Four years after the fall of Saigon, the Vietnam War has become the most important subject in American film. Just why is not clear, but certainly it is a phenomenon that invites suspicion as though, in a period of Jonestown massacres and Gary Gilmore executions, Vietnam was our long running, all-purpose horror story, the war we could always count on for one more turn of the screw. Yet the closer we look at 1978’s Vietnam films, especially the three most successful releases, Who’ll Stop the Rain, The Deer Hunter, and Coming Home, the more apparent it becomes that whatever their flaws—and the racism of The Deer Hunter is appalling—they have not made the war “show biz” nor turned their main concern, the Vietnam veteran’s return home, into an updated version of The Best Years of Our Lives. These are films that assume the war’s alienating effect on all who participated in it, and what m...
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