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The Deer Hunter
Director: Michael Cimino (Dir)
Release Date:   Dec 1978
Duration (in mins):  183
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Cast: Robert De Niro  (Michael [Vronsky])
  John Cazale  (Stan)
  John Savage  (Steven)

Summary: In a small Pennsylvania town called Clairton, five friends, Steven, Stan, Nick, Axel and Michael, leave their job at the steel mill and get ready for Steven’s wedding that night. While making preparations with the priest at the church, Steven’s mother expresses disapproval of Steven’s fiancée, Angela, because the bride is pregnant and Steven may not be the father. She also complains that she will be stuck alone with the new wife when Steven, Nick and Michael leave to fight in the Vietnam War. At the wedding reception, Michael flirts with Nick’s girlfriend, Linda. When Nick asks Linda to marry him when he and his friends return from war, she says yes. The next morning, Michael, Nick, Stan and Axel go deer hunting. Michael explains his theory of the importance of killing a deer cleanly with one shot. During the hunt, Michael shoots and kills a buck. Later, in Vietnam, the Viet Cong destroy a village. Michael kills an enemy soldier and is unexpectedly reunited with Steven and Nick. All three are captured by the Viet Cong and placed in a prisoner camp on a river where the jailers force the men to play Russian roulette: one bullet is placed in a revolver, then a prisoner holds the gun up to his own head and pulls the trigger. When an injured Steven becomes unhinged and refuses to play, he is beaten and put in a watery pit to die. Michael tells Nick he has an escape plan: Michael will have the Viet Cong put three bullets in the Russian roulette gun and he and Nick will play each other. When it’s Michael’s turn, he will signal Nick to grab a captor’s gun and the two of them will start shooting their guards. Nick is dazed but agrees. Michael and Nick carry out the plan, kill their captors and escape with Steven. The three friends float down the river and soon encounter a helicopter that hovers to rescues them. Although Nick makes it onto the helicopter, Steven falls back into the river and Michael jumps after him as the helicopter flies away. Michael pulls Steven to the shore and carries him on land until they join a procession of Vietnamese refugees. Michael places Steven in the care of soldiers in a and continues on foot alone. Meanwhile, Nick convalesces at the U.S. Army hospital in Saigon, but he remains mentally and emotionally damaged. One night in Saigon, Nick stumbles into a secret lair where spectators bet on men voluntarily playing Russian roulette. Unaware that Michael is among the audience members, Nick disrupts the game by grabbing the gun, which still has one bullet in the chamber. Nick aims the weapon at a competitor’s head and fires, then puts the gun to his own head and pulls the trigger; however, the bullet does not discharge. The angry crowd forces Nick out of the building and he runs down the street until a French man, Julien, approaches him and offers to make Nick rich. As Michael forces his way out of the crowd and tries to reach his friend, Nick jumps into Julien's car. Although Nick sees Michael chasing the car on foot, he turns away and leaves Michael behind. Later, Michael returns home. When he sees that there is a party waiting for him, Michael avoids his friends and goes to a motel. The next day, Michael visits Linda. She is happy to see him, but she is still in love with Nick, even though he never contacted her while he was gone; Nick is missing and the army doesn’t know where he is. When Michael reunites with Stan and Axel, he is surprised to learn that Steven is home, too. Visiting Angela, Michael learns Steven's phone number, but instead of calling his friend, Michael prepares to leave home. Before he goes, Michael runs into Linda, who suggests they comfort each other with sex, but Michael insists he can’t stay in town any longer and leaves. Linda chases after him and they make love in a motel. Later, Michael and his friends go hunting. Michael gets a clear shot of a deer, but he lets the animal live. Back at the cabin, Axel teases Stan about the gun Stan carries around with him and Michael returns in time to see Stan pointing his gun at Axel. Michael grabs the gun away from Stan, who protests that the weapon isn’t loaded, but Michael opens the cylinder to find it is full of bullets. Emptying the chamber of all but one bullet, Michael presses the gun against Stan’s forehead and pulls the trigger. As the friends eye Michael warily, he goes outside and tosses the gun away. When Michael returns to Clairton, he goes to see Linda and they spend another night together. Afterward, Michael calls Steven, then visits him at the Veterans Administration Hospital and encourages him to come home. Steven, who lost both his legs in the war, doesn’t want to leave the hospital. Showing Michael the $100 bills he has been receiving from Saigon every month, Steven claims that he does not know who is sending the cash, but Michael immediately realizes the money is from Nick. Steven is worried about Nick's safety because the U.S. is on the verge of withdrawing from the war Saigon will erupt into violence. Michael finally convinces Steven to come home. Later, Michael travels to Saigon and locates Julien. The French man takes Michael to a building where a crowd places bets on two men playing Russian roulette. Michael sees that Nick is one of the competitors and urges his friend to leave with him, but Nick does not recognize Michael and spits in his face. When Michael buys into the game to compete against his friend, Nick takes his turn with the gun and remains in the contest. Michael puts the gun to his own head, pulls the trigger, and makes it to the next round. Although Michael beseeches Nick to come home, Nick takes another turn and loses the last round of Russian roulette, fatally shooting himself in the head. Later, back in Clairton, after Nick’s friends bury their fallen comrade and gather at the local bar for breakfast, singing “God Bless America” and toasting Nick. 

Distribution Company: Universal Pictures
Production Company: EMI
Director: Michael Cimino (Dir)
  Claude Binyon Jr. (Prod mgr, U.S.A.)
  Bill Lukather (Unit prod mgr, U.S.A.)
  Ira Loonstein (Unit prod mgr, Thailand)
  Charles Okun (Asst dir)
  Mike Grillo (2d asst dir)
  Chase Newhart (A.D. trainee)
Producer: Barry Spikings (Prod)
  Michael Deeley (Prod)
  Michael Cimino (Prod)
  John Peverall (Prod)
  Marion Rosenberg (Assoc prod)
  Joann Carelli (Assoc prod)
Writer: Michael Cimino (Story)
  Deric Washburn (Story)
  Louis Garfinkle (Story)
  Quinn K. Redeker (Story)
  Deric Washburn (Scr)

Subject Major: Friendship
  Mental illness
  Russian roulette
  United States--History--Vietnam War, 1964--1973
  Vietnam War veterans
Subject Minor: Ammunition
  Post-traumatic stress disorder
  Prisoners of war
  Saigon (Vietnam)
  Small town life
  Steel mills

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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