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The Deer Hunter (1978) Poster

Trivia

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Director Michael Cimino convinced Christopher Walken to spit in Robert De Niro's face. When Walken actually did it, De Niro was completely shocked, as evidenced by his reaction. In fact, De Niro was so furious about it he nearly left the set. Cimino later said of Walken, "He's got courage!"
The slapping in the Russian roulette sequences was 100% authentic. The actors grew very agitated by the constant slapping, which, naturally, added to the realism of the scenes.
The studio wanted to replace John Cazale when he was ruled un-insurable. Robert De Niro put up the money for the insurance. Cazale died shortly after filming was completed.
The scene where Steven is yelling, "Michael, there's rats in here, Michael" as he is stuck in the river is actually John Savage yelling at the director Michael Cimino because of his fear of rats which were infesting the river area. He was yelling for the director to pull him out of the water because of the rats... it looked real and they kept it in.
John Cazale was very weak when filming began, and for this reason, his scenes were filmed first. Michael Cimino knew from the start that Cazale was dying from cancer, but the studio did not. When they found out, they wanted to replace Cazale. When Meryl Streep learned of their intentions, she threatened to quit if they did. Cazale died shortly after filming was completed. He never saw the completed film.
According to Michael Cimino, Robert De Niro requested a live cartridge in the revolver for the scene in which ,Michael subjects Stanley character to an impromptu game of Russian roulette, to heighten the intensity of the situation. John Cazale agreed without protest, but obsessively rechecked the gun before each take to make sure that the live round wasn't next in the chamber.
Robert De Niro recently explained that the scene where Michael visits Steve in the hospital for the first time was the most emotional scene that he was ever involved with. He broke down in tears while discussing the scene in AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Robert De Niro (2003).
The deaths of approximately twenty-eight people who died playing Russian roulette were reported as having been influenced by scenes in the movie.
Christopher Walken achieved the withdrawn, hollow look of his character by consuming nothing but water, rice and bananas.
All scenes were shot on location (no sound stages).
When the film was first shown at the Berlin festival in 1979, one of the biggest incidents of its history resulted when the Soviet delegation walked out in protest against the way the film portrayed the people of Vietnam. The ensuing domino effect led to the walk-outs of the Cubans, East Germans, Bulgarians, Poles and Czechoslovakians, and two members of the jury resigned in sympathy.
Robert De Niro, who prepared for his role by socializing with actual steelworkers, was introduced by his hosts and new friends as Bob, and no one recognized him.
During the filming of the wedding sequence, director Michael Cimino encouraged the many extras to treat the festivities as a real wedding, so as to increase the authenticity of the scenes. Prior to filming the wedding reception, Cimino instructed the extras to take empty boxes from home and wrap them as if they were wrapping real wedding gifts and bring them to the set the next day. The fake gifts would then be used as props for the wedding reception. The extras did as they were told, however, when Cimino inspected the "props" he noticed that the "gifts" were a lot heavier than empty boxes otherwise would be. Cimino tore the wrapping paper off a few of the packages, only to find that the extras had in fact wrapped real gifts for the "wedding".
Robert De Niro and John Savage performed their own stunts in the fall into the river, filming the 30ft drop 15 times in two days.
In the screenplay, Linda's role was negligible. Michael Cimino explained the set-up to Meryl Streep and suggested that she write her own lines.
Robert De Niro claims this was his most physically exhausting film.
During the helicopter stunt, the runners caught on the ropes and as the helicopter rose, it threatened to seriously injure John Savage and Robert De Niro. The actors gestured and yelled furiously to the crew in the helicopter to warn them. Footage of this is included in the film.
Various critics objected to the Russian roulette sequences, suggesting that such activity never took place in the Vietnam War. Director Michael Cimino was planning on the scenes to cause controversy and simply stated that no one could be certain of the accuracy. Robert De Niro and Cimino reportedly argued as to the realism of the scenes.
The deer which Michael allows to get away was actually an elk - the same one often used on commercials for Hartford Insurance. The crew had a very difficult time trying to get the elk to look at them, as it was apparently used to various noises; it finally looked at them when someone in the crew yawned. Elk are not native to the east coast.
Chuck Aspegren was not an actor when he was cast in the movie. He was the foreman at a steel works visited early in pre-production by Robert De Niro and Michael Cimino. They were so impressed with Aspergen that they decided to offer him the role. He was in fact the second person to be cast in the film, after De Niro himself.
According to the film's cinematographer - Vilmos Zsigmond - the scene where the deer is shot [by Michael (DeNiro)] was filmed by giving the trained deer a sedative; it took half an hour for the drug to take effect; they had fenced off an area limiting the deer's range and two cameras were used.
The wedding scene at the church took five days to film. An actual priest was cast as the priest.
Each of the six principal male characters in the movie carried a photo in their back pocket of them all together as children so as to enhance the sense of camaraderie amongst them. As well as this, director Michael Cimino had the props department fashion complete Pennsylvania IDs for each of them, complete with driver's licenses, medical cards and various other pieces of paraphernalia, so as to enhance each actor's sense of their character.
John Cazale's last film.
Jeff Bridges was considered for the role of Nick.
George Dzundza completely blows the toast line when the group arrives in the mountains the first time. His reaction is legitimate, and a few of the other actors can be seen laughing in response.
Pierre Segui, who plays Julien, lost a friend in real life to a game of Russian Roulette.
Cited by Jodie Foster as her favorite film.
When the guys are leaving the factory and heading to Welch's Bar, Nick encourages Michael to drive faster. In real life, Christopher Walken has a phobia of going too fast in cars.
The cast and crew viewed large amounts of news footage from the war to ensure authenticity.
John Wayne's final public appearance was to present the Best Picture Oscar to The Deer Hunter (1978) at The 51st Annual Academy Awards (1979) (TV). It was not a film Wayne was fond of, since it presented a very different view of the Vietnam War than his own movie, The Green Berets (1968), had a decade earlier.
When movie was being planned during the mid-1970s, Vietnam was still a taboo subject with all major Hollywood studios. It was the English Company EMI (headed by Sir Bernard Delfont) who initially arranged financing. Universal got involved with the picture at a much later stage.
The wedding sequences were filmed in the summer, but were set in the fall. To accomplish a look of fall, leaves were removed from trees and painted orange. They were then reattached to the trees.
Christopher Walken was originally supposed to receive $17,000 for his role as Nick, but his salary was raised to $25,000 because filming took longer than was originally planned.
The church used in the wedding sequence was the Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral located in Cleveland, Ohio. One can clearly see the name plaque in one scene.
The woman who was given the task of casting the extras in Thailand had much difficulty finding a local to play the vicious-looking individual who runs the game. The first actor hired turned out to be incapable of slapping Robert De Niro in the face. The caster thankfully knew a local Thai man with a particular dislike of Americans, and cast him accordingly. De Niro suggested that Christopher Walken be slapped for real by one of the guards without any warning. The reaction on Walken's face was genuine.
Jan Scruggs, a Vietnam veteran who became a counselor with the U.S. Department of Labor, thought of the idea of building a National Memorial for Vietnam Veterans after seeing a screening of the film in spring 1979, and he established and operated the memorial fund which paid for it.
The car that Mike is driving is 1959 Cadillac Series 62.
Michael Cimino spent six months shooting his film, and a further five months mixing the soundtrack. Since this was his first Dolby Stereo film, he was eager to exploit the technology to its fullest potential. A short battle sequence, for example, (200 feet of film) took five days to dub. For the re-creation of the American evacuation of Saigon, he accompanied composer Stanley Myers to the location and had him listen to the sounds of vehicles, tanks, and jeep horns as the sequence was being filmed. Myers then composed music for the sequence in the same key as the horns, so that it would blend with the images creating one truly bleak experience.
First feature film depicting the U.S. involvement in Vietnam to be filmed on location in Thailand.
The deer hunting scene was actually shot in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. The mountain shown in the background is Mount Shuksan.
Roy Scheider was originally cast as Michael Vronsky but withdrew from the production two weeks before the start of filming due to 'creative differences'. Still obligated to Universal, Scheider reprised his role as Brody in Jaws 2 (1978).
The cast and crew slept on the floor of the warehouse where the Saigon Russian roulette sequences were shot.
Rutanya Alda actually struck her head quite hard on the doorway during the first take while being carried out of the reception hall; this is why the scene includes John Savage warning her in the take which was used.
The Viet Cong Russian roulette scenes were shot in real circumstances, with real rats and mosquitoes, as the three principals were tied up in bamboo cages erected along the River Kwai.
The film cast includes three Oscar winners: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep.
Scouts for the film traveled over 100,000 miles by plane, bus, and car to find locations for filming.
In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #53 Greatest Movie of All Time.
One of very few films whose 70mm prints kept the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio (letterboxed within the 70mm 2.20:1 frame), instead of simply being cropped to 2.20:1, as was done with most widescreen films blown up to 70mm.
The film takes place in 1967, 1968 and 1975.
The choir featured in the wedding scenes was the actual choir at the church used during filming. They had to sing the hymns more than 50 times.
Michael Cimino originally wanted Brad Dourif to play the role of Steven.
The third film, after Hi, Mom! (1970) and Taxi Driver (1976), in which Robert De Niro plays a Vietnam Veteran.
Robert De Niro spotted Meryl Streep in her stage production of The Cherry Orchard and had suggested that she play Linda.
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Michael Cimino originally claimed that the wedding scene would take up 21 minutes of screen time. In the end, it took 51 minutes. Michael Deeley believes that Cimino always planned to make this prologue last for an hour, and "the plan was to be advanced by stealth rather than straight dealing."
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Robert De Niro was so anxious about the film's controversy that he did not attend the Oscars ceremony. He asked the Academy to sit out the show backstage, but when the Academy refused, De Niro stayed home in New York.
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The bar was specially constructed in an empty storefront in Mingo Junction, Ohio for $25,000; it later became an actual saloon for local steel mill workers.
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U.S. Steel allowed filming inside its Cleveland mill, including placing the actors around the furnace floor, only after securing a $5 million insurance policy.
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According to Christopher Walken, the historical context wasn't paramount: "In the making of it, I don't remember anyone ever mentioning Vietnam!" Robert De Niro added to this sentiment: "Whether [the film's vision of the war] actually happened or not, it's something you could imagine very easily happening. Maybe it did. I don't know. All's fair in love and war." Producer Barry Spikings, while proud of the film, regrets the way the Vietnamese were portrayed. "I don't think any of us meant it to be exploitive," Spikings said. "But I think we were ... ignorant. I can't think of a better word for it. I didn't realize how badly we'd behaved to the Vietnamese people ..."

Michael Deeley, on the other hand, was quick to defend Michael Cimino's comments on the nature and motives of the film: "The Deer Hunter (1978) wasn't really 'about' Vietnam. It was something very different. It wasn't about drugs or the collapse of the morale of the soldiers. It was about how individuals respond to pressure: different men reacting quite differently. The film was about three steel workers in extraordinary circumstances. Apocalypse Now (1979) is surreal. The Deer Hunter (1978) is a parable ... Men who fight and lose an unworthy war face some obvious and unpalatable choices. They can blame their leaders.. or they can blame themselves. Self-blame has been a great burden for many war veterans. So how does a soldier come to terms with his defeat and yet still retain his self-respect? One way is to present the conquering enemy as so inhuman, and the battle between the good guys (us) and the bad guys (them) so uneven, as to render defeat irrelevant. Inhumanity was the theme of The Deer Hunter (1978)'s portrayal of the North Vietnamese prison guards forcing American POWs to play Russian roulette. The audience's sympathy with prisoners who (quite understandably) cracked thus completes the chain. Accordingly, some veterans who suffered in that war found the Russian roulette a valid allegory."
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At The Academy Awards, Michael Deeley made a deal with fellow producer David Puttnam, whose film Midnight Express (1978) was nominated, that each would take $500 to the ceremony so if one of them won, the winner would give the loser the $500 to "drown his sorrows in style."
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As told in the documentary, _An Unlikely Weapon: The Eddie Adams Story (2008)_, Michael Cimino carried Eddie Adams' world famous photo, "The Execution of a Vietcong Guerrilla" in his back pocket for a year and credits the iconic image for inspiring the screenplay.
Meryl Streep was romantically involved with John Cazale during the filming as well as after when he died. Dustin Hoffman was aware of this, it's part of why he had producers cast her as Joanna Kramer in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), because she would bring a vulnerable woman-in-crisis feeling to the role.
CBS paid $5 million for the exclusive network television broadcast rights for the film. The network (along with NBC and ABC) later backed out when the content was deemed inappropriate. The film made its television debut on election night, 1980, but not on any major network.
The production manager asked each of the Russian immigrant extras to bring to the location a gift-wrapped box to double for wedding presents. The manager figured if the extras did this, not only would the production save time and money, but the gifts would also look more authentic. Once the unit wrapped and the extras disappeared, the crew discovered to their amusement that the boxes weren't empty but filled with real presents, from china to silverware. "Who got to keep all these wonderful offerings," wrote Michael Deeley "is a mystery I never quite fathomed."
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Michael Cimino was criticised for one-sidedly portraying all the North Vietnamese as sadistic racists and killers. Cimino countered that his film was not political, polemical, literally accurate, or posturing for any particular point of view. He further defended his position by saying that he had news clippings from Singapore that confirm Russian roulette was used during the war (without specifying which article).
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The film's screenplay, by Michael Cimino and Deric Washburn, was based, in part, on the script "The Man Who Came to Play", a 1975 screenplay by Louis Garfinkle and Quinn K. Redeker about men who travel to Las Vegas to play Russian Roulette. A pre-release arbitration dispute secured Garfinkle and Redeker a co-"story by" credit on the film, although the two writers had nothing to do with its making. They also later shared an Oscar nomination with Cimino and Washburn.
Composer Stanley Myers originally wrote "Cavatina" for the film The Walking Stick (1970) (which became the theme music for The Deer Hunter) as a much shorter piece for the piano. Classical guitarist John Williams persuaded him to to expand it and rewrite it for the guitar. Williams' recording of the piece was later used for the film. Cleo Laine has also recorded a vocal version, "He Was Beautiful", accompanied by Williams.
While producer Michael Deeley was pleased with the revised script, he was still concerned about being able to sell the film. "We still had to get millions out of a major studio," wrote Deeley, "as well as convince our markets around the world that they should buy it before it was finished. I needed someone with the calibre of Robert De Niro." Hiring De Niro turned out to be a casting coup because he knew nearly every actor in New York. De Niro brough)t Meryl Streep to the attention of Michael Cimino and Deeley. With Streep came John Cazale. De Niro also accompanied Cimino to scout locations for the steel mill sequence as well as rehearsed with the actors to use the workshops as a bonding process.
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According to Deric Washburn, he and Michael Cimino spent three days together in L.A. at the Sunset Marquis, hammering out the plot. The script eventually went through several drafts, evolving into a story with three distinct acts. Washburn did not interview any veterans to write the script nor do any research. "I had a month, that was it," he explains. "The clock was ticking. Write the fucking script! But all I had to do was watch TV. Those combat cameramen in Vietnam were out there in the field with the guys. I mean, they had stuff that you wouldn't dream of seeing about Iraq." When Washburn was finished, he says, Cimino and Joann Carelli, an associate producer on the film, took him to dinner at a cheap restaurant off the Sunset Strip. He recalls, "We finished, and Joann looks at me across the table, and she says, 'Well, Deric, it's fuck-off time.' I was fired. It was a classic case: you get a dummy, get him to write the goddamn thing, tell him to go fuck himself, put your name on the thing, and he'll go away. I was so tired, I didn't care. I'd been working 20 hours a day for a month. I got on the plane the next day, and I went back to Manhattan and my carpenter job."
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Film editor Peter Zinner was given 600,000 feet of printed film to edit, a monumental task at the time. Zinner eventually cut the film down to 18,000 feet. Michael Cimino later fired Zinner when he discovered that Zinner was editing down the wedding scenes. Zinner eventually won Best Editing Oscar for the film. Regarding the clashes between him and Cimino, Zinner stated: "Michael Cimino and I had our differences at the end, but he kissed me when we both got Academy Awards." Cimino later commented in The New York Observer, "[Zinner] was a moron ... I cut Deer Hunter myself."
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When Christopher Walken did the Russian roulette scene, he was remembering being sent to summer camp by his parents, which he hated. He felt betrayed, ostracised, alone - which he felt the character was experiencing at that point in the film.
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According to producer Michael Deeley, orchestrated lobbying against the film was led by Warren Beatty, whose own picture Heaven Can Wait (1978) had multiple Oscar nominations. Beatty also used ex-girlfriends in his campaign: Julie Christie, serving on the jury at the Berlin Film Festival where the film was screened, joined the walkout of the film by the Russian jury members. Jane Fonda also criticized the film in public. Deeley suggested that her criticisms partly stemmed from the competition between her film Coming Home (1978) vying with this for Best Picture. According to Deeley, he planted a friend of his in the Oscar press area behind the stage to ask Fonda if she had seen the film. Fonda replied she had not seen the film, and to this day she still has not. Backstage at the Academy Awards she told Michael Cimino that his movie was the "racist Pentagon version of the war" .
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The first deer to be shot was depicted in a "gruesome close-up", although he was hit with a tranquilizer dart.[
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In the USA, theatrical posters contained the following warning at the bottom: "Warning: Due to the mature nature of this film, under 17 requires accompanying Parent or Adult guardian. (There will be strict adherence to this policy)"
Several critics commented on how the film was the more Republican/apologist version of Vietnam while Coming Home (1978) was the Democrat/protest movement's riposte. Pauline Kael criticised the movie for having a racist anti Vietcong feeling to it. "It's as if the Americans are portrayed as doing what they had to do over there, but the Vietnamese are portrayed as vicious sadists, getting off on their ritualistic torture and suicides".
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Michael Cimino frequently referred to the film as a "personal" and "autobiographical" film, although later investigation by journalists like Tom Buckley of Harper's revealed inaccuracies in Cimino's accounts and reported background.
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As the Oscars drew near, the backlash against the film gathered strength. When the limos pulled up to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on April 9, 1979, they were met by demonstrators, mostly from the Los Angeles chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The demonstrators waved placards covered with slogans that read "No Oscars for racism" and "The Deer Hunter a bloody lie" and thrust pamphlets berating Deer Hunter into long lines of limousine windows. Deric Washburn, nominated for Best Original Screenplay, claims his limousine was pelted with stones. According to Variety, "Police and The Deer Hunter protesters clashed in a brief but bloody battle that resulted in 13 arrests."
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Christopher Walken sings along to "Can't Take My Eyes Off You". 36 years later he appeared in Jersey Boys (2014), a biopic of the band The Four Seasons which originated this song.
The second film in which a character played by John Cazale has problems with a woman on the dance floor. The first being The Godfather: Part II (1974).
Bill Clinton later told Meryl Streep that Linda was one of his favorite performances of her entire career.
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Michael Cimino worked for six weeks with Deric Washburn on the script. Cimino and Washburn had previously collaborated with Steven Bochco on the screenplay for Silent Running (1972). According to producer Barry Spikings, Cimino said he wanted to work again with Washburn. According to Michael Deeley, he only heard from office rumour that Washburn was contracted by Cimino to work on the script. "Whether Cimino hired Washburn as his sub-contractor or as a co-writer was constantly being obfuscated," wrote Deeley, "and there were some harsh words between them later on, or so I was told."
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According to Michael Cimino, he would call Deric Washburn while on the road scouting for locations and feed him notes on dialogue and story. Upon reviewing Washburn's draft, Cimino said, "I came back, and read it and I just could not believe what I read. It was like it was written by somebody who was ... mentally deranged." Cimino confronted Washburn at the Sunset Marquis in LA about the draft, and Washburn supposedly replied that he couldn't take the pressure and had to go home. Cimino then fired Washburn. Cimino later claimed to have written the entire screenplay himself. Washburn's response to Cimino's comments were, "It's all nonsense. It's lies. I didn't have a single drink the entire time I was working on the script."
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Before the beginning of principal photography began, Michael Deeley had a meeting with the film's appointed line producer Robert E. Relyea. Deeley hired Relyea after meeting him on the set of Bullitt (1968) and was impressed with his experience. However, Relyea told Deeley that he would not be able to be the producer on Deer Hunter, and refused to disclose the reasons why. Deeley suspected that Relyea sensed in Michael Cimino something that would have made production difficult. As a result, Cimino was acting without day-to-day supervision of a producer.
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This was Michael Cimino's first film to use Dolby noise-reduction system. "What Dolby does," replied Cimino, "is to give you the ability to create a density of detail of sound-a richness so you can demolish the wall separating the viewer from the film. You can come close to demolishing the screen."
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There was some controversy as the actors were too old for their characters.
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Both John Cazale & Robert De Niro played members of the Corleone family in The Godfather: Part II (1974) although they had no scenes together. De Niro's character, Vito Corleone, was the father of Cazale's, Fredo Corleone. John Savage appeared in The Godfather: Part III (1990), as Andrew Hagen, the son of Consigliere Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall).
The film took five months to mix the soundtrack. One short battle sequence-200 feet of film in the final cut-took five days to dub. Another sequence recreated the 1975 American evacuation of Saigon; Michael Cimino brought the film's composer, Stanley Myers, out to the location to listen to the auto, tank, and jeep horns as the sequence was being photographed. The result, according to Cimino: Myers composed the music for that scene in the same key as the horn sounds, so the music and the sound effects would blend with the images to create one jarring, desolate experience.
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Because Michael Deeley was busy overseeing in the production of Convoy (1978), he hired John Peverall to oversee Michael Cimino's shoot. Peverall's expertise with budgeting and scheduling made him a natural choice, and Peverall knew enough about the picture to be elevated to producer status. "John is a straightforward Cornishman who had worked his way up to become a production supervisor," wrote Deeley, "and we employed him as EMI's watchman on certain pictures."
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Gérard Depardieu was considered for the role of Julien.
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Although the famous deer hunting scene was supposed to take place in western Pennsylvania, it was shot at Mt. Baker, in Washington state.
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This was the first feature film depicting the Vietnam War to be filmed on location in Thailand.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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While appearing later in the film, the first scenes shot upon arrival in Thailand were the hospital sequences between Nick and the military doctor. Michael Deeley believed that this scene was "the spur that would earn him an Academy Award."
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The Clairton scenes comprise footage shot in eight different towns in four states: West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Ohio.
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During the 29th Berlin International Film Festival in 1979, the Soviet delegation expressed its indignation with the film which, in their opinion, insulted the Vietnamese people in numerous scenes. Other socialist states also voiced their solidarity with the "heroic people of Vietnam". They protested against the screening of the film and insisted that it violated the statutes of the festival, since it in no way contributed to the "improvement of mutual understanding between the peoples of the world". The ensuing domino effect led to the walk-outs of the Cubans, East Germans, Bulgarians, Poles and Czechoslovakians, and two members of the jury resigned in sympathy.
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Russian Orthodox Cathedral (St Theodosius) is actually located near corner of Thurman Ave and Starkweather Ave, Cleveland, Ohio.
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Robert De Niro accompanied Michael Cimino to scout locations for the steel mill sequence as well as rehearsed with the actors to use the workshops as a bonding process.
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One of two Robert De Niro movies to win Best Picture. The other one is The Godfather Part II (1974).
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Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

In the original script, the roles of Mike and Nick were reversed in the last half of the film. Nick returns home to Linda, while Mike remains in Vietnam, sends money home to help Steven, and meets his tragic fate at the Russian roulette table.
In the commentary for the Special Edition DVD release (as of 2005, only available in the UK, region 2 encoded), director Michael Cimino reveals that Nick is the father of Angela's baby. This was a highly debated issue by fans of the film that was - until now - a mystery.

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