“Should Have Never Been Filmed”: John Wayne’s 1968 War Movie Gets Brutal Expert Assessment


A military historian gives a brutal assessment of John Wayne’s 1968 Vietnam War film. Wayne helped the American cause during and after World War II by starring in a string of pro-military films, including classics like Sands of Iwo Jima, They Were Expendable, Back to Bataan and The Fighting Seabees. Even into the 1960s, Wayne continued to be synonymous with flag-waving patriotism, starring in movies like The Longest Day and In Harm’s Way.

But Wayne’s particular brand of filmmaking had begun falling out of favor by 1968 when he starred in The Green Berets, a controversial epic about American special forces soldiers in Vietnam, which one expert has gone so far as to say never should have been made. In a video for Insider, military historian Bill Allison bashes Wayne’s movie for its lack of realism, taking it to task for its depiction of special forces tactics, and overall giving it a 0-out-10. Check out Allison’s remarks below (beginning around 16:00 of the video):

So this is after the Tết Offensive, after the New Hampshire primary, after Martin Luther King’s been assassinated, Johnson’s announced he’s not going to run again. This is not the best time to release a go, rah, Vietnam film.

In this particular scene, this Green Beret team is going to kidnap this [People’s Army of Vietnam] colonel or general, but as far as units working together, like with the Green Berets, maybe. 1965, ’66, ’67, there’s probably more the Americans working on their own. There would always be an [Army of the Republic of Vietnam] liaison with bigger units, like probably at the battalion or regimental level. Certainly at the division level.

The game must have been engrossing, because they don’t hear anybody else. You’ve got six or seven guys coming through with combat gear and combat boots on, on a pier-and-beam wood floor that apparently doesn’t squeak, and they’re none the wiser. It’s just totally ludicrous. And now we have to do this in dramatic fashion, and we have to rappel off the second story. Because apparently the guys playing mah-jongg still are not alerted that something’s going on. Ah, everything goes according to plan.

So, the trip wire, is that a common thing for special forces to do? I’d say no, because you want to be able to get out of there and get away quickly if you’re on some sort of mission anywhere close to like this one. But even then, do you have time to do it? That’s more of a thing you set for a defensive position.

Can I have a rating of: “Should never have been filmed in the first place?” Zero. Totally. And I hate to do that because part of me likes some John Wayne films. But this one, no.

Why The Green Berets Is Considered One Of The Worst Vietnam War Films

Based on a 1965 novel by Robin Moore, The Green Berets represents Wayne’s response to the rising tide of anti-Vietnam War sentiment sweeping America in 1968. Backed by the Lyndon Johnson administration and the Department of Defense, the film depicts American soldiers as unambiguously heroic in their efforts to save the Vietnamese people from Communism, while portraying the Viet Cong as brutal villains, attitudes that come across as blindly one-sided given the realities of the conflict.

Wayne’s effort was immediately savaged by critics upon its release, getting zero stars from Roger Ebert, who echoed a common view when he ripped the film for being “old-fashioned.” The movie indeed has not gotten better with age, and is now ranked as one of the worst Vietnam War films of all-time, alongside such turkeys as Air America, Missing in Action and Flight of the Intruder.

The attitudes put across by Wayne in his film are only part of the problem, according to historian Allison, who thinks The Green Berets misses on many of the small details, as well as in its wider view of what the Vietnam War was all about. He does admit to admiring some Wayne movies, but not this one.