Apocalypse Now lobby card set image courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries
Director Francis Ford Coppola and United Artists brought Apocalypse Now to movie theaters in 1979. Martin Sheen plays a U.S. Army assassin, with Marlon Brando as his quarry.
Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now is loosely based on the 1902 novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay for Zoetrope Studios, with Coppola also directing. Carmine Coppola and Francis Ford Coppola created the original music score and Vittorio Storaro served as cinematographer.
Martin Sheen (Captain Benjamin L. Willard), Marlon Brando (Colonel Walter E. Kurtz) and Robert Duvall (Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore) head the cast. Other players include Frederic Forrest (Jay “Chef” Hicks), Sam Bottoms (Lance B. Johnson), Laurence Fishburne (Tyrone “Clean” Miller), Albert Hall (Chief Phillips), Harrison Ford (Colonel Lucas), Dennis Hopper (Photojournalist), G.D. Spradlin (General Corman), Jerry Ziesmer (Jerry), Scott Glenn (Lt. Richard M. Colby), Bo Byers (MP Sergeant #1), Cynthia Wood (Playmate of the Year), Colleen Camp (Miss May), Linda Carpenter (Playmate), James Keane (Kilgore’s Gunner) and Jack Thibeau (Soldier in Trench).
Making a cameo appearance as the director of a television news crew (”Don’t look at the camera, keep on fighting!…”) is a bearded Francis Ford Coppola.
Apocalypse Now Filmed in the Philippines
Apocalypse Now began filming in the Philippines in 1976 where the production team experienced a series of disasters. A raging typhoon wreaked havoc with the sets; a communist insurrection threatened cast and crew; the Philippine military commandeered the company’s rented helicopters to fight the rebels; Martin Sheen suffered a heart attack, and an indifferent Marlon Brando failed to learn his lines.
After 16 tortuous months of filming, the picture’s budget had swelled from $12 million to over $31 million. Finally, when all the jungle dust had settled three years later, producer Francis Ford Coppola had his war film. He then hurriedly pieced the finished product together in order to get it into release and satisfy his anxious creditors.
Apocalypse Now: The Ultimate Vietnam War Film
Apocalypse Now opens with Jim Morrison and the Doors’ rendition of “The End” amidst thumping helicopter blades and a spectacular napalm strike. An alcohol-debilitated Captain Willard is seen in his Saigon hotel room, impatiently waiting for another covert mission.
Willard, who is attached to the 505th Battalion, 173rd Airborne, SOG (Special Operations Group), is later transported by chopper to a high-level intelligence briefing. Here a three-star general and his aide apprise him of his latest assignment. He is to proceed up river by Navy PBR boat into Cambodia, where renegade Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz now commands his own personal army of Montagnard tribesmen. Willard is to “terminate the colonel’s command – with extreme prejudice.”
Captain Willard’s mission proves to be a surreal odyssey through the Vietnam War. Along the way he encounters a surfing-mad Air Cavalry colonel, a wild USO show featuring a trio of Playboy Playmates, a Vietnamese sampan whose occupants are slaughtered by a trigger-happy Navy gunner, a gonzo American photojournalist and, at journey’s end, the mad Colonel Kurtz himself.
Apocalypse Now Debuts at Cannes Film Festival
Apocalypse Now was first shown at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival on May 10, 1979, where it won a Golden Palm award. “My film is not about Vietnam,” Francis Ford Coppola told the assembled media. “My film is Vietnam.”
“Apocalypse Now is a stunning work. It’s as technically complex and masterful as any war film I can remember, including David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai…” crowed Vincent Canby of The New York Times (8/15/79).
“Years and years from now…’Apocalypse’ will stand, I think, as a grand and grave and insanely inspired gesture of filmmaking – of moments that are operatic in their style and scope, and of other moments so silent we can almost hear the director thinking to himself,” reported Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times (6/1/79).
Apocalypse Now Box Office, Academy Award Nominations, Most Memorable Scene, DVD
- Apocalypse Now grossed $37.980 million at the American box office, good for the #6 position on the list of the top moneymaking films of 1979.
- Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Duvall), Best Film Editing, Best Screenplay, Best Sound (won), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography (won).
- Most memorable scene: Robert Duvall’s ode to napalm, while standing on a Vietnamese beach following a fighter jet strike in the surrounding jungle. “Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning…The smell, you know that gasoline smell…It smells like – victory.”
- Apocalypse Now Redux, which includes an additional 53 minutes, was released to selected American movie theaters on August 3, 2001. Featured in this restored version is the PBR’s “lost” stop at the fog-shrouded French rubber plantation.
- On DVD: Apocalypse Now - The Complete Dossier (Paramount, 2006).
“Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission. And for my sins they gave me one,” Martin Sheen intones at the beginning of the film.
Listen closely, and one can still hear Richard Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” from the opera Die Walkure – the music blared from Colonel Kilgore’s helicopters during the attack on the Viet Cong fishing village…