Coming Home (1978): Hal Ashby Oscar-Winning Vietnam Melodrama, Starring Jane Fonda and Jon Voight

In 1978, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated two vastly different Vietnam War films for Best Picture: Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter” and Hal Ashby’s “Coming Home,” each garnering a large number of nominations.

Unlike World War II, which saw the immediate production of war films, it took almost a decade for Hollywood to make movies about Vietnam. The only exception was John Wayne’s The Green Berets, in 1968, an unabashedly patriotic picture endorsing the American involvement in Vietnam. Both studios, Universal in the case of “Deer Hunter,” and UA in “Coming Home,” had fears that the public would not support them, though they were proud of their artistic quality: “The Deer Hunter” opened to rave reviews, and “Coming Home” received mixed notices.

A sappy, middle-brow melodrama, “Coming Home,” for which Jane Fonda won her second Best Actress Oscar, describes the change of Sally Hyde, a bored, middle class wife, married to a hawkish, chauvinistic Marine captain (Bruce Dern, who was also nominated) into a politically aware citizen, while volunteering in a war veteran hospital, where she meets and falls in love with a sensitive war paraplegic (Jon Voight). For a change, and it is a big change, the film does not condemn her adultery, in fact, it is not only justified but also favorably described.

The last line of the film is memorable. Addressing high school students, Jon Voight says: “And I’m telling you, there’s a choice to be made here.”

The winners’ speeches and off-camera remarks were seen as violations of collegial professional ethics. Jane Fonda charged that, “The Deer Hunter” was a racist film that represented the Pentagon’s view of Vietnam. Referring to the demonstrators as “my friends,” she said that “Coming Home” was a “better and more accurate picture,” even though she admitted that she had not seen “The Deer Hunter.”

After winning the Best Actor for playing a sensitive paraplegic war veteran, Jon Voight said, “I accept this for every guy in a wheelchair.”

Oscar Nominations: 8

Picture, produced by Jerome Hellman
Director: Hal Ashby
Actor: Jon Voight
Actress: Jane Fonda
Supporting Actor: Bruce Dern
Supporting Actress: Penelope Milford
Screenplay (Original): Nancy Dowd, story; Waldo Salt and Robert C. Jones
Film Editing: Don Zimmerman

Oscar Awards: 3

Screenplay
Actor
Actress

Oscar Context

The Academy voters split the major awards between the two movies. “The Deer Hunter” won five: Best Picture, Director (Cimino), Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken), sound, and editing.

“Coming Home” received the two lead acting awards (Fonda and Voight), and original screenplay. Ironically, right-winger and pro-Vietnam John Wayne was chosen as the Best Picture presenter, though one could only speculate how he felt about handing the statuette to “The Deer Hunter,” since this time, the Duke kept his mouth shut!

 

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