Go Tell the Spartans is Vietnam Classic
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Written by Daniel Ford

Burt Lancaster in Go Tell the SpartansNH FILM

Thirty years ago the first major American film about the Vietnam War hit the theatres, or at least a few. Go Tell the Spartans stars Burt Lancaster in what some now call the most realistic movie ever made on the subject. A bitter pill for many, the film was adapted from a novel by Seacoast NH writer Daniel Ford who experienced the early days of the undeclared war first hand.

 

 

NH Author Helped Launch Vietnam Film Genre 

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Daniel Ford should be proud. Three decades after it appeared in 1978, Go Tell the Spartans is being praised by online reviewers who were not even born during the Vietnam War. Despite a low budget and a set that looks like the TV series MASH, viewers can still sense the authenticity at the heart of the story.

Go Tell the Spartans is available on DVD at eBay and Amazon.comDrawn from Ford’s own experience as a war correspondent for The Nation, it has become the "overlooked anti-war classic" that kicked off a genre in January of 1978. Quickly dwarfed by Vietnam blockbusters like Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Coming Home and Rambo – Spartans appears, in retrospect, as perhaps the most honest and powerful depiction of the unpopular war, and of war itself.

Unlike its flashy Hollywood peers, Go Tell the Spartans offers a gritty story of a failed mission in 1964 when America was still acting only as "military advisor" to Vietnamese forces. For those who still find the war confusing, Spartans clarifies how we got into this quagmire, and like the war in Iraq, demonstrates why the hubris and lack of intelligence by our national leaders made a bad situation worse. Although French forces had been defeated there in the 1950s, American leaders assumed their superior skill and higher purpose would easily wipe out Communist forces.

The film was based on Ford’s novel Incident at Muc Wa that appeared in 1967 while the Vietnam war was still in its infancy. It was, in hindsight, a warning not heeded. Although the novel did not catch fire, it was optioned as a film. But the film option, like the war itself, dragged on year after year. Imagined as a $7 million movie, according to author Ford, it was either too expensive or too risky for the major movie studios. Paul Newman, Richard Holden and Robert Mitchum were among the stars considered for the lead role. It finally got made when Burt Lancaster, then 65 years old, agreed to star at a bargain rate. When the film ran short of cash ($1.5 million budgeted) during its 31-day shooting schedule, Lancaster bailed out the project with his own money.

 

Although scaled way down and shot on a tiny lot in California, the completed film was a critical success, though not a box office winner. Since then, release on VHS and now DVD has made it a "cult classic" and has created a wider audience and a wider appreciation for this powerful and prophetic view of the war.

Daniel Ford attended the University of New Hampshire, served in the US Army (1956-57) and still lives in Durham, NH. He loves to fly small planes, has written a number of fiction and nonfiction books including the recently re-released Flying Tigers. His work regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal. His web site, the Warbird’s Forum, is packed with fascinating details on his books – and much more.  --- JDR

OUTSIDE LINKS OF INTEREST 
    Dan Ford Warbird Web Site   
    Spartans on Wikipedia  
    Spartans on Internet Movie Database   
    Dan Ford blog on Amazon.com