Francis Ford Coppola--seen on this tee, likely, on the edge of insanity during filming of Apocalypse Now--made one of the greatest war films of all time--bringing to light, nearly a decade later, film that had begun its life at the tail end of the Vietnam War.
John Milius had set out, encouraged by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, to adapt Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness to Vietnam. Lucas was originally set to direct and the film was intended to use real soldiers while the war still raged but safety concerns and Lucas' involvement in American Graffiti and later Star Wars shelved the experiment.
By the time Coppola took the reins, the film was still delayed and fraught with hellish setbacks. Marlon Brando--who played the Special Forces soldier gone rogue--showed up overweight, Martin Sheen--who replaced Harvey Keitel a week into shooting--suffered a heart attack during filming and a monsoon destroyed sets and stranded crew members. Even after the filming was all said and done, the sound tracks took years to compile and Coppola had miles of footage to edit. Early cuts of the film left critics underwhelmed but the daring filmmaker pushed on hoping for similar success at the Cannes Film Festival to his previous film The Conversation; starring Gene Hackman. Once a proper ending was secured, the film inevitably blew critics away and landed itself as an audience favorite.
It was a daring work that not only revealed the horror of war and the fragility of the human psyche but managed to show humor in dark places with classic lines like "Charlie don't surf" and the morbid juxtaposition of a helicopter strike on a village to the tune of "Ride of the Valkyries" by Wagner(Loony Tunes anyone?). The film is ultimately a testament to the endurance of cast and crew and Coppola's brilliant quick thinking and the visionary scope established in The Godfather and The Godfather II.