“You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.”
Colonel Kurtz (Brando)

Martin Sheen in a scene from the 1979 film “Apocalypse Now.” IMDb photo

When Francis Ford Coppola introduced his film “Apocalypse Now” at the Cannes Film Festival before its screening, he said, “My film is not about Vietnam, it is Vietnam.”

He then added, “Little by little we went insane.”

Indeed they did.

Based on Joseph Conrad’s novel, Coppola took the great story about colonialism and a dark river in the Congo to America’s darkest moment in Vietnam.

This month, Netflix has put Coppola’s biggest, noisiest masterpiece into our living rooms, so if you don’t have a 49 or above size screen, it’s time to reward yourself and get one.


Of course, “Apocalypse” is best viewed in a theater on massive screens, but that’s not going to happen this Covid-chilled winter, when you need to be warmed by the fire and thunder of something big and grand.

It is possible that Waterville’s Railroad Square Cinema may gift you with a one night showing, as they are with Alfred Hitchcock’s splendid “Rear Window” on one night only, in early December.

But should you find yourself bored one cold November night, here is Netflix’s gift to those of who have never seen Marlon Brando’s truly failed last note to a great career.

It’s interesting to discover that Marlon was so fat when he showed up on set, that Coppola had to rewrite the last historic scenes.

The plot, roughly drawn from Conrad’s story, is about Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) a hitman sent by the Special Services, to the deepest jungles of Cambodia, to take out a now insane Colonel Kurtz (Brando) who was once a decorated war hero, but soon went rogue and formed his own one-man army of deserters and tribesmen.

Under orders, Willard, a young blooming alcoholic, takes a gunboat up the river, with a diverse crew of half-mad soldiers, that include the then teenager Laurence Fishburne, a young Sam Bottoms and Frederic Forrest.


Harrison Ford makes an appearance earlier as Colonel Lucas, a Special Services adviser, and then disappears.

The film, beautifully directed by Coppola and filmed by Vittorio Storaro (“Dick Tracy,” “The Last Emperor”) sparkles with great, long-gone actors as G.D. Spradlin and Dennis Hopper as the spaced-out photographer attached to Kurtz.

But a stand-out dark comedy performance by veteran Coppola friend, Robert Duvall as Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore, is now considered an unforgettable cinema classic.

Duvall as Kilgore, brings in a squadron of choppers to wipe out a village, and then lands on the beach. Kilgore, we learn, is a surfer champ and dreams of taking in the big waves here.

His iconic message to the troops, shortened in the script, is memorable.

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like victory.”

“Apocalypse Now” in this day of pandemic fever, how timely is that? Happy Veterans Day.

“Apocalypse Now” is streaming on Netflix.

J.P. Devine of Waterville is a former stage and screen actor.

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