Directed by John Wayne, Ray Kellogg and Mervyn LeRoy (uncredited)
Doubting reporter George Beckworth (David Janssen) follows two teams of Green Berets lead by Col. Mike Kirby (John Wayne) during their mission in South Vietnam.
The Green Berets is the only pro-Vietnam War film produced at the time. Or ever produced in movie history probably. It has more in common with a war film produced during or shortly after World War II than it does with the usual Vietnam film. It is much more humorous and upbeat than any of the others. It has jokes. It has the humorous characters. It has John Wayne essentially being the dad.
The mission at the end of the film to capture the Vietnamese general reminds me more of those 80s films that try to rewrite Vietnam than it does anything else. It is definitely a work of pure Hollywood action fiction. The escape from the valley headquarters feels like one of those low budget Vietnam films that was actually filmed in sunny Southern California. In this case it was not sunny California but mostly in Georgia.
You have a good cast. Aside from John Wayne and David Janssen, you have Aldo Ray (Sergeant Muldoon), Raymond St. Jacques (“Doc” McGee), regular Wayne costar Bruce Cabot (Col. Morgan), Jack Soo of Barney Miller fame (Colonel Cai) and George Takei (Captain Nghiem).
Maybe I have seen too many of the standard Vietnam films but the “We’re all pals and going on a jolly adventure” thing among the American servicemen just does not work for me. It feels awkward at best. Either be a lighthearted war film or a serious film in support of the Vietnam War. Straddling never works.
There is an individual named Sgt. Petersen (Jim Hutton) that gets yanked into Col. Kirby’s command because he is a capable scrounger. That is fine but it is all done in a very humorous way. And he has the ridiculously nice barracks from all his scrounging that could only exist in Hollywood. He has a rocking chair and a selection of alcohol in this fancy wine cask type thing. He has a few cases of Coca-Cola too. And when he gets to Vietnam, he must get ahold of corrugated aluminum which he does by simply stealing it. It is all what you would find in a comedy.
I can usually forgive flaws in the special effects in older films. They were not as easy to do back then as they are today. And there is only one real special effect shot in this film. Everything else is on set explosions and so forth. What I am talking about is the helicopter crash towards the end of the film.
Kirby’s helicopter takes enemy fire and is crashing. The exterior shots of the helicopter are clearly a model dangling on a string. You see the string! They put it against a black background and spin it around. They should not have done a static shot. Maybe some movement in the camera or make the cuts to the exterior shorter in duration. It is just real bad.
But wait! It gets worse! When the helicopter finally crashes into the ground you can clearly see the ropes release to allow the helicopter mockup to crash to the ground. All they had to do was maybe put it up a foot higher and cut out the release of the ropes. You would have had enough of a shot.
By the end of the movie the reporter played by David Janssen seems to have come around to a more favorable view of the war. At least he is not as certain of disliking it. I do not think you could do that today and get away with it. Not that it could not be a logical outcome of the script, but I do not think audiences would accept it.
Overall I enjoyed this movie. It was nice to see John Wayne in something other than a cowboy hat. And if you take it as a light war film, you will find it enjoyable. If you take it as a serious discussion of the Vietnam War you may not come out with a positive view of the movie. Do not go in with too political of a mindset and you will be fine.