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Video for the Trenches

November 25, 1990|JOE SALTZMAN

Vietnam was dubbed the 'living room" war because it was the first time television graphically covered combat involving Americans on the nightly news.

Now, you can bring the Vietnam conflict back into your living room in ways never before thought possible. Whether it's a big-screen piece of fiction about the war or a documentary tracing Vietnam's history in painful realistic detail, home video has images and sounds that fascinate and overwhelm.

More than two dozen fictional films fill the home video shelves. They include such categories as:

World War II clones: The Boys in Company C (green Marine recruits are whipped into shape for combat in Vietnam, 1977, "CA/Columbia tape, Image Entertainment laser video disc); The Green Berets (John Wayne's 1968 patriotic clunker, Warner tape and disc), and The Last Hunter (one man fights behind enemy lines, 1980, Vestron tape).

Docudramas: Don't Cry, It's Only Thunder (about the true story of an Army medic in Vietnam, 1981, RCA/ Columbia tape) and A Rumor of War (Keith Carradine as a lieutenant charged with killing two Vietnam civilians, 1980, USA tape. Superhero attempts to free missing American prisoners still trapped in Vietnam: Rambo: First Blood, Part II (with Sylvester Stallone, 1985, HBO tape, Image Entertainment laser video disc); the two Missing in Action films (with Chuck Norris, MGA/UA tape and disc); Uncommon Valor with Gene Hackman, 1983, Paramount tape and disc), and G.I. Executioner (Vestron tape).

Returning Vietnam veterans crying out of vengeance: Sylvester Stallone in First Blood (1982, HBO tape) and Chuck Norris in Forced Vengeance (1982, MGM/UA tape and disc).

Returning Vietnam veterans still haunted by their experiences: Cease Fire (1985, HBO tape) featuring Don Johnson suffering nightmares and delusions 15 years after the war.

Television series: China Beach (1988, the pilot, Warner tape), the ABC-TV series set in Vietnam in the late 1960s focuses on Nurse McMurphy (Dana Delaney) approaching the end of a year's service in Vietnam. The program manages, through a series of vignettes, to convey the nightmare the medical personnel shares with the young soldiers (shades of the Korean War "M*A*S*HS).

Many of Hollywood's elite directors have been fascinated and horrified with Vietnam and have taken some of our best actors with them on their odysseys:

Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986, Vestron tape and Image Entertainment disc) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989, MCA tape and disc). Both films attempt to capture personal visions of Vietnam, and they translate well to the small screen. Both were no-nonsense, painfully realistic accounts of the war. The first captured Stone's own experiences on the line, with Charlie Sheen as the character based on the writer-director, and Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe as unforgettable soldiers. The second chronicled Ron Kovic's life story from gung-ho recruit to the paralyzed anti-war activist. Tom Cruise played the role to the hilt.

Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalpyse Now (1979, Paramount tape and disc) and Gardens of Stone (1987, CBS-Fox tape and disc). The first is an eerie, fictional account of Vietnam capturing the emotional bankruptcy and horror of the war. Special agent Martin Sheen journeys up the river to find and kill corrupt officer Marlon Brando. Extraordinary Oscar-winning photography. The second was an overly sentimental account of life in Arlington National Cemetery's home guard during the war and one soldier's determination to go into battle. James Earl Jones and James Caan are effective.

Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987, Warner tape and disc) offers a searing look at Marine basic training and the baptism of fire the young recruits go through in Vietnam. Drill sergeant D.I. Erney isn't acting and his real-life performance rips through the film.

Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1978, MCA tape and disc) is the melodramatic account of three young steelworkers before, during and after the Vietnam War. Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep head the cast of this Academy Award-winning film that seems artificial on the small screen.

Brian De Palma's Casualties of War (1989, RCA/Columbia) focuses on one patrol and its atrocious treatment of an innocent Vietnamese girl. It's based on a real incident and is scripted by playwright David Rabe, a Vietnam veteran. Sean Penn is the half-crazed leader, Michael Fox the voice of reason and Thu Le the victim.

Barry Levinson's Good Morning, Vietnam (1987, Touchstone tape and disc) is Robin Williams' tour de force as an Army disc jockey in Saigon. It's based on real-life Army deejay Adrian Cronauer, but the monologues are all vintage Williams, outrageously funny. The rest of the film suffers by comparison.

Next: The real Vietnam War

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