Good Morning, Vietnam is a 1987 American war comedy 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.
In 1965, Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer arrives in Saigon to work as a DJ for Armed Forces Radio Service. Private Edward Garlick takes him to the radio station, where his attitude and demeanour contrast sharply with those of many staff members. His show consists of reading strictly censored news and irreverent humour 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 humour 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 eccentric 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 and profanity. Once class is dismissed, he tries to talk to Trinh but is stopped by her brother Tuan; realising the futility of pursuing her, Cronauer instead befriends Tuan and takes him to Jimmy Wah’s, a local GI bar. Two racist 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, to Dickerson’s outrage. Dickerson cuts off the broadcast and Cronauer is suspended, to the delight of Hauk and Dickerson. Hauk takes over the show, but his poor attempts at humour 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 heading for Nha Trang, where Garlick persuades him to do an impromptu “broadcast” before they go off to fight. The soldiers’ appreciation 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 known as “Phan Duc To” and the one responsible for the bombing of Jimmy Wah’s; Dickerson has arranged for Cronauer’s honourable 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 Tan Son Nhat 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, it begins with Cronauer saying “Goodbye, Vietnam!”
- Robin Williams as Adrian Cronauer.
- Forest Whitaker as Private Edward Garlick.
- Tung Thanh Tran as Phan Duc To / Tuan.
- Chintara Sukapatana as Trinh.
- Bruno Kirby as Lieutenant Steven Hauk.
- Robert Wuhl as Marty Lee Dreiwitz.
- J.T. Walsh as Sergeant Major Phillip Dickerson.
- Noble Willingham as General Taylor.
- Richard Edson as Private Abersold.
- Richard Portnow as Dan “The Man” Levitan.
- Floyd Vivino as Eddie Kirk.
- Juney Smith as Phil McPherson.
- Củ Bà Nguyễn as Jimmy Wah.
The film was made on a production budget of $13 million. Williams was paid “less than $2 million” plus gross participation points.
In 1979, Adrian Cronauer pitched a sitcom based on his experiences as an AFRS DJ. Although one of the most popular television programmes of the era was a Korean War period piece titled M*A*S*H, the networks were not interested, because they did not see war as comedy material. 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. He did, however, witness the bombing of a restaurant he had only recently left, and clash with Army censors when prevented from reporting it.
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 characterisation.” Williams and Cronauer eventually met at the film’s New York premiere.
Alex North’s score was released by Intrada Records in 2017. As the complete work runs for just 17 minutes, it was paired with David Newman’s Operation Dumbo Drop.
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 #32 on the US Top 40, 20 years after its original release. The album won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album in 1989.
Good Morning, Vietnam was one of the most successful films of the year, becoming the fourth highest-grossing film of 1987.
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 Disney, over the film’s direction.
- The script went through several revisions after it was originally drafted by Adrian Cronauer in 1979. Cronauer first pitched it as a TV series, then a Movie-of-the-Week.
- It was the latter treatment that landed in the lap of Robin Williams, who realized the DJ role would be the perfect outlet for his brand of comedy.
- The original treatment by Cronauer was completely re-tooled for Williams.
- The film was mostly shot in Bangkok, Thailand, and at the time, several hundred male students from the International (American) School of Bangkok (ISB) were recruited as extras to perform in the multitude of shots showing American GI’s throughout the film.
- As a courtesy, Robin Williams actually came to ISB and put on a stand up routine for all students in the 10th grade and above.
- Most of Williams’ performances that portrayed Cronauer’s radio broadcasts were improvisations.
- Aside from Adrian Cronauer himself, none of the military/radio personnel depicted were actual people.
- According to Cronauer, the characters were drawn largely from stereotypes relating to the Military of Authority Figues, and not from those he worked with in real life.
- In order to give the trailers a more military feel, scenes of Cronauer on the air in military fatigues were shot specifically for the trailers.
- No Beatles songs were played because at that time the copyrights to their songs had not been released for use in movies or any other media outlet.
- As Adrian chases Tuan through the alley, the background music is actually a cut from Alex North’s unused score for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
- The film was released by Buena Vista Pictures (under its Touchstone Pictures banner) to 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 and 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”.
Production & Filming Details
- Barry Levinson.
- Harry Benn … co-producer.
- Larry Brezner … producer.
- Mark Johnson … producer.
- Ben Moses … co-producer.
- Mitch Markowitz.
- Alex North.
- Peter Sova … director of photography.
- Stu Linder.
- Touchstone Pictures.
- Silver Screen Partners III.
- Buena Vista Pictures (1987) (USA) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1988) (UK) (theatrical).
- Roadshow Films (1988) (Australia) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1988) (France) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1988) (Sweden) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1988) (Norway) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1988) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
- Touchstone Home Video (1988) (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
- Columbia-Warner Filmes de Portugal (1988) (Portugal) (theatrical).
- Audio Visual Enterprises (1989) (Greece) (VHS).
- Gativideo (Argentina) (VHS).
- National Broadcasting Company (NBC) (1991) (USA) (TV) (broadcast premiere).
- Touchstone Home Video (1996) (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
- Buena Vista Home Video (1998) (USA) (DVD).
- Buena Vista International (1998) (Germany) (DVD).
- Touchstone Home Video (1998) (USA) (DVD).
- Buena Vista International (2001) (UK) (DVD).
- Buena Vista Home Entertainment (2002) (Turkey) (DVD).
- Buena Vista International (2002) (Netherlands) (DVD) (special edition).
- Buena Vista International (2002) (Sweden) (DVD).
- Touchstone Home Entertainment (2002) (Turkey) (DVD).
- Buena Vista International (2003) (Brazil) (DVD).
- Buena Vista Home Entertainment (2006) (USA) (DVD) (special edition).
- Touchstone Home Entertainment (2012) (USA) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Divisa Home Video (2014) (Spain) (DVD).
- Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment (2014) (Germany) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Abril Vídeo (Brazil) (VHS).
- Buena Vista Home Entertainment (USA) (DVD).
- Disney+ (2021) (Canada) (video) (VOD) (Star).
- Disney+ (2021) (UK) (video) (VOD) (Star).
- Release Date: 23 December 1987 (limited, US) and 15 January 1988 (general release, US).
- Running Time: 121 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.