign Newbie), Sgt. Oleonowski (Sergeant Rock), Cpl. Courcey (the New Meat and the Demolitions Expert), Cpl. Abraham Lincoln (The Medic), Cpl. Ackley (the Communications Officer), and Cpl. "Cowboy" (the Cunning Linguist).
  • Token Evil Teammate: Cpl. "Cowboy" is the member of the squad who enjoys torturing and killing enemies.
  • Token Minority: Signalman Toffee is the only black character and he plays a minor role.
  • Unbuilt Trope: At times this film feels like Platoon meets Full Metal Jacket with a pinch of Apocalypse Now, but it predates all of them.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Incident at Muc Wa author Daniel Ford tagged along with a Special Forces unit in 1964 who'd been sent on a march through the Vietnamese mountains that ultimately produced very little in the way of combat. One of the stops was an abandoned village called Tan Hoa, where they encountered a few gravestones of French soldiers who died in the First Indochina War. Based on this, Ford came up with a fictionalized version of events where a unit fights against the Viet Cong in a similar village. Maj. Barker and Cowboy were both based on real people Ford worked with.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Lt. Hamilton vomits offscreen after Cowboy beheads a Viet Cong soldier.
  • War Is Hell: The main theme, as things just keep getting worse and worse for the Americans. At the very end of the film, a caption that just says "1964" pops up, emphasizing that the horrific things we've just seen were only the beginning. America still had 11 years to go in Vietnam.
  • War Was Beginning: The film opens with some text explaining that the story takes place in the "advisory" period before the US began major operations in Vietnam, with the results of the First Indochina War (the defeat of the French and Communist forces gaining control of the northern part of the country) still looming large.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Maj. Barker notes that "Abraham Lincoln" is an unfortunate name. He even says this is probably the reason why Cpl. Lincoln is away with the fairies.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist:
    • Lt. Hamilton. He is under shock when Cowboy beheads a Viet Cong soldier. He accepts to host a group of Vietnamese civilians in the camp to protect them. He is finally killed when he tries to rescue a wounded man left behind.
    • Cpl. Courcey. He proposes to host a group of Vietnamese civilians in the camp to protect them. He chooses to stay at Muc Wa with the Vietnamese. Finally, he is the only survivor of the group left there, but he has lost his idealism and enthusiasm.
    • Downplayed in the case of Maj. Barker, because he is aware of the horrors of war from start, even if he is still somewhat idealist (so he is a Knight In Sour Armor). In the beginning, he is shocked by the interrogation method of Cowboy. In the end, he chooses to stay at Muc Wa with Cpl. Courcey. He is killed in an ambush.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Maj. Barker had an affair with the wife of a general.

Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report