Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Apocalypse Now (1979)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Apocalypse Now (1979)

In director Francis Ford Coppola's sweeping, surreal, still-controversial Vietnam war epic that has been considered by many to be the best war movie of all time, with incredible performances. A revised version, Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) followed. It was a masterful, thought-provoking, pretentious film, with beautifully-chaotic visuals, about the nightmarish, moral madness of the Vietnam War, inspired by the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.:

  • the opening credits sequence was accompanied by the thumping sound of the choppers - and billowing napalm flames coinciding with the music of The Doors, while drunken and debauched US Army vet Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) was in his Saigon hotel room with a spinning ceiling fan (and his opening line: "Saigon. Shit. I'm still only in Saigon"); in the story beginning in Saigon in 1969, he was awaiting orders for a top-secret mission
  • Willard learned that he would be sent up the Nung River into the off-limits Cambodian jungle aboard a Navy patrol boat carrying a young, spaced-out crew
  • his military objective was to assassinate ("terminate...with extreme prejudice") a Buddha-like, renegade Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), once a decorated Special Forces officer, who had become an insane demi-god and now ran his own jungle fiefdom, and lorded himself over the native peoples and Montagnard troops
  • Willard experienced the horrors of war during the journey, with his patrol boat companions: African-American boat commander "Chief" Phillips (Albert Hall), New Orleans cook "Chef" (Frederic Forrest), 17 year-old Bronx ghetto youth "Mr. Clean" (Larry Fishburne), and California surfer-water skiier Lance (Sam Bottoms)
  • during the river journey, the crew met up with hawkish, reckless and gung-ho Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) wearing a black Stetson hat; the surf-loving, flamboyant and fearless Lieutenant Kilgore gave a famous speech amidst blowing yellow smoke while others surfed in celebration: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning... smelled like...victory," (and "Charlie don't surf")
  • a devastating dawn naval attack by his 9th Air Cavalry unit was choreographed (supplemented with visual/audio components) using napalm on a Vietnamese village (with suspected Viet Cong) by swooping and swarming Huey helicopters, to the tune of Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries" blaring over loudspeakers
Air Cavalry - Dawn Attack
Colonel Kilgore: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning..."
  • afterwards, the group arrived at an isolated US base supply depot at Hau Phat in a surreal nighttime scene brilliantly lit by floodlights; Playboy Bunnies performed in a USO-styled show for sex-starved soldiers
  • the panicky crew senselessly massacred all the innocent Vietnamese peasants in a sampan with machine-gun fire
  • they also came upon a bizarre night battle for the besieged, psychedically-lit, temporary Do Lung bridge
  • at mad renegade Colonel Kurtz's strange jungle compound and outpost inside Cambodia (with severed heads and hanging mutilated bodies in view), Willard first encountered maniacal, fast-talking US freelance photographer (Dennis Hopper)
  • Willard was ushered into Kurtz' presence inside a dark temple. In the shadowy confrontation between Willard and an incoherently-mumbling and deranged, overweight and bald Kurtz (weighing hundreds of pounds with head shaven), the Colonel spoke about the 'horrors' he had experienced: "I've seen the horrors, horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me - you have a right to do that - but you have no right to judge me." Although Kurtz encouraged Willard to disobey and challenge his officers, he also urged his own death
  • ultimately, Willard emerged from the jungle water and carried out his mission of murder with a machete - interspliced with the natives' ritualistic slaughter of a water buffalo (outraging animal activists). Willard and the catatonic and crazed Lance (the only surviving patrol boat member) departed from the site, hearing Kurtz' last words about wartime atrocities: "The horror, the horror." In some versions of the film (during the end credits), a fiery, large-scale aerial attack was staged to destroy Kurtz' jungle fortress

Captain Willard Still in Saigon

Pre-Execution of Col. Kurtz

Death of Colonel Kurtz


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