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The Deer Hunter

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Jove, New York, 1979
(price: $1.95; 192 pages)

The blurb on the back:

What kind of a hunter is the Deer Hunter?
He was a young steelworker from a sad little hill town in Pennsylvania. Nothing had prepared him for war in the jungles of Asia ... nothing except the hellish heat of the blast furnaces ... gut-searing boilermakers ... the trailer life ... and the strength of his passion for hunting the great deer of the Alleghenies.
The deer hunter was young, but he had steady nerves, the grace of a cat, and the high mountain passes in his heart. He would need all of them to survive.
The Deer Hunter - A deeply moving story of courage and friendship set against the terrifying odds of war.

Let's get some perspective on this Vietnam business. American fatalities were just under 60,000 in about a decade of war. That's around the same number as British civilian fatalities from enemy bombing during the Second World War - which lasted half as long - and about a tenth of the fatalities inflicted on the German civilian population by RAF Bomber Command during the same conflict. A damn serious war obviously, particularly if you were Vietnamese, but from an American perspective surely the significant bit (apart from losing) was what happened at home, not in the jungles of South-East Asia.

And yet even now, thirty years on, Hollywood continues to re-fight the war: at the time of writing, Mel Gibson's We Were Soldiers has just opened in Britain to yawns of indifference, whilst if it weren't for Spielberg, the West's war against fascism would have been as forgotten as the Soviet Union's heroic victory over Hitler. In fact, it sometimes feels like we've seen as many American deaths portrayed in the movies as were actually suffered in Vietnam itself, almost as though Hollywood were trying to establish a new dramatic unity. (Mind you, the racial balance of the GI victims on celluloid never quite reflected reality.)

Anyway, before 'Nam got to be one of the biggest clichés in modern movie-making, The Deer Hunter was considered shocking and new and harrowing and all that kind of stuff. Truth is, it wasn't like that at all: it was simply melodramatic. That Russian roulette business? Come off it - that's rubbish, that is. In addition to which, the film was unreasonably long and featured a theme tune so tedious that not even Hank B Marvin himself managed to get any fun out of it.

Still the scenes at the beginning, with the steel-town community, were quite nice.

Anything that's good about the film - and despite my patronizing tone, there were some decent moments amidst the dull half-hours - is absent from this novelization. It's by EM Corder 'based on the screenplay by Deric Washburn; story by Michael Cimino & Deric Washburn and Louis Garfinkle & Quinn K Redeker'. Too many cooks, perhaps.

Try The LBJ Brigade instead.

deer huntin'
One of these men is a villain, and one a hero - can you guess which is which?