Uncommon Valor

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Uncommon Valor
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Produced by David Brown
Michael Tolkin
Nick Wechsler
Buzz Feitshans
John Milius
Screenplay byJoe Gayton
Story by Wings Hauser
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Stephen H. Burum
Edited byMark Melnick
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • December 16, 1983 (1983-12-16)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget"slightly less than $11 million" [1]
Box office$30,503,151 (US)

Uncommon Valor is a 1983 American action war film directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Gene Hackman, Fred Ward, Reb Brown, Randall "Tex" Cobb, Robert Stack and Patrick Swayze. Hackman plays a former U.S. Marine colonel who puts together a rag-tag team to rescue his son, who he believes is among those still held in Laos after the Vietnam War.



In the early 1980s, retired Marine Colonel Jason Rhodes is obsessed with finding his son Frank, an Army Lieutenant listed as "missing in action" (MIA) since 1972. After 10 years of searching Southeast Asia and turning up several leads, Rhodes believes that Frank is still alive and being kept in Laos as a prisoner of war.

After petitioning the United States government for help, but receiving none, Colonel Rhodes brings together a disparate group of Vietnam War veterans, including some who were a part of Frank's platoon: Wilkes, a "tunnel rat" who suffers from PTSD; "Blaster", a demolitions expert; and "Sailor", a crazed, yet loyal machine gunner. Called Sailor for his tendency to get high and just "sail away", he had a hand grenade tied around his neck with the idea that if life ever got too difficult he'd pull the pin and see what's on the other side. Additionally, two helicopter pilot acquaintances of Rhodes, Distinguished Flying Cross recipient Johnson and Charts, join the group. Former Force Recon Marine Kevin Scott joins the team and later turns out to be the son of a pilot who was shot down in Vietnam and listed as MIA.

With the financial backing of good friend and rich oil businessman McGregor, whose son served in Frank's platoon and is also listed among the missing, the men train near Galveston, Texas in preparation to undertake a rescue mission at a remote POW camp in Laos. As the team arrives in Southeast Asia, the CIA, fearing an international crisis from Rhodes' actions, intercepts him in Bangkok and confiscates his weapons and equipment. Still determined to rescue their comrades, the team members put together their expense money given to them by McGregor to purchase replacement weapons and supplies. Rhodes contacts an acquaintance, deposed local drug baron Jiang, who joins the expedition with his two daughters Lai Fun and Mai Lin. Jiang manages to supply them with outdated but capable World War II-era weapons. In the course of the expedition, Charts gradually forms a relationship with Lai Fun.

Near the Laotian border, the group is attacked by a border patrol unit and Mai Lin is killed. Later, the group divides: Rhodes leads Charts, Sailor, Johnson and Lai Fun as the "air team" to a helicopter compound to secure escape transportation, while Jiang, Blaster, Scott and Wilkes scout out the prison camp as the "ground team." The ground team later discovers four Americans among the prisoners, but are unable to ascertain Frank's whereabouts.

The teams spend the night preparing before commencing the attack the next morning. Blaster sets up demolitions, while Rhodes and his team discover that the air base is not where they expected it to be. Hiking through the jungle, they find it, get the choppers and take off, but are late in arriving at the camp. Blaster makes the decision to blow his charges to prevent the prisoners from leaving the camp, even though the choppers haven't arrived. In a heated battle, they manage to spring the prisoners, among them McGregor's son, but Frank is not among them. Blaster, Sailor and Jiang are killed in the process. Sailor, standing atop a tower is mortally wounded, then sees the soldiers about to use a RPG to take out the remaining helicopter. He pulls the pin on his grenade and leaps onto the soldiers, killing all of them. From McGregor's son, Rhodes learns that Frank became ill soon after his capture and died, despite McGregor's son's best efforts. It is revealed that Frank was the soldier who stopped to carry a wounded McGregor during the platoon's evacuation to the helicopters in Vietnam in 1972 (as seen in the opening scene), but they were left behind as the helicopter carrying Blaster, Sailor and Wilkes departed the hot landing zone.

Stateside, the group is joyously welcomed by their families with media attention and fanfare. Rhodes finds that in learning the fate of his son, he has gained some closure for his wife and himself.



The film began with a screenplay by actor Wings Hauser, who says he was inspired by the stories of a childhood friend, Gary Dickerson, who had been to Vietnam. "I saw that he had left something behind in Viet Nam and that triggered the whole thing," said Hauser. "And then I became aware of the MIA and the POW situation and said well that will be the excuse to go back to Nam and gel the POWs, but what they’re really going back for is their own clarity and their own integrity right? And that’s the story. That’s the whole film." [2]

Hauser says it took a 18 months to write the script [2] which he sold to Paramount. The film had at least five title changes, including Last River to Cross. [3]

John Milius became attached to the producer. The script was rewritten by Joe Gayton. Hauser lost credit in arbitration. In 1989, the actor-writer said, "John Milius is a scumbag right-wing bastard and I can’t wait for his day to die! That son of a bitch! The (other) guy who got the credit, he was a punk! I don’t think he’s sold anything since and I have and he’s a joke!" [2]

Paramount sent Joe Gayton's script to director Ted Kotcheff late in January, 1983. The following month it came out that James Gritz (aka Bo Gritz), a former lieutenant-colonel in the Green Berets (and the man that both the characters Rambo and Hannibal Smith from The A-Team are based upon), had led a secret mission into Laos the previous November to search for MIA American soldiers which ended when they were ambushed by Laotian soldiers. Kotcheff said "We assiduously avoided anything in our story similar to Gritz. Our research amazingly showed there were some 30 groups training for similar missions." [1]

Kotcheff said that Milius did write "two or three scenes" as well as making "a number of very creative suggestions" on the script. Among the scenes Milius wrote included one where Hackman gives a speech to the other soldiers about Vietnam being like a company that has gone bankrupt. "It was a wonderful speech," said Kotcheff, adding Milius "did write under pressure but mainly he functioned as a producer." [4]

Milius said he wanted James Arness to play the lead role rather than Gene Hackman. [5]


Filming started June 6, 1983. The Laotian POW camp that forms the climax of the film was built on a private ranch in the Lumahai Valley on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, and was filmed in early August, 1983. The opening scene depicting the Vietnam War was filmed a short distance away in a rice paddy, two miles from central Hanalei, Hawaii, and 200 yards from the Kuhio Highway. Additional parts of the film were shot in Salt Lake City, Utah, Sun Valley, California, and Castaic, California (which served as the training camp). [6]

The helicopters used in the film were purchased (as opposed to rented) and repainted, since the United States Department of Defense was unwilling to rent the production military-spec Bell UH-1N Huey or Bell 206B Jet Ranger helicopters due to the apparent "anti-government" nature of the film.[ citation needed ]

Milius hired a composer without Paramount's consent and Jeffrey Katzenberg over-ruled Milius. [7]


Paramount had originally prepared an advertising campaign that was "factual and rather somber and centred on the plight of prisoners of war", according to one report. [1] However after the marketing department saw the film they decided to create an entirely new campaign. This showed a soldier slung over a friend's back and the copy line, "C'mon, buddy, we're going home." "We were looking to appeal to males on an emotional level," said Paramount's head of marketing, Gordon Weaver. "We were offering them an attainable fantasy. We'd all like to think that we can be heroes, that we would leave our jobs and families to do something really terrific for our friends." [1]


Box Office

The film was a box-office hit, one of the top-earning films of 1983. [1] This was considered a surprise at the time because of the film's lack of stars and the fact it had to compete with Scarface and Sudden Impact. Gordon Weaver, Paramount's president of marketing, thought the film "was successful because of the emotional impact of the ending. The emotional ending really makes you feel terrific." [1]

Kotcheff sad "If we knew the secret of a film's success, we'd all be very wealthy. But I think it's partly the strong emotional tug of the father-son relationship." [1]

Critical response

Critical reception of the film was mixed, with a 56% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews from 9 critics. [8]

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert of This Week at the Movies: The Movie Review Program both gave the film a thumbs down. [9] In his Chicago Sun-Times review of Uncommon Valor, Ebert gave the film a mixed 2-out-of-4 star review that described the squandering of "first-rate talent" like Kotcheff and Hackman in a film that was little more than "two hours of clichés" delivered with "lead-footed predictability". [10]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "'Uncommon Valor' An Uncommon Hit". Sarasota Herald-Tribune . New York Times News Service. 15 February 1984. p. 8-C via Google News Archive.
  2. 1 2 3 Rao, Char (Summer 1989). "Wings Hauser". Psychotronic Video. No. 3. p.  51.
  3. Cedrone, Lou (23 December 1983). "Valor not common but highly unlikely". The Baltimore Evening Sun via The Daily Courier.
  4. Gallagher, John (1989). Film directors on directing . Praeger. p.  156.
  5. Tarantino, Quentin (11 April 2020). "Tarantino on Milius". The New Beverly Cinema.
  6. D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN   9781423605874.
  7. Harmetz, Aljean (7 February 1988). "Who Makes Disney Run?". The New York Times . p. A.29.
  8. Uncommon Valor at Rotten Tomatoes
  9. Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert (1985). "This Time We Win - Vietnam Movie Special (ATM 1985)". This Week at the Movies: The Movie Review Program. Archived from the original on 5 July 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2013.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  10. Ebert, Roger. "Uncommon Valor Movie Review & Film Summary (1983)". Chicago Sun-Times .