Saturday, April 5, 2014


          The first round is completed and we have 8 movies moving on. There were no major upsets, but the upcoming matchups look intriguing.

Hamburger Hill (1)
Go Tell the Spartans (9)

The Deer Hunter (4)
Platoon (5)

Apocalypse Now (2)
84 Charlie Mopic (7)

Full Metal Jacket (3)
Casualties of War (6)
“Hamburger Hill” is balanced in its characters. There is a good mix of whites and blacks, veterans and replacements. The unit is heterogeneous, but not in a blatantly clichéd way like you see in 1940s and 1950s WWII movIes. No one is from Brooklyn. The movie concentrates on the five cherries, but the rest of the men are developed fairly well. Sgt. Frantz (McDermott) exemplifies the leadership of most Vietnam War sergeants. Doc aptly represents the stressed out medics who had to contend with the horrors inflicted on their charges. Biletsky is the FNG who has to grow up fast tempered by the cauldron of combat. A

“Go Tell the Spartans” is also a small heterogeneous unit movie, but it is much more clichéd. Col. Barker (Lancaster) is one of the top ten Vietnam War characters. He is the grizzled colonel who is a great leader, but not adept at playing the promotion game. Courcey is an interesting figure. He starts off as an enigmatic intellectual who appears to be out of place, then he goes native, but turns out to be a competent warrior. The rest of the men are stereotypes and badly written ones at that. The green, gung-ho LT, the druggie medic, the burned out vet. The most intriguing character is Cowboy – an ARVN corporal who is ruthless in dealing with any Vietnamese he assumes are VC. The twist to this odious guy is he is usually right. He is a portent to how Americans will come to view VC suspects”. C

Hamburger Hill = 9
Go Tell the Spartans = 7


HH tries hard to be realistic in its portrayal of soldier life. The movie uses the replacements to tutor the audience in Vietnam War 101. The dialogue tries too hard to jam slang into every conversation. The unit dynamics are a strength. The movie has a good feel for black/white relations in a combat unit. There is tension, but they realize they depend on each other in the bush. The men evidence a fatalism that is reflected in the unit’s pet phrase: “It don’t mean nothing.” The men are not enthusiastic about the war, but they do their jobs. B

GTS is a bit anachronistic. Set in 1964, the attitudes of most of the main characters are more appropriate for later in the war. Barker is too pessimistic about the war, for instance. It is also jarring to have a drug addict in the unit. Lt. Hamilton does behave like the typical shavetail who thinks what he was taught in Officers Training School actually could be applied to that unconventional war. The film does not overdo the slang. C

Hamburger Hill = 17
Go Tell the Spartans = 14


HH is based on an actual battle in Vietnam in 1969. The movie equips the actors with appropriate weapons, but several are armed with a later model of the M-16 than was available in the battle. Others are armed with M-60s and M-79 grenade launchers. The enemy are armed with AK-47s. There are no recoilless rifles even though in the actual battle they were keys to neutralizing the enemy bunkers. As far as tactics, the film is true to the frontal attacks that were forced by the American general that insisted on capturing the hill in spite of the fact that the terrain negated American mobility and fire support. B

GTS is not based on a real battle. The weaponry is circa 1964. Lt. Hamilton carries a Thompson, as do some of the ARVN. Barker is armed with a M3 grease gun. Most of the Americans have M1 Carbines and the ARVN mostly use M1 Garands. These weapons appear to be spot on (although I question the Thompsons in the hands of Vietnamese grunts). One discrepancy is the use of mortars to hit targets ten yards away. The movie makes a point of questioning American tactics explicitly (unlike the implicit criticism of HH). Barker is flummoxed by higher command’s desire to garrison an unimportant base in the middle of enemy controlled territory. The tactics used in defending the outpost are simplistically depicted, but not far off. Patrols are sent out and the enemy assault is a typical frontal attack at night that is defeated by firepower. C

Hamburger Hil =l 25
Go Tell the Spartans = 21


HH is a micro view of the Battle of Ap Bia Mountain (Hill 937). The movie does not try to give the big picture and the audience is left in the dark about the strategy necessitating what is depicted on the screen. The recreation of the battle is as close as you could ask for. It even has one (there were at least three) of the friendly fire by choppers incidents (although in reality the fire was rockets, not machine guns and less men were killed). Although the movie exaggerates the death rate (what war movie doesn’t?), the battle was actually very brutal and costly. One inaccuracy is between assaults, the men sit around in safety when in reality the battle was noted for having no front line and the enemy did a lot of infiltrating. B

GTS attempts to replicate the advisory period of U.S. involvement. It is based on a novel which was written by a war correspondent who was in S. Vietnam during the time period. He went on a mission to evacuate a village which was discovered to be abandoned and then imagined what it would have been like if the village had been converted into an outpost and had then come under enemy attack. One can question the accuracy of the attitudes at this stage of the war. The U.S. was arming and training the ARVN and local defense militias were incorporated. The corruption of S.V. high command is accurate as is the overconfidence of American leadership. The big problem is that the attitudes of most of the Americans is more appropriate for 1968 than 1964. C


Hamburger Hill = 33
Go Tell the Spartans = 28


“Go Tell the Spartans” is a movie that was overshadowed by two other Vietnam War movies when it came out in 1978 (“The Deer Hunter” and “Coming Home”). It could definitely be argued that it is superior to those two bloated epics. It is hampered by its low budget and some shoddy acting, but its heart is in the right place and has a cogent comment to make about the quick sand that the war devolved into. “Hamburger Hill” is the better movie overall because of superior acting, action, and accuracy. Interestingly, HH is more graphic in its combat, but less anti-war than GTS. By going micro, it fails to illuminate the misguided strategy involved in the battle. In this respect, it fumbled the chance to be an “after” to GTS’s “before” perspective.


  1. They are both good movies but you are right, Hamburger Hill is better made, with a much stronger cast. Still, I think they are two of the best movies on the Vietnam War.

  2. Totally agree. It's a shame one had to lose.


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