DID YOU READ

6 Movies That Are Secretly About Vietnam

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By Kevin Maher

Movies are just one way America deals with the stuff it can’t quite deal with. The Vietnam war is one of the most difficult periods in America’s history. You can tell because it has been touched upon in so many different kinds of movies: historic drama (Platoon), revenge fantasy (Missing in Action), family-friendly revisionism (Disney’s Operation Dumbo Drop), and exploitation films about the “troubled Vietnam vet” (Billy Jack).

Those examples address the war explicitly, while other movies deal with the scars of war through subtext. (The same way the 2014 Godzilla isn’t about 9/11 but it’s TOTALLY about 9/11.)

Here are six movies that address the Vietnam war in their own subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways.

6. The Bad News Bears (1976)

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

At the risk of sounding like a paranoid college professor: The Bad News Bears is about Vietnam. This sports comedy doesn’t end with the rag-tag misfits winning the big game; nope, they lose. The movie is about coming to terms with defeat.

After the Bears blow the championship, Coach Buttermaker hands out beers to the kids, saying, “You should be damn proud of yourselves.”

During the closing ceremony even the obnoxious winning team admits that the Bears “got guts, all of ya.”

Our heroes defiantly reject pity, throwing their trophy into the dirt – just like the Vietnam Vets who discarded their medals when they came home. Angry shortstop Tanner Boyle tells the Yankees they can take their apology and their trophy and shove it “straight up yer ass!” Scrawny right fielder Timmy Lupus shouts, “Just wait ’til next year!”

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Opera music swells as a dramatic closing shot of the American flag dissolves into a black-and-white photo of the Bears standing together like a platoon (and they’re just a few years younger than the boys who’d been sent to Vietnam).

The moral for the Bears (and for 1976 America) is: there’s no shame in coming in 2nd. Also, apparently in 1976 it was okay for a grown man to give kids beer.


5. Predator (1987)

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Set in the fictional country Val Verde (and devoid of any real-world political baggage) Predator sends a group of men into the jungle to fight an invisible enemy. Sound familiar? How about that photo of Jesse Ventura holding a machine gun in an exploding rain forest – what does that remind you of? (Sorry to sound like Walter from The Big Lebowski, but Predator is about Vietnam.)

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s science-fiction film was released the same summer as Full Metal Jacket and Hamburger Hill, a big year for Vietnam movies.

In Predator, the soldiers quickly discover that they were dispatched on false pretenses—echoing the sentiment that Americans were lied to by the government. (See also: the mayor who won’t close the beaches in Jaws.)

When the mission becomes hopeless, all the heroes want is to “get to da choppa” (i.e. the last helicopter out of Saigon).

In one scene, Dutch (Arnold) tells Dillon (Carl Weathers), “You can’t win this.” (Um, yeah, you might even call it an “unwinnable war.”) Dillon replies, “Maybe I can get even”—thereby making Predator another ’80s war-revenge movie where America gets a do-over. This go-back-and-win fantasy is seen in Missing in Action (1984), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and even a two-part episode of Magnum, P.I. (1985).

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TriStar/Cannon/MGM

By sending movie heroes back to Vietnam (or Val Verde standing in as Vietnam) America gets a second chance; an opportunity to “win this time,” without being held back by two-faced bureaucrats and shady politicians.

When Arnold defeats the Predator and boards the chopper, er, choppa to go home, his victory provides some closure for the 1987 American audiences.

Bonus points: When Arnold goes into battle with the Predator, his mud-caked face looks just like Martin Sheen’s in Apocalypse Now.

United Artists/20th Century Fox

United Artists/20th Century Fox


4. King Kong (1976)

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Stay with me on this.

The ’76 King Kong remake has little to do with war, until its grand finale. Just like in the original, Kong stands on the roof of a skyscraper – but instead of fighting 1930s bi-planes, he’s met by flamethrowers and helicopters (two of the most iconic symbols of the Vietnam war).

A Gatling gun fires off the fatal rounds, while long-haired beardo Jeff Bridges screams in protest (as 1960s long-haired beardos were known to do).

Rumor has it, the last line of the film was originally, “Twas the military industrial complex and anti-Communism that killed the beast…” (I’m kidding, I’m kidding!)

But seriously, you have to admit it’s a pretty Nam’-ish ending.

3. Rocky (1976)

United Artists

United Artists

The Rambo movies famously show Stallone returning to Vietnam to win the war on his own terms, but Rocky is closer to the spirit of The Bad News Bears.

The film’s down-and-out protagonist reflects the so-called “malaise” in 1970s America, something President Jimmy Carter would later call a “crisis of confidence.”

Rocky Balboa’s most inspiring dialogue seems to address more than boxing:

Life’s not about how hard of a hit you can give..it’s about how many you can take, and still keep moving forward.

Whoa. It’s as if he’s describing America overcoming a 19-year military conflict in Southeast Asia!

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At the end of the film, Rocky doesn’t win his big fight, but that’s almost beside the point. He never gave up. Rocky is a hero for going the distance. To paraphrase The Dark Knight — a movie that, had it come out in the 1970s, would’ve totally been about Vietnam — he’s not the hero America deserves but the hero we need right now. (“Now” being one year after the end of a war that devastated the country.)


2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Bryanston Pictures

Bryanston Pictures

Most film scholars and snarky blogs will focus on the chainsaw as a metaphorical penis. That’s fine, but I’m gonna take a different angle here.

Watch almost any grindhouse horror movie from the ’70s and you can see why people attribute the graphic violence to the war in Vietnam: the cruelty, the gore, the savagery. Those early Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper movies make the shower scene in Psycho look quaint.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre captures the terror of Vietnam in the doomed teenagers who find themselves stranded in a frightening foreign wasteland, being chased by maniacs.

At the same time, the movie is about the haves and have-nots: the middle class teenagers represent the college kids who avoided the draft, while the cannibal family are the working-class boys who were shipped across the Pacific and took part in true horror.

Actor Edwin Neal (who played The Hitchhiker) has stated that the filming conditions were so awful that filming the movie was the worst experience of his life, adding, “…and I had been in Vietnam, with people trying to kill me, so I guess that shows how bad it was.”

It’s hard to NOT see some the Vietnam influence in the movie. 12 years later, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) introduces Chop-Top, Leatherface’s brother who served in Vietnam during the events of the first film. But I’ll save that for another pseudo-academic essay blog post that some commenters are bound to hate.

Cannon Films

Cannon Films


1. Fearless Frank (1967)

Trans American Films

Trans American Films

The final entry in this list is kinda hard to find. (It’s also kinda hard to watch. But if you insist, here’s a link to stream it on Amazon.)

Philip Kaufman’s Fearless Frank is a low-budget parody of TV’s Batman – because, yeah, the 1966 Batman wasn’t campy enough.

The story unfolds like a comic-strip version of Midnight Cowboy: Jon Voight plays a country boy coming to the big city – but instead of becoming a hooker, he becomes a superhero. (Two sides, same coin – am I right?)

Trans American Films

Trans American Films

At 77 minutes long, the kitschy humor starts to run thin, which could explain the crazy-ass turn no one saw coming: Fearless Frank, the lead character(!), leaps off a Chicago skyscraper and kills himself. (This isn’t some weird dream I had, it just sounds like one.) With Fearless Frank dead, he’s replaced by his evil doppelganger “False Frank.” This brooding look-alike (who’s covered with big scars, a la Frankenstein’s Monster) leaves the city and goes back to Frank’s home in the country.

In the final scene False Frank boards a rowboat and drifts up the river, an undeniable homage to Apocalypse Now (except that, y’know, Apocalypse Now wouldn’t be filmed for another 12 years).

Trans American Films

Trans American Films

With this bizarre third act, Fearless Frank is less like Midnight Cowboy meets The Caped Crusader and more like Coming Home, a far more acclaimed Jon Voight film that tells the story of a scarred Vietnam Vet’s homecoming. The camera holds on Frank’s crying face as the narrator offers this somber conclusion:

Everyone was proud of Frank. Ma and Pa were there, too. And although they felt that he had changed, they couldn’t tell how… they just drift onward, they do not seem to know where they’re going, nor do they care. And no one will ever see them again.

Trans American Films

Trans American Films

If this superhero story were any more bleak it could be DC’s next Zack Snyder-directed blockbuster.

The heavy plot twist makes Fearless Frank more than a one-note parody, but I’m guessing the biting satire might’ve been what kept it from getting a wide release in 1967. (That and the fact that it’s not very good.)

So there you have it, six movies that are secretly about Vietnam. Did we forget any? Let us know in the comments.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.