Touchstone Pictures waded into the war genre with their 1988 blockbuster Good Morning Vietnam. Filled with frantic humor from the maestro himself, Robin Williams brings his acting chops to forefront in this movie. Get ready to laugh and cry as we jump back in time to Vietnam in the mid 1960’s as a rambunctious DJ is about to upend the rules of Armed Forces Radio.

The Plot

Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) has just landed in Saigon, Vietnam on reassignment to Armed Forces Radio. Met by Private Edward Garlick (Forest Whitaker) Cronauer is brought to the base where he meets a ridiculously out of touch Lt. Hauk (Bruno Kirby) an angry Sgt. Major Dickerson (J.T. Walsh) and sympathetic Gen. Taylor (Noble Willingham).

It doesn’t take long for Cronauer’s brand of manic humor to take over his daily broadcasts and attract a large crowd of fans, and the affection of his fellow Armed Forces Radio personnel. As the weeks pass by, Cronauer may anger Lt. Hauk and Sgt. Major Dickerson, but he befriends two locals, Tuan (Tom. T. Tran), and his sister Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana).

While Cronauer’s friendship with Tuan grows, his developing love for Trinh is unreciprocated. As time passes in Vietnam, the situation changes. Cronauer’s antics on the radio, including reading censored news items, has angered his commanding officers. When it’s learned that Tuan is an enemy in league with the North Vietcong, Cronauer is made aware of this situation by an irate Sgt. Major Dickerson and given an honorable discharge.  

Cinematic Compliments

Robin Williams is everything in the film. Yes, he has great supporting actors, including Forest Whitaker, but this film is all about the power and talent that Robin Williams had.

We get zany Robin William doing a dozen voices while hosting his radio show. The quick-change machine-gun comedy that he uses to establish Cronauer is funny, but also smart. Williams never resorts to gross out humor that later ‘comedians’ use. An emotionally balanced and caring Robin Williams comes out in his friendship with Tuan, his love for Trinh, and most importantly the scene where Cronauer is stuck in a traffic jam with a convoy of troops.

The traffic jam scene alone is worth the price of admission, but viewers will marvel at the level of skill Robin Williams brings to this scene. His ability to interact with the soldiers, to poke fun at them while also kidding with them to lighten the tension of what the soldiers are facing, could not be done by any other actor. I couldn’t help but laugh at the funny moments, and then think hard about the reality of what his character is experiencing. The fact that this scene was filmed with multiple actors that didn’t speak English, and yet Williams is able to make them laugh, just amazes me. There is no talent that will equal Robin Williams. He was a genius on the screen.

Cinematic Complaints

Bruno Kirby and J.T. Walsh are incredible actors, and they play their parts well. Unfortunately, they are given stereotypical roles that are one dimensional and recycled repeatedly in film. Kirby and Walsh deserved so much more.

Fun Film Facts

  • The film is based on the true story of the real-life disc jockey Adrian Cronauer who worked for Armed Forces Radio during the Vietnam War in the mid 1960’s.
  • The real Cronauer said that maybe forty percent of the film was accurate to what his experience was like in Vietnam.
  • Cronauer served his time in Vietnam and was honorably discharged, unlike the film where Williams’ character is forced to leave.
  • Pat Sajak was one of the many Armed Forces Radio DJ’s who would take over the show after Cronauer was discharged.
  • Director Barry Levinson didn’t want Robin Williams to meet the real Cronauer until after production had wrapped. The star would eventually meet Cronauer at the movie premiere.
  • The movie was shot in Thailand not Vietnam.
  • Apparently, the radio show scenes were ad-libbed by Williams.
  • There was a planned sequel titled Good Morning Chicago, which would have had Williams reprise the role of Cronauer covering the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. A script was ready but the follow up film never moved beyond those early stages.
  • Robin Williams said at a panel discussion in 1987 for the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, that “I think right now the [war] numbness is wearing off a little bit. If it works, there’s a certain catharsis in laughter.”

The Golden Popcorn Bucket Award

Good Morning Vietnam gets a 4 Golden Popcorn Bucket rating. Over three decades since the film first premiered, Robin Williams’ talent shines through the movie and will hold the audience’s attention until he climbs the steps of the plane and flies off into the end credits.

For a film that was made just over ten years after the real Vietnam War ended, the mixture of comedy and truth, with a shot of creativity, lets the audience make their own decision about whether the film is an anti-war movie. War is sometimes a necessary avenue that is needed, World War II for example. What Good Morning Vietnam does best is that it delves into the war genre but skips paying attention to the battles but gives a face and voice to those that serve in the wars of the world. From the common soldier to Cronauer himself, Good Morning Vietnam tells you to remember that it is people who fight and die in service of our country and we should always remember them.

Coming Attractions

Next week we take a break from celebrations and commemorations and look to some laughs with Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin’s 1988 comedy Big Business.

Production Credits

Directed by Barry Levinson

Produced by Touchstone Pictures

Starring:

  • Robin Williams as Adrian Cronauer
  • Forest Whitaker as Edward Garlick
  • J.T. Walsh as Sgt. Major Dickerson
  • Noble Willingham as Gen. Taylor
  • Bruno Kirby as Lt. Hauk
  • Tom. T. Tran as Tuan
  • Chintara Sukapatana as Trinh

Release Date: January 15, 1988

Budget: $13 million

Box Office Gross

Domestic: $123,922,370