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Film / The Green Berets

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"One hundred men will test today, but only three win the Green Beret."
Barry Sadler, "Ballad of the Green Berets"

A war film released in 1968, starring and (co)-directed by none other than John Wayne (Ray Kellogg was the other co-director). It was the height of The Vietnam War and public opinion in the US was already at the tipping point.note  The Duke was unhappy with the anti-war protests and general discontent that surrounded him. In order to counteract that, he decided to make a film about the Army's elite Special Forces, also known by their nickname "Green Berets".

The film is about a reporter named George Beckworth (David Janssen), who is very critical of the war and is reporting on a group of Green Berets who are about to leave for Vietnam. Initially, he has a low opinion of the "brainwashed" soldiers but when asked if he has ever been to Vietnam, he realizes that he does not really know what the situation on the ground is like and decides to travel there to see the war for himself. When Beckworth gets to Vietnam, he finds that it is nothing like what the critics back home have been saying and is forced to confront his own personal beliefs out in the unforgiving jungle.

The film was very controversial for its pro-Saigon and American stance. Critics were upset with how it seemed to glorify the war and painted an overly simplistic picture of what was actually going on. Oliver Stone was inspired to create Platoon after seeing the film and it is partially a response to this one. Incidentally, more than a few currently serving Special Forces soldiers have cited it as an inspiration for their decision to wear the Green Beret.

The Green Berets provides examples of:

  • Artistic License – Geography: The infamous Against the Setting Sun ending with Kirby and Hamchuck walking on the beach in Da Nang as the sun goes down over the water. The only part of the South Vietnamese coastline that faces west is the very southeast tip of the country, almost a thousand miles/kilometers from Da Nang, which, like the rest of the country, is bounded on the east by the South China Sea.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Played straight; George Takei plays a handsome South Vietnamese commander, and his Viet Cong counterpart is anything but.
  • Black-and-White Morality: America and the South are good. The communists are evil. It's that simple.
  • Booby Trap: A very nasty example in the form of the punji stakes used by the Vietcong. Characters talk about how they are coated in filth so they will infect any wounds and a little girl who got caught in one is later treated by Sergeant McGee.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Averted by the Green Berets, who are portrayed more realistically as advisors and leaders rather than one-man armies.
  • The Film of the Song: Not literally an example, but in many ways the film was playing Follow the Leader with Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets", which had been a massive #1 hit in America in 1966. A choral arrangement of the song itself is used at the beginning of the film.
  • Gatling Good: In the form of a Gunship Rescue from a AC-47 "Puff The Magic Dragon" gunship. Incidentally, this was one of the first depictions of an electric-driven Gatling gun on film, making it something of an Ur-Example.
  • I Have My Ways: Petersen is known for getting stuff he shouldn't have. His room is filled with tons of stuff and even when off of the army base he still manages to smuggle in most of his luxuries. The team ends up using his skills to get their hands on a number of critical supplies that they normally shouldn't have. He manages to get his hands on several extra-heavy machine guns for the base in a rather hilarious sequence that includes having to explain his methods.
    Captain Coleman: Oh, uh, I noticed a load of corrugated tin has miraculously appeared overnight.
    Capt. Mac-Daniel: Sergeant Petersen provided it.
    Captain Coleman: Well, that's a good man you've got there.
    Colonel Mike Kirby: Sergeant Petersen say where he got it?
    Capt. Mac-Daniel: He, uh, said The Good Fairy left it.
    Colonel Mike Kirby: [smiling] I hope he said The Good Fairy left it, SIR!
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice:
    • Kowalski kills a Vietcong by shoving him against a conveniently placed tree branch.
    • Petersen is killed when he is impaled on a spike trap.
  • In Name Only: Although it is an adaptation of a book, the movie uses very little material from the original source. The most notable scene taken from the book was the ending where the team abducts a high ranking North Vietnamese officer using a beautiful woman as bait.
  • Last Stand: Kowalski is ambushed by four Vietcong soldiers and manages to take them all down before dying of his wounds.
  • Promotion, Not Punishment: After Col. Kirby catches Petersen (then a Specialist) stealing from his supply depot, he makes him a Green Beret and a Sergeant.
  • Rebel Leader: Captain Nim, who commands the Montagnards. He hates the communists as much, if not more, than the Americans.
  • Retirony: Captain Coleman falls afoul of the going to go home version.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: While not the first or only Hollywood film about Vietnam made during the war, as is sometimes claimed, it was still the most high profile example.
  • The Scrounger: Sgt. Petersen (Jim Hutton). His first assignment as a Green Beret was to get back from his previous unit everything he had scrounged from the Berets.
  • Shown Their Work: Thanks to backing from the Pentagon, the movie enjoys access to all sorts of period-accurate uniforms and equipment. Some of the mock villages built for the sets were so realistic that the Army reused them later on as training sites.
  • Smoldering Shoes: Happens after a mortar shell strike.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: The reporters in the opening scene ask leading questions suggesting that they see all soldiers like this.
  • Spikes of Doom: Peterson dies by getting impaled by a spike trap.
  • The Squad:
  • Straw Character: Beckworth is a straw anti-war reporter, who does a complete 180º after seeing the humanitarian work the soldiers do, witnessing a North Vietnamese attack, and understanding why America is fighting.
  • The Stoic: Col. Kirby. [[spoiler: Subverted in the end when, just before evacuation, Petersen triggers a trap that impales him on a wall of spikes. Kirby is visibly distraught over Petersen's death.
  • Tagalong Kid: Hamchuck.