According to a post on the discussion board, a Special Edition DVD release of the film is available in the UK (region 2 encoded). As part of this special edition, there is a voice-over commentary by director Michael Cimino in which he reveals that Nick is the father of Angela's baby, a highly debated issue that was -- until now -- a mystery. Please note that this is only available in the UK as of now and therefore will not work on most DVD players in the United States. That is, unless you can find a way to disable your DVD player's region code system ...
Below are some various fun facts and trivia for The Deer Hunter.
Johan Axelsson wrote me with the following information: Robert DeNiro wears a Rolex Submariner which you can see in the final Russian Roulette scene with Walken. There are also a stainless steel and gold Rolex GMT-Master which can be seen during the first Russian Roulette scene laying on the table. Where DeNiro got his watch is unknown since a steel-worker should not be able to afford this watch but he possibly just took it from the watches laying on the table in the first Russian Roulette scene.
I received an e-mail from Amy who sent the following: The wedding reception is incorrectly identified as taking place in Clairton. The reception was actually filmed at Lemko Hall in Cleveland, Ohio. The area is on the southside of the city and now known as Tremont. The area has been revitiaized over the past 10 years and now is home to many fabulous restaurants and art galleries. Lemko Hall is now high end apartments and galleries.
The film is mentioned in the book The Andy Warhol Diaries. In November of 1978, Warhol went to a screening of the movie and remarked that Clairton, PA, was where "all" of his cousins were from, and that the movie tried to make the wedding a Russian/Polish affair when they were really supposed to be Czechoslovakian (Carpatho-Rusyn), a la Warhol and his family.
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 and how it shows that "life goes on". The interview was for De Niro's recognition by the American Film Institute, who gave him their lifetime achievement award. A television special commemorating the award aired on June 23rd, 2003.
The scenes with the trailer, where Michael and Nick live, were filmed in Weirton, West Virginia.
All scenes were shot "on location" (no sound stages). Robert De Niro would later film another movie that featured many locations but no sound stages: Heat, with Al Pacino, in 1995.
The film begins in the autumn of 1968 and ends in 1975.
Christopher Walken has a phobia about driving fast in cars.
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.
Welch's Bar was built specifically for the film at a cost of $25,000. The bar was located in Mingo Junction, Ohio, and has since been torn down. Two other films used Mingo Junction as a location for filming ("Heart of Steel" and "Reckless"). Note: I received an E-Mail from Corry Smith, a former resident of Mingo Junction. He claims that the bar was not built exclusively for the film (or at a cost of $25,000) and that it was there in the early 1960s. Corry used to walk past the bar on his way to football practice. The bar was damaged in a fire, soon after condemned, and then demolished. Seems like the folks at AMC (the source of the initial trivia entry) were incorrect. More on the issue! Click here to read an e-mail I received from the producers of AMC's Much More Movie regarding the bar.
The choir featured in the wedding scenes was the actual choir at the church used during filming. They had to sign the hymns between fifty and sixty times.
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.
To prepare for the role, Robert De Niro lived with steelworkers in Ohio. He socialized with them by going out to drink after the workday was over. He even tried to work in a steel mill, but wasn't allowed. This lasted for several months prior to filming.
John Cazale was very weak when filming began (see below), 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 (see below for more on Streep/Cazale).
Meryl Streep improvised many of her lines. The scenes with her and Robert De Niro were "vivid" according to director Michael Cimino.
The first day of shooting for the film was on June 20, 1977.
Scouts for the film traveled over 100,000 miles by plane, bus, and car to find locations for filming. One of these locations, Mt. Baker in Washington, serves as the mountain scenery.
The actors (De Niro, Walken, and Savage) performed the helicopter stunt fifteen times.
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.
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.
I received an E-Mail from Dwight Postma of Lynden, WA, with the locations of the mountains in some of the hunting scenes. According to Dwight, the scene were Mike won't let Stan use his boots was filmed near Mt. Baker on the Glacier Creek Road. The mountain in the background in the scene when Mike throws John's pistol away is Mt. Shuksan, which stands 7 miles from Mt. Baker. The large waterfall Mike sits next to is Nooksack Falls, just off the Mt. Baker highway. Thanks for the great insight, Dwight.
Pierre Segui, the actor who plays the Frenchman in the Vietnam sequences, lost a friend in real life to a game of Russian roulette. Pierre owns and operates a restaurant, "Le-Metrolitain", in Bangkok. He is currently 84 years old, and like Chuck Aspegren, this was his only film. He was paid $25,000 for his role. Pierre also fought with the French in the Indo-China War and has been in Asia ever since. During filming in 1977, the cast and crew ate at his restaurant. There was an ad in the Bangkok Post requesting extras to appear in the film. Thanks to Gilbert Rexx for most of this information. Correction/Addition: Mr. Segui appeared in the French plantation scenes as an officer in Apocalypse Now (these scenes appear in the "Redux" version of the film) according to Barry Butler, who met Pierre while working on production in Thailand.
The church used in the movie was Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral, which is located in Cleveland, Ohio.
When the group of men are leaving the factory and heading to Welch's Bar, Nick (Christopher Walken) encourages Michael to drive faster and pass a fast moving tractor trailer on the inside of the road. In real life, Christopher Walken has a phobia of going too fast in cars.
The wedding reception scenes were filmed with many extras who were residents of Clairton. During the filming of one of the extravagent dancing sequences, director Michael Cimino yelled "cut!" and stopped filming. The extras were having such a good time that they booed when the order was given.
In the original script, the roles of Mike and Nick were reversed in the last half of the film. After Mike and Nick are separated, it is Nick who returns home with Mike remaining in Vietnam and falling into the world of drugs and gambling. Mike sends money back home to Steven and Nick learns he is alive. When he finds him, it is Mike who was killed in the Russian roulette game.
The film had a final budget of $15 million (US).
The film was the official American entry at the Berlin Film Festival in 1979. In protest to the portrayal of Vietnamese society, the Soviet Union withdrew from the contest, followed by Hungray, Bulgaria, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Cuba (Adair, Gilbert. "God Bless America: Patriotism and The Deer Hunter." Vietnam on film. New York. Proteus Publ. 1981. 131-42.)
The hunting scenes are set in the Appalachian Mountains. This mountain chain, stretching from Maine to Alabama (detailed map), are a smooth, rolling, tree covered area (example). But the mountains in the film have jagged mountaintops and rock formations. The reason is because the scenes were filmed at Lake Chelan in Washington State and feature the Cascade Mountains (live webcam at Franklin Falls in the Cascade range).
There is an ominous scene in the film Dog Day Afternoon, starring John Cazale and Al Pacino, in which Cazale's character refuses a cigarette because he doesn't want "to get the cancer". In real life, Cazale developed cancer (of the bone, not lung) during the filming of The Deer Hunter and died a short time later (see below).
The deaths of approximately twenty-eight people who died playing Russian roulette were reported as having been influenced by scenes in the movie.
Robert De Niro claims that this was his greatest performance ever and that it was also his most physically exhausting film.
Chuck Aspegren's only movie role was in The Deer Hunter. His character, Axel, had particularly close ties to him, though. Aspegren was a steel worker from Gary, Indiana.
John Cazale and Meryl Streep were a couple at the time of the film and were engaged to be married. However, he became extremely sick due to bone cancer. She took care of him throughout the filming, but he died very shortly after the film was released. She was married in September of the same year, not long after Cazale's death.
Robert De Niro and John Savage performed the helicopter stunt over the river themselves. In this scene, as well, a serious accident could have occurred when the runners caught on the ropes. De Niro and Savage yelled to the crew inside the helicopter to warn them. This footage is included in the film.
The film was selected to the National Film Preservation Board's Film Registry in 1996, along with such films as The Graduate, Woodstock, and The Thief of Bagdad.
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.
The theme to The Deer Hunter, Cavatina, was composed by the late Stanley Myers, who passed away in 1993.
The film is set in the community of Clairton, Pennsylvania. Much of the movie was filmed in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Earlier, it was noted here that Clairton was an imaginary community. Well, Gary Macoice wrote me and told me that it is, in fact, a real place - he was born there! Sorry for the mistake, everyone, but especially Gary!
Portions of the film were shot in the following locations: Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Mingo Junction, Ohio, USA; Duquesne Heights, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Lake Chelan, Washington State, USA; and Clairton, Pennsylvania, USA
The movie was hurridly pushed into box offices in late January so that it would be eligible for various Academy Awards. The film debuted in the United States on December 8, 1978, at Mann's Theater in California.
In the beginning of the film, when the tractor trailer passes under the trestle, a sign is visible that reads "Welcome to Clairton, City of Prayer". According to Gary Macioce, a native of Clairton, this sign is a replica of the real signs that are posted around the town.
Christopher Walken was originally supposed to receive $17,000 for his role as Nick, but his salary was raised to $25,000 because filmming took longer than was originally planned. Prior to this film, Walken had never earned more than $11,000 in a year. After receiving the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Walken reportedly remarked to his wife, "This is a house."
For his role as Nicky, Christopher Walken expressed his character's mental illness by recalling his own personal feelings of being sent to camp as a young boy. He achieved the withdrawn, hollow look of his character by eating nothing but rice and bananas.
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. In addition, I recently received an E-Mail message from Valerie Douglas who said that her father and late cousin were in the Vietnam War and that Russian roulette did, in fact, occur, both for gambling and murder.
The scene where Nick spits in the face of Michael when they play against each other in Russian roulette at the end of the film was improvised by Christopher Walken. Director Michael Cimino convinced Walken to do this, and De Niro was completely surprised by it, as evidenced by his reaction. In fact, De Niro was so furious about the unscripted improvisation that he nearly left the set. Cimino later said of Walken: "He's got courage!"
Robert De Niro suggested using a single, live bullet for the Russian roulette sequences to increase the tension.
The cast and crew slept on the floor of the warehouse where the Saigon Russian roulette sequences were shot.