When I was a kid I saw "The Deer Hunter" as many times as I did because it was one of the films that HBO played over and over again. Keep in mind we're talking back in the day when HBO was a single channel and they recycled a tiny cadre of films each month. In spite of the nonsensical Russian Roulette scenes, 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 what I can construe are 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, a 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 completely undermines the film's ability to be truly compelling.
The film getting much of the praise that it did because it dealt with a very uncomfortable subject. Understand that in the late 1970's, Vietnam was a four letter word in this country; We The People attempting to brush it under a rug and get on with our lives much like The South did after losing the Civil War. Thanks to Hollywood, films like this made us stare down our demons in a collective group therapy session. A therapy session that had us all mumbling under our breathes, "the hell was that?"
If "The Deer Hunter" had anything going for it, aside from Vilmos Zsigmond's wonderful cinematography, it had a legendary cast that included a 1959 Cadillac Series 62 coupe. I'm ambivalent about '59 Cadillac's at best, 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.
Furthermore, while it's certainly not out of the question for someone of the means of a steel mill worker to drive such a car, if it not for symbolism and cinematographic effect, would a serious hunter, like Michael, drive such an ornate and impractical automobile? No. Of course not. Still, as a symbol or metaphor, it's quite effective.
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.