Years ago when I was a kid...HBO had a very limited lineup of movies every month and they'd recycle the same films over and over again. I saw "The Deer Hunter" as many times as I did back then because it was one of the movies HBO played adnauseum and in spite of Russian Roulette, incinerated Viet Cong, and dead deer I had grown quite fond of it. If for no other reason than a kidnap victim grows fond of their captor; a cinematic Stockholm Syndrome as it were. Seeing the movie again recently and through adult eyes, I had to laugh at what an absurd, pretentious mess the whole thing was. Sorry, the Godfather I and II it ain't. It's not even close to another Vietnam War movie of the same era that was released after it, that celluloid circus known as "Apocalypse, Now".
"The Deer Hunter" is a story about three steel mill workers who serve the United States in the Vietnam War. Sounds interesting enough and while the film does have all of the necessary elements of good film, it's assembled in such a way that it undermines the film's ability to be compelling. Had the director, Michael Cimino, used the harrowing Vietnam experiences the three friends experienced as a flashback with the present day being where they're toiling away by night in a gritty steel mill, drowning their collective sorrows and memories of The War in the morning in the local watering hole, perhaps then "The Deer Hunter" would have made at least some sense.
This sequencing would even help at the end of the film when Robert DeNiro's character, "Michael", goes back to Saigon to find Christopher Walken's character, "Nick", playing Russian Roulette "professionally". It also would make it believable that men in their mid twenties to mid thirties would all of a sudden be drafted and shipped off to Vietnam at the same time. Really.
When it's all said and done, it still would have won all the Academy Awards it did win since it was the first "Vietnam Movie" after the end of the Vietnam War. Cimino could have made a movie about bologna sandwiches, claimed it was a "Vietnam movie" and it would have been lauded with praise. Now more than ever, I want "The Deer Hunter" to be great since it would validate my adolescent appreciation of it but "The Deer Hunter" is not even good movie. In fact, it's terrible. It touches briefly on many very important subject matters of veterans, like PTSD for instance, but not nearly enough to pull the movie out from under a veil of make believe art. By the way, I have no suggestions as to how to explain how John Savage's "Stevie" got his legs blown off.
If "The Deer Hunter" has anything going for it, aside from Vilmos Zsigmond absolutely gorgeous cinematography and a fabulous cast that also included Meryl Streep and the late, great, John Cazale, it was the casting of a 1959 Cadillac Series 62 coupe as the car that Michael, portrayed by Robert DeNiro, drove. I'm ambivalent about '59's, however, cast as it was in "The Deer Hunter", no other car could have fit the role so perfectly. Assuming that Cimino was attempting to symbolize with it what I think he was attempting to symbolize. Again, with "The Deer Hunter" you never know.
Derided as much as they were heralded, it's ironic that an automobile so polarizing of design like the 1959 Cadillac would come to symbolize so much about America. Good, bad and indifferent. Cadillac's were all new for model year 1957 and their styling was a continuation of the aeronautic design themes that were all new for 1948. However, when Chrysler debuted their 1957 models resplendent in sky scraping tail fins, General Motors scraped their planned 1959 models and instead, designed a series of automobiles that are without question, the most outlandish American cars ever made. The Cadillacs being the most outrageous of them all.
In many ways, the 1959 Cadillac was exactly like "The Deer Hunter" - visually appealing without anything tangible to make it worthy of the praise heaped upon it. Contemporary road tests of the 1959 Cadillac found it to be under powered and the handling ponderous. I want the '59 Cadillac to be more than what it is because it was just so visually interesting; again, like the movie. However, like "The Deer Hunter", it just couldn't be anything more than what it actually was. Praise be damned.
The Deer Hunter won five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Cimino, and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken. The Deer Hunter was named by the American Film Institute as the 53rd greatest American film of all time. On many lists of the greatest automobiles of all time you'll also find 1959 Cadillacs.