On this day in 1979, Apocalypse Now, the acclaimed Vietnam War film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, opens in theaters around the United States.
The film, inspired in part by Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella Heart of Darkness, among other sources, told the story of an Army captain (played by Martin Sheen) and crew of men who are sent into the Cambodian jungle to kill a U.S. Special Forces colonel (Marlon Brando) who has gone AWOL and is thought to be crazy. Apocalypse Now, which co-starred Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper, became notorious for its long, difficult production, which included budget problems, shooting delays due to bad weather on the Philippines set, a heart attack for Sheen and a nervous breakdown for Coppola. Despite the production hurdles, the film became a commercial success and won two Academy Awards (Best Cinematography and Best Sound); it received six other Oscar nominations, including Best Director, Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Duvall). The film included such memorable lines as “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and “The horror…the horror!”
At the time of the film’s release, Coppola, who was born in 1939, was already famous for writing and directing The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974). Following Apocalypse Now, he went on to direct such movies as The Outsiders (1983), The Godfather Part III (1990) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).
Prior to starring in Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen’s movie credits included 1973’s Badlands, with Sissy Spacek. Sheen, who was born Ramon Estevez in 1940, would later co-star in such films as Wall Street (1987), opposite his son Charlie Sheen, and The Departed (2006). From 1999 to 2006, he played the fictional U.S. President Josiah Bartlett on the award-winning television show The West Wing, created by Aaron Sorkin.
Brando, who died at the age of 80 in 2004, was regarded as one of the greatest actors of his era. He won Best Actor Oscars for On the Waterfront (1954) and The Godfather and was nominated for his performances in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952), Julius Caesar (1953), Sayonara (1957), Last Tango in Paris (1973) and A Dry White Season (1989).