Taglines: War at its worst. Men at their Best.
A brutal and realistic war film focuses on the lives of a squad of 14 U.S. Army soldiers of B Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infanty Regiment, 101st Airborne Division during the brutal 10 day (May 11-20, 1969) battle for Hill 937 in the A Shau Valley of Vietnam as they try again and again to take the fortified hill held by the North Vietnamese, and the faults and casualties they take every time in which the battle was later dubbed “Hamburger Hill” because enemy fire was so fierce that the fusillade of bullets turned assaulting troops into shreded hamburger meat.
Hamburger Hill is a 1987 American war film about the actual assault of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, part of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division ‘Screaming Eagles’, on a well-fortified position, including trenchworks and bunkers, of the North Vietnamese Army on Ap Bia Mountain near the Laotian border. American military records of the battle refer to the mountain as ‘Hill 937’, its map designation having been derived from its being 937 meters high.
Written by James Carabatsos and directed by John Irvin, the film starred Dylan McDermott, Steven Weber, Courtney B. Vance, Don Cheadle and Michael Boatman. The novelization was written by William Pelfrey. Set in May 1969 during the Vietnam War, the movie was produced by RKO Pictures and distributed by Paramount Pictures.
About the Story
The film begins with footage of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It then shifts to a platoon of soldiers fighting in Vietnam, 1969 ending with a soldier dying on a helicopter. As they prepare to be sent into action again, the platoon of the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry, part of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, receives five FNGs as replacements – Beletsky, who constantly frets that he won’t be able to remember everything he has been taught; Languilli, who is obsessed with sex and annoyed when people mispronounce his name; Washburn, a quiet, conservative man and the only African-American in the batch of replacements; Bienstock, who is outgoing and has volunteered for combat duty in Vietnam; and finally Galvan, the quietest, but most promising of the new soldiers.
Taken under the wing of their war-weary squad leader, Sgt. Adam Frantz, the recruits spend their early days filling sand bags and struggling to sleep before being placed in Frantz’ squad. They are then given a crash-course in battlefield skills, including everything from oral hygiene to a demonstration by a Viet Cong (VC) deserter as to how skilfully enemy troops can penetrate perimeter U.S. defenses. Frantz does his best to prepare the new soldiers for combat. “I’m tired of filling body bags with your dumb fucking mistakes,” he says before the VC deserter silently penetrates a barbed wire barrier and aims a rocket launcher at them.
Aside from the replacements, the platoon has a new commander, Lieutenant Eden, who Platoon Sergeant, Sergeant First Class Worcester describes (to Frantz) as “Palmolive fucking soap.” The platoon’s machine gun team is composed of the burly Private Duffy and his mismatched, bespectacled companion, Private Gaigin. There are also three African-American veterans in the unit: Motown, “Doc” Johnson and Sgt. McDaniel (who has less than a month left on his tour), all of whom have first-hand knowledge of the racial discrimination still practiced in the army.
The new arrivals get their first, sudden taste of war when a quiet spell beside a river is interrupted by an enemy mortar barrage. Frantz calls for counter battery fire ending the attack. Several civilians are killed in the exchange and one of the replacements, Galvan, is decapitated by a shell fragment. The death of a soldier, “That did everything right,” further jades Sgt. Frantz.
Soon, the platoon takes part in a major operation and is air-lifted into the A Shau Valley. Shortly after disembarking at the landing zone, they come under automatic weapons fire and a firefight ensues. The North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers withdraw after suffering at least one apparent casualty. McDaniel is also killed. This loss provokes considerable bitterness and tension from “Doc” Johnson, as he blames Frantz for not getting the short-timer McDaniel a less dangerous assignment.
Hamburger Hill (1987)
Directed by: John Irvin
Starring: Anthony Barrile, Michael Boatman, Don Cheadle, Michael Dolan, Don James, Dylan McDermott, Michael A. Nickles, Harry O’Reilly, Daniel O’Shea
Screenplay by: James Carabatsos
Production Design by: Austen Spriggs
Cinematography by: Peter MacDonald
Film Editing by: Peter Tanner
Makeup Department: Cecille Baun, Neville Smallwood
Art Direction by: Toto Castillo
Music by: Philip Glass
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: August 28, 1987