Julius Vrooder, played powerfully by Timothy Bottoms, was a US Marine in Vietnam. Out on patrol one day, he stopped to help a woman with a baby who was crying out and his unit marched on into an ambush a few moments later and was wiped out.
As another American unit retaliated, he was caught in the middle, which caused more damage to his brain than his body.
Back home in the US, he fears reality and hides in his own self-created, perfect hospital world at Sawtelle veterans’ hospital in West Los Angeles, playing the zany, unpredictable psycho everyone loves and hates.
His best friends are a deaf World War II vet (Albert Salmi) – with whom he digs graves at a nearby veterans’ cemetery – and a near-deaf World War I vet (veteran Hollywood director George Marshall) who was only 17 when he cracked in the trenches – with whom he smokes marijuana. They know how to play sick to face the world.
He falls in love with a cherub nurse, played like innocence reincarnated by Barbara Hershey, and dreams of marrying her in a secret ceremony and flying off to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where his uncle will give them his house in the woods.
Vrooder builds a camouflaged underground ‘hooch’ in a wooded thicket within the curve of the neighbouring freeway on-ramp and when he steals running water, electricity and phone lines from the city utility companies he is hunted down and attacked like a vicious criminal.
The reminders of war and death and stupidity are everywhere.
Barbara Hershey (billed as Barbara Seagull)
Dr Melvin Passki