Oscar Movies: Good Morning, Vietnam (1987): Oscar Nominee Robin Williams

Disney-Buena Vista (Touchstone Pictures Production, in association with Silver Screen Partners III)

Barry Levinson’s serio-comedy “Good Morning, Vietnam” is first and foremost a star vehicle for Robin Williams, who received his first Best Actress nomination for this biopic of the irreverent disk jockey Adrian Cronauer.

Mitch Markowitz’ scenario is set in Saigon in 1965, during the early years of the Vietnam War. The film is loosely based on the experiences of Adrian Cronauer, who is assigned by the Armed Forces Radio Service to liven up a comatose morning show by bringing chatter and music from home to the American soldiers.

In due course, Cronauer not only turns the program into an instant hit, but also emerges as a popular Saigon personality. As interpreted by the manic and highly charged Williams, Cronauer delivers iconoclastic monologues and ramblings on every topic, from the military to sex, providing his listeners with one of the few voices of sanity, in sharp contrast to a war that is escalating in violence and body count. Cronauer’s broadcasts, however, ruffle his superior officers who grow impatient with him. More comfortable with military doublespeak, they begin to censor his material.

In his spare time, Cronauer works as an English teacher. He meets a young attractive Vietnamese woman whom he introduces, along with her family of twelve, to American culture by way of the film Beach Blanket Bingo, complete with subtitles.

The bombing of a Saigon nightclub by the Vietcong becomes the film’s dramatic center, with Cronauer as a witness to the tragedy, though he is not allowed to mention it on his radio show.

The comedy derives from the freewheeling improvisations while in front of the microphone. Levinson’s work was the first film to treat the Vietnam War humorously. Some of the paradox of the war is suggested when Cronauer plays a recording of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” while the camera cuts to bombings, the siege of Saigon and other combat shots.

Embodying the popular and irreverent disc jockey for Armed Forces radio in Saigon named Adrian Cronauer lets Robin Williams render a manic, free-form comic routines-his specialty.

As noted, “Good Morning Vietnam” was a breakthrough film for Williams, who for the first-time exercised his restless, full-frontal comic intelligence. Williams did what he was best at–be himself. Upon seeing the picture, the real-life Adrian Cronauer quipped, “Robin Williams was the ideal me, the one I would have liked to have been.”

Unlike Williams’s previous films, this one was a huge hit, perhaps because it was released in the wake of somber films about Vietnam, such as “Platoon” and Hamburger Hill.”

Oscar Alert

In 1987, Robin Williams competed for the Best Actor Oscar with Michael Douglas, who won for the drama “Wall Street,” William Hurt in “Broadcast News,” Marcello Mastroianni in “Dark Eyes,” and Jack Nicholson in “Ironweed.”