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Burt Lancaster in Go Tell the Spartans

Burt Lancaster as Major Barker No doubt about it: Burt Lancaster's starring role is what gave the movie its punch. How he came to be involved is told by Kate Buford in her excellent biography, Burt Lancaster: An American Life:

Wendell Mayes had been sitting on the script since 1972, when he was unable to raise $7 million to film it with William Holden in the lead. Five years later, director Ted Post got Avco Embassy pictures to take it as part of a low-budget, two-film deal. Post sent the script to Lancaster, who was recuperating from knee surgery. (The limp would become a defining feature of his Major Asa Barker in the film.) Lancaster phoned two days later. "This is a fucking brilliant script," he said. "Don't let anybody touch it." He turned up with his trainer, to exercise his knee, and agreed to work for less than his usual fee. Lancaster had done this several times before, for movies he believed in.

"Considered by many to be the best Vietnam movie nobody ever saw," writes Buford, "Go Tell the Spartans was shot in thirty-one days from October to Novelber 1977 with a constantly shrinking budget of $1.5 million on one square mile of Valencia hillside brush off Interstate 5 in Los Angeles. Keeping the Magic Mountain them park roller coaster out of the camera frame was an important concern." (She doesn't mention it, but the movie had to be dubbed in the studio after filming was finished, because the rumble of the roller coaster sounded as though helicopters were coming to the rescue of the beleaguered garrison at Muc Wa.)

Every morning at dawn, Lancaster turned up at Post's motel room and woke him up so they could talk over the script before the day's work began. Then, with five days left in the shooting schedule, Avco Embassy claimed that it were out of money and had to shut down the production. Lancaster told Post to find out how much was needed to finish the job; Post came back with a figure of $150,000; Lancaster covered the deficit, and the job was completed on schedule. Later he would characterize Spartans as "a good little movie" that "told you in a microcosmic nutshell about Vietnam."

Also on this website:

  • The novel: Incident at Muc Wa
  • The reporter's journal: The Only War We've Got
  • From life to novel to film
  • A Vietnam slide show