Director: Michael Cimino
Stars: Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Cazale
Plot: An in-depth examination of the ways in which the U.S. Vietnam War impacts and disrupts the lives of people in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania.
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 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.
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.
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).
Christopher Walken achieved the withdrawn, hollow look of his character by consuming nothing but water, rice and bananas.
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 and John Savage performed their own stunts in the fall into the river, filming the 30ft drop 15 times in two days.
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.
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".
Various critics objected to the Russian roulette sequences, suggesting that such activity never took place in the Vietnam War.
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.
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.
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.
Meryl Streep was romantically involved with John Cazale during the filming as well as after when he died.
Michael Cimino was criticised for one-sidedly portraying all the North Vietnamese as sadistic racists and killers. 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."
Although the famous deer hunting scene was supposed to take place in western Pennsylvania, it was shot at Mt. Baker, in Washington state.
This movie is considered widely to blame for the introduction of Russian Roulette to pop culture.