Good Morning, Vietnam (1987): Robin Williams First Oscar Nomination

good_morning_vietnam_posterDisney–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.

The film is number 100 on “AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs.”

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.

good_morning_vietnam_5_robin_williamsIn 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 his characteristic manic, free-form comic routines.

good_morning_vietnam_4_robin_williams“Good Morning Vietnam” was a breakthrough film for Williams, who for the first-time exercised his restless, full-frontal comic intelligence. Most of Williams’ radio broadcasts were improvised. 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.”

Film’s Origins

In 1979, Adrian Cronauer pitched a sitcom based on his experiences as an AFRS DJ. But TV networks were not interested, however, because they did not see war as comedy material, even though one of the most popular shows at the time was M*A*S*H.

Cronauer then revamped his sitcom into a script for a movie of the week, which got the attention of Robin Williams. In the end, little of Cronauer’s original treatment remained after writer Mitch Markowitz was brought in.

The film was shot in Bangkok, Thailand.

Detailed Plot (Spoiler Alerts)

good_morning_vietnam_3_robin_williamsIn 1965, Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer arrives in Saigon from Crete to work as a DJ for Armed Forces Radio Service, and he is greeted by Private First Class Edward Montesquieu Garlick (Forest Whitaker).

Cronauer’s irreverence contrasts sharply with staff members, rousing the ire of his superiors, Second Lieutenant Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sergeant Major Phillip Dickerson (Walsh). Hauk adheres to strict Army guidelines in terms of humor and music, while Dickerson is annoyed by Cronauer’s overall behavior.

However, Brigadier General Taylor (Willingham) and the other DJs  grow to like the DJ and his brand of comedy. Cronauer’s show consists of unpredictable humor segments mixed with news updates (vetted by the station censors) and rock and roll records frowned upon by his superiors.

WhenCronauer meets Trinh (Sukapatana), a Vietnamese girl, he follows her to English class. Bribing the teacher to let him instruct, Cronauer begins with the use of American slang.  After class, he tries to talk to Trinh but is stopped by her brother Tuan. Cronauer befriends Tuan and takes him to Jimmy Wah’s, the local GI bar, to have drinks with Garlick and the station staff. The soldiers, angered at Tuan’s presence, initiate an argument that escalates into a brawl.

Dickerson reprimands Cronauer, but his broadcasts continue. In Jimmy Wah’s one afternoon, he’s pulled outside by Tuan moments before the building explodes, killing two soldiers and leaving Cronauer shaken. The cause of the explosion is a bomb, but the news is censored; Cronauer reports it anyway.

Dickerson cuts off the broadcast and Cronauer is suspended. Hauk takes over his shows, but his poor attempts at comedy and playing polka music lead to protests from servicemen who demand that Cronauer be put back on the air.

good_morning_vietnam_2_robin_williamsAt the station, Taylor orders Hauk to reinstate him, but Cronauer refuses to go back to work. Garlick’s and Cronauer’s vehicle is stopped in a congested street, and soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division persuade him to do impromptu “broadcast” before they go off to Nha Trang to fight. This incident reminds him why his job is important, and he soon returns to the air.

Dickerson then devises a ploy to get rid of Cronauer by sending him and Garlick to interview soldiers in the field, knowing the highway to An Lộcs is controlled by the Viet Cong. When their jeep is blown off the road by a mine, they hide in the jungle from the VC.  In Saigon, Tuan steals a van and drives off. He finds them, but the van breaks down and they must flag down a Marine helicopter for rescue.

Dickerson informs Cronauer that he is off the air for good. Tuan is revealed as a VC operative who was responsible for the bombing. Dickerson has arranged for an honorable discharge, if Cronauer leaves “quietly.” General Taylor informs Cronauer that he cannot help him due to his friendship with Tuan.  Dickerson then admits his dislike for Cronauer, his sense of humor, and his style of broadcasting. After Cronauer leaves, Taylor informs an astonished Dickerson that he is being transferred to Guam, as a punishment for vendetta against Cronauer.

On his way to the airport (with Garlick, and under MP escort), Cronauer sets up a quick softball game with the students from English class. As he boards the plane, he gives Garlick a taped farewell message. Garlick, who replaces Cronauer as DJ, plays the tape on the air the next morning.  It begins with the iconic a yell of “Gooooooooooooooooodbye, Vietnam!” and runs through some of Cronauer’s impression, ending with genuine wish for the soldiers returning home safely.

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Actor

good_morning_vietnam_1_robin_williamsIn 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.”


Robin Williams as Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer

Forest Whitaker as Private First Class Edward Montesquieu “Eddie” Garlick

Tung Thanh Tran as Phan Duc To (Phan Dục Tô), aka Tuan

Chintara Sukapatana as Trinh

Bruno Kirby as Second Lieutenant Steven Hauk

Robert Wuhl as Staff Sergeant Marty Lee Dreiwitz

J. T. Walsh as Sergeant Major Phillip Dickerson

Noble Willingham as Brigadier General Taylor

Richard Edson as Private Abersold

Richard Portnow as Sergeant Dan ‘The Man’ Levitan

Floyd Vivino as Private Eddie Kirk

Juney Smith as Sergeant Phil McPherson