The Deer Hunter was met with controversy in 1978 regarding its treatment of the Vietnamese soldiers and its fictionalization of the war. That didn’t stop the film from being a searing work of art, and collecting five awards on Oscar night.
Here are 11 interesting facts about Michael Cimino’s war epic…
1. The studio wanted to replace John Cazale when he was ruled un-insurable due to the fact he was suffering from throat cancer. Robert De Niro put up the money for the insurance. Cazale died shortly after filming was completed.
2. 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.
3. 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.”
4. Various critics objected to the Russian roulette sequences, suggesting that such activity never took place in the Vietnam War. 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.
5. 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.
6. During some of the Russian Roulette scenes, a live round was put into the gun to heighten the actors’ tension. This was Robert De Niro’s suggestion. It was checked, however, to make sure the bullet was not in the chamber before the trigger was pulled.
7. The deaths of approximately twenty-eight people who died playing Russian roulette were reported as having been influenced by scenes in the movie.
8. 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.
9. Christopher Walken achieved the withdrawn, hollow look of his character by eating nothing but rice and bananas.
10. Michael Cimino convinced Christopher Walken to spit in Michael’s face. When Walken actually did it, Robert De Niro was completely shocked, as evidenced by his reaction. In fact, De Niro was so furious about it he nearly left the set.
11. The scene where Savage is yelling, “Michael, there’s rats in here, Michael” as he is stuck in the river is actually 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.