Movie Mom

Movie Mom

The Real Story: The Man Who Inspired “Apocalypse Now”

posted by Nell Minow

Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam story Apocalypse Now was inspired by Joseph Conrad’s book, Heart of Darkness, about the disintegration into madness of a man who goes into the jungle.  It was an apt metaphor in the days of the Southeast Asian conflict quagmire, and Marlon Brando gave a mesmerizing performance as Colonel Kurtz.  The documentary about the making of the film adds another layer as it shows the same pressures on the filmmakers that they were portraying with the characters.


The LA Times reports in a fascinating obituary for Robert Rheault, a Green Beret charged with murder, that his story was also an inspiration for screenwriter John Milius.

Rheault (pronounced Roe) and five of his men were accused of murder and conspiracy in the death of a suspected South Vietnamese double agent. When questioned by his superiors, Rheault said the man was away on a secret mission when in fact his body had already been dumped in the South China Sea.

The lie enraged Gen. Creighton Abrams Jr., the U.S. commander in Vietnam, who ordered courts-martial for Rheault and his subordinates. But a few months later, President Nixon’s Army secretary abruptly overruled the general and the charges were dropped, an extraordinary turn that not only deepened the mystery surrounding the case but allowed perplexing questions to fester about the morality of the Vietnam War.


“War,” Rheault once observed, “is a nasty business, with a lot of high-minded objectives, like freedom and fighting the aggressor, to justify killing people.”

An even more significant result from the reports of Rheault’s actions had ripple effects that continue in today’s headlines:

Daniel Ellsberg, a defense analyst for Rand in Santa Monica, read a detailed reconstruction of the case in The Times on Sept. 30, 1969, that convinced him the government “at every level, from bottom to top,” was deceiving the American people. He decided then to leak the Pentagon Papers, the top-secret history of the war that intensified public dissent over U.S. involvement in Vietnam, embarrassed Nixon and provoked the Watergate burglaries that ultimately ended his presidency.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Hani Yared

    I have translated Heart of Darkness into Arabic.

    Many thanks for a lightening story.

Previous Posts

Carolyn Hax on the Toughest Media Question Parents Face
I am a huge fan of advice columnist Carolyn Hax, whose compassionate and insightful responses are always illuminating and often very funny. And I love the witty meta-commentary in the accompanying illustrations from Nick Galifianakis. Today, ...

posted 10:54:14am Oct. 06, 2015 | read full post »

Trailer: Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara in "Trash"
[iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0"] ...

posted 8:00:26am Oct. 06, 2015 | read full post »

John Hanlon Interviews Beth Kushnick on Designing for "The Good Wife"
"The Good Wife" has one of the best production design teams on television, so I was especially interested to read the interview my friend John Hanlon did with Beth Kushnick, set designer Beth Kushnick for The Credits. I loved the way she ...

posted 2:58:59pm Oct. 05, 2015 | read full post »

Trailer: "Back in Time" -- Documentary About the Making of "Back to the Future"
[youtube][/youtube] ...

posted 8:00:15am Oct. 05, 2015 | read full post »

Trailer: A Bigger Splash with Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, and Dakota Johnson
[youtube][/youtube] The lives of a famous rock star and a filmmaker, (Tilda Swinton and Matthias Schoenaerts) vacationing on the idyllic sun-drenched and remote Italian island of Pantelleria are ...

posted 8:00:25am Oct. 03, 2015 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.