One of the first Vietnam War action pictures presented anachronistic World War II-style heroics of the American Special Forces, featuring one-man USA propaganda machine John Wayne, who also co-directed the film (and who originally said he made the film to help re-elect President Johnson).
United States Army Special Forces troops (“Green Berets”) under the command of career soldier Colonel Mike Kirby (Wayne) defend a Da Nang firebase during the Vietnam war. Wayne is his wonderfully dated dauntless self, squinting through twin slits in his sunburned face and drawling, “I’d kinda like ta eyeball this situation.”
Cynical war correspondent George Beckwith (David Janssen) – who is always shown with a typewriter, never a pad or a pencil – accompanies Kirby and objects to both the war and the means by which it is executed.
The Green Berets had elements from every war film ever made: a parachute jump; Viet Cong soldiers in luxury, uniform, champagne and caviar – apparently based on the German high command; a little Asian orphan named “Hamchunk”; battle scenes right out of The Red Badge of Courage and The Dirty Dozen; the blowing up of an economy-sized Bridge On The River Kwai; a dying dog . . .
All the Vietnamese characters in the film talked like south Vietnamese Captain Nim (George Takei): “My home is Hanoi. I go home too someday. You see. First, kill all stinking Cong. Then go home.”
The closest the actual production got to Vietnam was Fort Benning, Columbus, Georgia – which was chosen for filming because the surrounding countryside was considered a good facsimile of Vietnam.
Unfortunately, the leaves began to turn brown for autumn and the foliage had to be sprayed green to avoid a visual catastrophe.
The Americans spend all their time in Vietnam doing nice things, like offering medical assistance to needy peasants and hugging adorable children.
Meanwhile, the Vietcong are a massive, faceless force of evil, murdering children and raping women. War correspondent Beckwith suddenly realises that America is totally in the right.
The last act spins off into a wacky subplot about the US kidnap of a Viet Cong general. Special Forces put him in an orange jumpsuit and whisk him away to an off-the-grid detention facility (which may leave modern audiences with an unpleasant sense of déjà vu).
Widely considered one of the worst movies of the 60s (the New York Times said “It is vile and insane. On top of that, it is dull” ), actual Vietnam veterans were unanimous in their disdain for the version of the war that was represented in the film – and to top it all off, the (in)famous ending features the sun setting in the East!
Col. Mike Kirby
Sgt. Doc McGee
Raymond St Jacques