Visitors, The (1972): Kazan’s Last Movie, Vietnam War Drama, Starring James Woods in Screen Debut

Set in Connecticut, Elia Kazan’s The Visitors concerns a vet who, along with the mother of his baby, is threatened for sixteen hours by two former buddies against whom he had brought evidence of war crimes during a tour of duty in Vietnam.

It turns out that, in the course of a routine patrol, the two former soldiers, along with other members of their squad, had first raped a young Vietnamese girl, who might possibly have been a Viet Cong sympathizer, and then bayoneted her to death.

Kazan used an article written by Daniel Lang in “The New Yorker” in 1969, and Lang’s subsequent book Casualties of War, as a jumping-off point for this film.

Bill Schmidt and his long-term girlfriend Martha Wayne and their young son Hal live in a small Connecticut farmhouse owned by Martha’s overbearing father. One snowy winter Sunday, two of Bill’s ex-army buddies, Mike and Tony, arrive. A few years ago, they had all served together in Vietnam in the same platoon but later ended up on opposite sides of a court-martial.

Bill has never told his girlfriend what happened in Vietnam nor at the court-martial. The story slowly unfolds. Under orders in Vietnam not to take any prisoners, and faced with potentially hostile civilians who might attack them if left behind, Mike kills a civilian. Bill testifies against him and Mike is sent to the stockade for two years. He is angry. There is sexual tension between Mike and Martha. The tension builds and culminates in a fight and a rape.

Kazan’s last big-screen picture is an artistic and commercial flop.  The Visitors is now mostly known for featuring the screen debut of the gifted actor James Woods.

The cast includes Patrick McVey, Patricia Joyce, Chico Martinez, and Steve Railsback.

Running time: 88 Minutes