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Film / Last Days in Vietnam

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Last Days in Vietnam is a 2014 documentary film written and directed by Rory Kennedy (daughter of Robert F. Kennedy).

It is an accounting of the end of The Vietnam War, specifically the frantic American evacuation in April 1975 as South Vietnam collapses and the North Vietnamese armies converge in triumph on Saigon. The speed of the disaster catches everyone by surprise. The American authorities in South Vietnam, led by Ambassador Graham Martin, refuse to accept the plain evidence of an unfolding distaster, and thus delay evacuation until the last moment, with terrible consequences. As the communists close in on the capital, the Americans are forced to resort to a desperate evacuation by helicopter airlift over barely 24 hours. As soldiers, sailors, pilots and State Department civilians scramble to get out, they are faced with a terrible problem: the untold thousands of South Vietnamese civilans associated with the American presence, who are desperate to escape before the vengeful North Vietnamese arrive.


One of the main talking heads is Frank Snepp, then a CIA analyst at the Saigon embassy, who later wrote the definitive book about the fall of Saigon, Decent Interval. Other interviewees include a U.S. Army intelligence officer, the Marine guards who manned the perimeter at the American embassy, a Marine helicopter pilot who flew in and out of Saigon evacuating Vietnamese civilians, an Vietnamese student who tried to make it out through the embassy, and a South Vietnamese naval officer charged with keeping South Vietnam's navy ships out of the hands of the communists.



  • Blatant Lies: After the order comes from Washington to end the airlift, the last Americans in the embassy compound lie through their teeth to the 420 Vietnamese inside the walls, telling them that more helicopters are on the way.
  • Cassandra Truth: Stuart Harrington tells Ambassador Martin straight-up that South Vietnam is going down the tubes and the Americans need to get out immediately. Martin refuses to accept this, saying "It's not so bleak". He delays the evacuation until the last moment.
  • Documentary: Of the undignified end to the 20-year American presence in South Vietnam, as the United States evacuates at the last minute, leaving many of their South Vietnamese people behind.
  • How We Got Here: Opens with Stuart Harrington recounting how he begged a South Vietnamese army colonel to get on a plane along with his large family, rather than stay behind and attempt a doomed defense of Saigon.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: A stock documentary trope employed straight with many still photos, like when U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin is introduced with a slow zoom onto his official portrait.
  • The Mutiny: A well-intentioned one. Stuart Harrington and Frank Snepp talk about how they started up illegal "black" evacuations of their own, in secret, after Ambassador Martin refused to authorize a withdrawal.
  • Precision F-Strike: Ron Nessen talks about how he'd never heard President Gerald Ford use a curse word, until Congress refused to pass an emergency $722 million aid package to South Vietnam. Ford responds to this news by saying "Those sons of bitches." (This is balanced out by a clip of U.S. Congressperson Millicent Fenwick in archive footage, pointing out that the United States had spent a lot of money in South Vietnam and it was pretty late in the day for more.)
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: It was a disaster from the viewpoint of the Americans, anyway. As Harrington talks about the collapse of the South Vietnamese army a standard Disaster Map graphic shows the advance of the North Vietnamese into the country as a spreading red flood.
  • Stock Footage: As one might expect, loads and loads of stock footage of the chaotic evacuation.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Frank Snepp recalls that "White Christmas" over the American radio station was the signal for the emergency evacuation, so that song plays over stock footage of the chaotic streets.note 
  • Talking Heads: In standard documentary format, as folks like Frank Snepp and Army captain Stuart Harrington talk about their roles in the evacuation, and Vietnamese like student Bin Pho talk about the experiences of civilians caught up in the unfolding disaster.
  • Video Credits: A montage during the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue shows 1975 photos of the Vietnamese interviewees, then video of each of them 40 years later.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: A credits sequence gives the post-war fates of the Vietnamese interviewed in the film.

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