The Green Berets (film)

The Green Berets is a 1968 American war film directed by John Wayne and Ray Kellogg and starring John Wayne, David Janssen and Jim Hutton, based on the 1965 novel by Robin Moore. Much of the film was shot in the summer of 1967. Parts of the screenplay bear little relation to the novel, although the portion in which a woman seduces a North Vietnamese communist general and sets him up to be kidnapped by Americans is from the book.

The Green Berets
Green berets post.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Frank McCarthy
Directed by
Produced byMichael Wayne
Screenplay byJames Lee Barrett
Based onThe Green Berets
1965 novel
by Robin Moore
Music byMiklós Rózsa
CinematographyWinton C. Hoch
Edited byOtho Lovering
Color processTechnicolor
Distributed byWarner Bros.-Seven Arts
Release date
  • June 19, 1968 (1968-06-19) (New York City)
Running time
142 minutes
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • Vietnamese
Budget$7 million
Box office$32 million[1]

The Green Berets is strongly anti-communist and pro-South Vietnam. It was released at the height of American involvement in the Vietnam War, the same year as the Tet Offensive against the largest cities in South Vietnam. John Wayne was so concerned by the anti-war sentiment in the United States, he wanted to make this film to present the pro-military position. He requested and obtained full military cooperation and materiel from 36th President Lyndon B. Johnson and the United States Department of Defense. John Wayne bought out Robin Moore for $35,000 and 5% of undefined profits of the film.[2]

The film was a critical failure, but succeeded financially.[3][4]


Cynical newspaper reporter George Beckworth attends a Special Forces briefing about the reasons for American military involvement in the Vietnam civil war (democratic South Vietnam v. the communist Viet Cong). He is shown captured weapons and equipment made in various communist countries, confirming that international communism is the enemy of democracy. When Beckworth remains skeptical about the value of U.S. intervention, Green Beret Colonel Mike Kirby asks him if he's ever been to Southeast Asia. Beckworth admits he hasn't, and decides to go there on a reporting mission.

Meanwhile, Colonel Kirby is posted to Vietnam with orders to build a team to work with the South Vietnamese. He catches a man from another unit, Spc. Petersen, appropriating supplies from Kirby's supply depot, but decides to utilise his skills on his new team. Arriving in South Vietnam, they meet Beckworth, whom Kirby allows to accompany them to the front-line camp. Despite signs of humanitarian work, he remains unconvinced of America's need to be in Vietnam. Petersen befriends a young war-orphan Ham Chuck with no family other than his pet dog and the soldiers at the base camp. Also introduced is the South Vietnamese strike force leader Captain Nghiem, who had once fought for the North, but is now fanatically anti Viet Cong. He claims there is a spy network within the camp and his strike force.

Following an enemy attack, Sergeant Muldoon notices a South Vietnamese soldier acting suspiciously by pacing off various distances between buildings and knocks him out. When Captain Nghiem interrogates the soldier, he discovers a silver Zippo lighter that belonged to a Green Beret medical specialist, a friend of Kirby's, recently murdered by the Viet Cong. After Beckworth sees Nghiem torture the Viet Cong suspect to get a confession from him, he confronts Kirby about it. The Colonel justifies the interrogation by telling Beckworth about the cigarette lighter, and says the Viet Cong are ruthless killers who deserve no legal protections of any sort in this new kind of war.

A few days later, Beckworth accompanies Kirby and his team on a patrol in the nearby mountains. Beckworth witnesses the aftermath of a Viet Cong terror attack. The whole family of a village chief he had befriended earlier have been tortured and executed by the Viet Cong for cooperating with the Americans. The next night, the Special Forces camp is subjected to a human wave attack by thousands of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops. Beckworth is forced to take a rifle from a fallen sergeant and fight alongside the Green Berets. He also helps move the local villagers into the camp to protect them from the enemy onslaught. As the battle rages, Ham Chuck's pet dog is killed and the young boy tearfully buries his faithful companion, before being found by Sergeant Petersen, who takes him to safety with the other refugees.

The perimeter is breached by enemy sappers who blow openings in the barbed wire fences around the camp. The Green Berets and South Vietnamese are forced to fall back to the inner perimeter. Captain Nghiem sets off hidden explosives which kill the double agents, and a mortar brings down the observation tower in which Ngheim, Kirby and other officers had been standing. As the other officers move away, Ngheim sets off explosives hidden under the camp approaches but is killed by another mortar immediately after.

Kirby and Muldoon arrive with reinforcements, but by dawn the enemy is still attacking, and Colonel Kirby orders the troops to withdraw from the camp. U.S. Army helicopters arrive to evacuate the refugees. Petersen puts Ham Chuck on one and promises to return for him in Da Nang. With the base in enemy hands, Kirby orders an airstrike by a Douglas AC-47, which kills the occupying Northern troops. With the enemy dead or fled, Kirby and his team re-occupy the destroyed camp.

Beckworth tells Kirby he will file a story supporting United States involvement in the war, though he'll probably be fired for it. He thanks Kirby for the experience and returns to Da Nang. Back at headquarters, Kirby meets with his superior, Colonel Morgan, as well as Kirby's South Vietnamese counterpart, Colonel Cai. He is told about a top secret mission they have been planning. The goal is to kidnap a very important North Vietnamese field commander named General Pha Son Ti. This is seen as a bargaining chip to end the war on South Vietnam's terms, as well as disrupting the leadership of the Viet Cong. Colonel Cai uses his sister-in-law, a top Vietnamese/French fashion model named Lin, as a honey trap to lure General Ti to a former French colonial mansion in a well-guarded valley in North Vietnam.

Kirby, Muldoon, Peterson are among those selected for this secret mission by Cai, who will accompany them, and they are parachuted into the North Vietnamese jungle. Muldoon, medical specialist Doc McGee, and two of Cai's men stay behind at a local bridge over a river to set explosives to blow it up to stop pursuit by the enemy forces as the team exfiltrates with General Ti. Kirby and his group witness the enemy general arriving at his plantation with Lin. As they watch from cover, the scene shifts to the General's bedroom where Lin has sex with the General, being discovered in bed with him after all the sentries around the mansion have been killed. The group subdue the enemy general with Lin's help, and hoist him outside, where they put him in the trunk of his car. Kirby, Cai, Petersen, Watson, and Lin drive away, but the rest of the team is killed by North Vietnamese guards while attempting to escape.

At dawn, the survivors cross the bridge which McGee and Muldoon rigged with explosives. The bridge is destroyed, but Doc McGee is seriously wounded as he and Muldoon escape. The survivors of the raid airlift the captured General out of the area by a Skyhook device mounted to a transport plane. While Kirby and the group advance through the jungle to where helicopters will pick them up, Petersen is killed by a booby-trap which leaves him impaled on spikes. The others are forced to leave his body behind.

At Da Nang, Beckworth watches as Ham Chuck awaits the return of the helicopters. He realizes the toll of war as Ham Chuck runs crying from helicopter to helicopter, searching for Petersen. Kirby, in a touching moment, walks over to the boy and tells him of Peterson's death. Chuck asks plaintively, "What will happen to me now?" Kirby places Petersen's green beret on him and says, "You let me worry about that, Green Beret. You're what this thing's all about." Holding hands, the two walk along the beach into the sunset as "Ballad of the Green Berets" plays.




Columbia Pictures, having bought the book's pre-publication film rights, was not able to produce a script that the Army would approve, while producer David L. Wolper, who also tried to buy the same rights, could not obtain financing to make the movie.[6] A screenplay was written by George Goodman who had served with the Special Forces in the 1950s as a military intelligence officer and had written a 1961 article about the Special Forces called The Unconventional Warriors in Esquire magazine.[7] Columbia sent Goodman to South Vietnam for research. Robin Moore felt the Pentagon pressured Wolper into breaking an agreement with Moore.[2] Wolper acquired the rights to film The Devil's Brigade, an account of the World War II 1st Special Service Force, in 1965 and produced that film instead.

The final film's origins began in June 1966 with a trip by John Wayne to South Vietnam, and his subsequent decision to produce a film about the Army special forces deployed there as a tribute to them.[8] Wayne was a steadfast supporter of American involvement in the war in Vietnam. He co-directed the film, and turned down the "Major Reisman" role in The Dirty Dozen to do so.


Although The Green Berets portrays the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army as sadistic tyrants, it also depicts them as a capable and highly motivated enemy. The film shows the war as one with no front lines, meaning that the enemy can show up and attack at almost any position, anywhere. It shows the sophisticated spy ring of the VC and NVA that provided information about their adversaries. Like A Yank in Viet-Nam, it gave a positive view of South Vietnam and their anti-communist allies.

The US Army had objections to James Lee Barrett's initial script. The first was that the Army wanted to show that South Vietnamese soldiers were involved in defending the base camp. That was rectified. The Army also objected to the portrayal of the raid where they kidnap a NVA general because in the original script this involved crossing the border into North Vietnam.[9] Robin Moore has stated that while all of the other stories in his book are roman à clefs of actual Special Forces missions and incidents, the mission to capture General Ti was completely fictitious.[10]

Wayne wished the screenplay to have more development of the characters, but Warner Bros. made it clear they wanted more action and less talk, as The Alamo was heavily criticized for having too much dialogue. Scenes shot with Vera Miles as the wife of Wayne's character were jettisoned. (However, Miles was again cast as the Duke's wife in Wayne's next film Hellfighters).[11]


Much of the film was shot in the summer of 1967 (before the Tet Offensive) at Fort Benning, Georgia. Department of Defense cooperation with the film was extensive, with the United States Army providing several UH-1 Huey attack helicopters and a C-7 Caribou light transport. The United States Air Force supplied two C-130 Hercules transports and two A-1 Skyraider attack aircraft as well as film footage of an AC-47 Puff the Magic Dragon gunship and an HC-130 Hercules employing the Skyhook Fulton recovery system for use in the film. The Army also provided authentic uniforms for use by the actors, including the OG-107 green and "Tiger Stripe" tropical combat uniform (jungle fatigues), with correct Vietnam War subdued insignia and name tapes.

John F. Schultz played pivotal roles as an extra as a U.S. soldier and a North Vietnamese Regular. He said of John Wayne, "At lunch, the producers were going to feed us peons hamburgers and hotdogs while the main characters ate steak. John Wayne said '...we all get steak or nobody does.'

Colonel Lamar Asbury "Bill" Welch, the actual commander of the United States Army Airborne School at Fort Benning in 1967, makes a brief cameo shooting trap with John Wayne.[12] Welch wears a 1960s US Army Fatigue Baseball Cap (common issue during the Vietnam War) in the scene while the actors wear green berets. Soldiers exercising on the drill field – that Wayne shouts to – were actual Army airborne recruits in training.[8]

The film's large set-piece battle is loosely based on the Battle of Nam Dong on 5–6 July 1964 when two Viet Cong battalions and the PAVN attacked a CIDG camp at Nam Dong near the Laotian border in South Vietnam's Central Highlands. For five hours, a mixed force of Americans, Australians and South Vietnamese troops fought off a force three times its size. The movie camp set, which was constructed on an isolated hill within Fort Benning, had barbed wire trenches, punji sticks, sandbagged bunkers, mortar pits, towers, support buildings and hooches. Several tons of dynamite and black powder were then used to largely destroy the set during the filming of the battle sequence.[8] Other realistic "Vietnamese village" sets were left intact after the shooting ended so they could be reused by the Army for training troops destined for South East Asia.


The original choice for scoring the film, Elmer Bernstein, a friend and frequent collaborator with John Wayne, turned the assignment down due to his political beliefs. As a second choice, the producers contacted Miklós Rózsa then in Rome. When asked to do The Green Berets for John Wayne, Rózsa replied: "I don't do Westerns". Rózsa was told "It's not a Western, it's an 'Eastern'".[13] As a title song, the producers used a Ken Darby choral arrangement of Barry Sadler's 1966 hit song Ballad of the Green Berets, which had been co-written by Robin Moore, author of the original Green Berets novel. Rózsa provided a strong and varied musical score including a night club vocal by a Vietnamese singer Bạch Yến;[14] however, bits of Onward Christian Soldiers were deleted from the final film.


Critical receptionEdit

Upon its cinema release, movie critic Roger Ebert gave it zero stars and cited extensive use of cliches, depicting the war in terms of "cowboys and Indians", and being a "heavy-handed, remarkably old-fashioned film."[3] It is on his "Most Hated" list. His then-rival at the Chicago Tribune, Clifford Terry, described the film as "both predictable and tedious" and added that its "most fatal mistake" was "presenting the United States' most complex war in the simplest of terms."[15]

The San Francisco Examiner's critic, Stanley Eichelbaum, observed the film thus:

John Wayne—bless him—has convinced me he's more of a patriot than he thinks. His movie, The Green Berets, which opened yesterday at the St. Francis, Coliseum, El Rey and Geneva Drive-In, will without question unite the doves and the hawks. It is the first film about Vietnam about which there can be no controversy, no dispute, no argument. Nobody who sees it will find a single reason to disagree that it is the phoniest, most laughable war picture in many years.[16]

Reviewing for The New York Times, Renata Adler wrote, "The Green Berets is a film so unspeakable, so stupid, so rotten and false in every detail that it passes through being fun, through being funny, through being camp, through everything and becomes an invitation to grieve, not for our soldiers or for Vietnam (the film could not be more false or do a greater disservice to either of them), but for what has happened to the fantasy-making apparatus in this country."[4]

The screenplay for Oliver Stone's anti-war film Platoon was written partially as a reaction to The Green Berets.[17] It is mocked in the Gustav Hasford novel The Short-Timers in a scene where Joker and Rafter Man find the Lusthog Squad watching it at a movie theater. "The audience of Marines roars with laughter. This is the funniest movie we have seen in a long time."[18]

The journalist and left-wing activist John Pilger, a strong critic of American foreign policy, described his reaction to The Green Berets in a 2007 speech he gave criticising the media for its coverage of the Vietnam War. "I had just come back from Vietnam, and I couldn’t believe how absurd this movie was. So I laughed out loud, and I laughed and laughed. And it wasn’t long before the atmosphere around me grew very cold. My companion, who had been a Freedom Rider in the South, said, 'Let's get the hell out of here and run like hell.'"[19]

Film commentator Emanuel Levy noted in his review that Wayne was not attempting to promote the cause of the Vietnam War as much as he was trying to portray the Special Forces in their unique role in the military: "Wayne said his motive was to glorify American soldiers as the finest fighting men 'without going into why we are there, or if they should be there.' His 'compulsion' to do the movie was based on his pride of the Special Forces, determined to show 'what a magnificent job this still little-known branch of service is doing.' ... 'I wasn't trying to send a message out to anybody,' he reasoned, 'or debating whether it is right or wrong for the United States to be in this war.'"

Levy also notes that Wayne acknowledged that war is generally not popular, but the soldiers who serve face the risks and dangers of combat nonetheless, and must be prepared to sacrifice themselves, regardless of their personal will or judgment. Levy quotes Wayne: "What war was ever popular for God's sake? Those men don't want to be in Vietnam any more than anyone else. Once you go over there, you won't be middle-of-the-road."[20]

Box officeEdit

Despite the poor reviews, and despite being protested and picketed in the United States and abroad,[21][22] it went on to be a commercial success, which Wayne attributed in part to the negative reviews from the press, which he saw as representing criticism of the war rather than the film.[23]

"The critics overkilled me, the picture and the war", said Wayne. "As a result, so many people went to see it that I had a cheque from the distributors for $8 million within three months. That's the cost of the picture, so we moved into profit the next day."[24] The Green Berets earned rentals of $8.7 million in North America during 1968.[25]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


A character in the novel was closely based on a famous "John Wayne-esque" Finnish World War II captain, Lauri Törni (Larry Thorne), who had became one of the most celebrated Green Beret heroes. A scene in the movie is based on his actions in the war, where he won a battle at Tinh Bien (1964) by secretly positioning mines at their own machine gun sites, because there was no way to prevent the overwhelming enemy conquering them, and then detonated the mines to win back the positions and guns.[27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The Green Berets, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 23, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Moore, Robin Introduction to 1999 edition The Green Berets The Green Berets: The Amazing Story of the U.S. Army's Elite Special Forces Unit 2007 Skyhorse Publishing Inc.
  3. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (June 26, 1968). "The Green Berets".
  4. ^ a b Adler, Renata (June 20, 1968). "Screen: 'Green Berets' as Viewed by John Wayne: War Movie Arrives at the Warner Theater". The New York Times.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Suid, Laurence H. (2002), Guts and Glory: The Making of the American Military Image in Film (Rev. and expanded ed.), Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, p. 247, ISBN 0-8131-2225-2.
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c From "The Movemakers", The Making of the "Green Berets" (1968)
  9. ^ Munn, Michael (2004), John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth, London: Robson Publishing, pp. 294–295, ISBN 1-86105-722-9
  10. ^ Moore, Robin. The Green Berets (New York: Crown Publishing), 1965.
  11. ^ p. 293 Munn, Michael John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth Robson, 2004
  12. ^ "Col. Lamar Asbury "Bill" Welch". Retrieved May 30, 2017.
  13. ^ The Green Berets (1968)
  14. ^ More Sonobeat Artists Archived 2009-09-03 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Terry, Clifford (1968-06-27). "A Complex War in Simple Terms". Chicago Tribune. p. 13, s. 2.
  16. ^ Eichelbaum, Stanley (1968-06-27). "All Can Agree on Wayne's War Film". San Francisco Examiner. p. 31.
  17. ^ Stone, Oliver (2001). Platoon DVD commentary (DVD). MGM Home Entertainment.
  18. ^ Hasford, Gustav (1979), The Short-Timers, Harper & Row, p. 32, ISBN 978-0060117825
  19. ^ Pilger, John. "Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire". Speech. Democracy Now. Archived from the original on 2013-07-28.
  20. ^ Levy, Emanuel (January 29, 2006). "Green Berets (1968): Vietnam War as Seen by John Wayne as Director and Star".
  21. ^ The Combat Film – the death and rebirth of an American film tradition, page 45-47
  22. ^ New Approaches to Rhetoric, George N. Dionisopoulos, Chapter 8: John Wayne, the Green Berets, and the Containment Doctrine
  23. ^ "Wayne's 'Green Berets' Is A Big Money-Maker". The Miami News. 6 January 1969. p. 5-B.
  24. ^ "DUKE". Los Angeles Times. 25 January 1970. p. n6.
  25. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1968". Variety. 8 January 1969. p. 15. This figure is a rental accruing to distributors.
  26. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-30.
  27. ^ David Kindy (August 2019). "From German Waffen SS to American Green Beret". HistoryNet.

External linksEdit