Good Morning, Vietnam is a 1987 American comedy-drama war film written by Mitch Markowitz and directed by Barry Levinson. Set in Saigon in 1965, during the Vietnam War, the film stars Robin Williams as a radio DJ on Armed Forces Radio Service, who proves hugely popular with the troops, but infuriates his superiors with what they call his "irreverent tendency". The story is loosely based on the experiences of AFRS radio DJ Adrian Cronauer.
Most of Williams' performances that portrayed Cronauer's radio broadcasts were improvisations. The film was a critical and commercial success; for his work in the film, Williams won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The film is number 100 on the list of the "American Film Institute's 100 Funniest American Movies".
|Good Morning, Vietnam|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Barry Levinson|
|Written by||Mitch Markowitz|
|Music by||Alex North|
|Edited by||Stu Linder|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Box office||$123.9 million|
In 1965, Airman First Class Adrian Cronauer arrives in Saigon to work as a DJ for Armed Forces Radio Service. PFC Edward Garlick takes him to the Army base, where his attitude and demeanor contrast sharply with those of many staff members. His show consists of reading strictly censored news and irreverent humor segments mixed with rock and roll music, which is frowned upon by his superiors, Second Lieutenant Steven Hauk and Sergeant Major Phillip Dickerson. Hauk adheres to strict Army guidelines in terms of humor and music programming while Dickerson is generally abusive to all enlisted men. However, Brigadier General Taylor and the other DJs quickly grow to like Cronauer and his brand of comedy.
Cronauer follows Trinh, a Vietnamese girl, to an English class; after bribing the teacher to let him take over, Cronauer instructs the students in American slang. Once class is dismissed, he tries to talk to Trinh but is stopped by her brother Tuan; realizing the futility of pursuing her, Cronauer instead befriends Tuan and takes him to Jimmy Wah's, a local GI bar. Two soldiers, angered at Tuan's presence, initiate a confrontation that escalates into a brawl.
Dickerson reprimands Cronauer for the incident. While relaxing in Jimmy Wah's one afternoon, he is pulled outside by Tuan, saying that Trinh wants to see him. Moments later, the building explodes, killing two soldiers and leaving Cronauer shaken. The cause of the explosion is determined to be a bomb; Dickerson declares the news censored, but Cronauer locks himself in the studio and reports it anyway. Dickerson cuts off the broadcast and Cronauer is suspended. Hauk takes over the show, but his poor attempts at humor and polka music choices lead to a flood of letters and phone calls demanding that Cronauer be reinstated.
Demoralized, Cronauer spends his time drinking and pursuing Trinh, only to be repeatedly rebuffed. At the radio station, Taylor intervenes, ordering Hauk to reinstate Cronauer, but he refuses to go back to work. Garlick and Cronauer's vehicle is stopped in a congested street amidst a convoy of soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, where Garlick persuades him to do an impromptu "broadcast" before they go off to fight. The incident reminds Cronauer why his job is important and he returns to work.
Dickerson seizes an opportunity to permanently rid himself of Cronauer by approving his request to interview soldiers in the field and routing him through the Viet Cong-controlled highway to An Lộc. Cronauer and Garlick's Jeep hits a mine and they are forced to hide from VC patrols. In Saigon, Tuan learns of the trip after Cronauer fails to show up for English class and steals a van to go after them. After finding them, the van breaks down and they flag down a Marine helicopter to take them back to the city.
Back at the base, Dickerson tells Cronauer that he is off the air for good after Tuan is revealed as a VC operative and the one responsible for the bombing of Jimmy Wah's; Dickerson has arranged for Cronauer's honorable discharge. General Taylor informs Cronauer that, regrettably, he cannot help him since his friendship with Tuan would damage the reputation of the US Army. After Cronauer leaves, Taylor informs Dickerson that he is being transferred to Guam, citing his vindictive attitude as the reason.
Cronauer chases down Tuan, decrying his actions against American soldiers. Emerging from the shadows, Tuan retorts that the US army devastated his family, thereby making the United States his enemy, before disappearing again. On his way to the airport with Garlick, under MP escort, Cronauer sets up a quick softball game for the students from his English class and says goodbye to Trinh. He gives Garlick a taped farewell message and boards the plane; Garlick – taking Cronauer's place as DJ – plays the tape on the air the next morning.
In 1979, Adrian Cronauer pitched a sitcom based on his experiences as an AFRS DJ. TV networks were not interested, because they did not see war as comedy material, even though one of the most popular shows at the time was M*A*S*H. Cronauer then revamped his sitcom into a script for a TV movie of the week, which eventually got the attention of Robin Williams. Very little of Cronauer's original treatment remained after writer Mitch Markowitz was brought in.
Commenting on the accuracy of the film, the real-life Cronauer commented "I'm very happy with it. Of course, it was never intended to be an accurate point-by-point biography. It was intended as a piece of entertainment, and (Williams) was playing a character named Adrian Cronauer who shared a lot of my experiences. But actually, he was playing Robin Williams." Commenting on his portrayal in the film, Cronauer said "Anybody who has been in the military will tell you that if I did half the things in that movie, I’d still be in Leavenworth right now. A lot of Hollywood imagination went into the movie. I was a disc jockey in Vietnam and I did teach English in my spare time. I was not thrown out of Vietnam; I stayed for my full one-year tour and I was honorably discharged." None of the people in the film are based on actual people Cronauer met, although he described them as stereotypes of military personnel who existed at the time. The scenes where Cronauer teaches his class to swear and use "street slang", his pursuit of a Vietnamese woman, and his Jeep being blown up in the jungle, among others, are constructs for the plot and never happened to Cronauer.
According to Cronauer, he and Williams were forbidden by Levinson to meet each other because the director "was afraid that if Robin and I met, that Robin would somehow start to do an unconscious imitation of me, which would change his characterization." Williams and Cronauer eventually met at the film's New York premiere.
Good Morning, Vietnam was one of the most successful films of the year, becoming the fourth highest-grossing film of 1987.
The film received outstanding reviews from film critics. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel of the review show Siskel and Ebert awarded the film "Two Thumbs Up", with Ebert giving the film a four out of four star review in the Chicago Sun-Times. Richard Corliss of Time called the film "the best military comedy since M*A*S*H", and named it one of the best films of the year. Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film a cinematic "tour de force" and described Williams' performance as "the work of an accomplished actor". Much of the acclaim went to Williams' performance, a role that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
The film was not without detractors. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post, gave the film a negative review. While praising Williams, he felt the film was "compulsory and condescending", and that the film was merely "a Robin Williams concert movie welded clumsily onto the plot from an old Danny Kaye picture."
Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 90% based on reviews from 41 critics, with an average rating of 7.3/10. The website's critical consensus states: "A well-calibrated blend of manic comedy and poignant drama, Good Morning, Vietnam offers a captivating look at a wide range of Robin Williams' cinematic gifts." On Metacritic is has a score of 67% based on reviews from 15 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of A-.
The soundtrack album was certified platinum in the US. Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" was released as a single because of the film and reached position 32 on the US Top 40, 20 years after its original release.
In 1992, Mark Frost wrote a sequel screenplay, Good Morning, Chicago. The film would have featured Williams, reprising his role as Cronauer, as a journalist at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. The project was eventually scrapped, due to disagreements between Williams, Levinson, and The Walt Disney Company, over the film's direction.