“For Americans captured in Vietnam, one war ended. Another was about to begin.”

Entire Story In Fewer Words Than Are In This Sentence:

American POWs sit, wait, and wait some more.


Any time a story features large groups of men in confined spaces, homoeroticism seems a given. Shockingly, however, there wasn’t an ass-slap or sponge bath to be found. There were two instances of prisoners washing themselves, but they kept their pants on the whole time. Two sets of ass cheeks were glimpsed, but they were in the context of torture. In one of those scenes, electrodes were attached to the nipples.

Corpse Count:

Only four men died, all in rather boring fashion. Two of the deaths were by gunfire, and the audience wasn’t even given the cheap thrill of watching it happen.

How Bad Is It Really?

Right-wing bullshit aside, this was an excruciating bore, almost as if I were a POW myself. It’s one thing to spend two hours with people who do little but talk, and quite another when those same people having nothing even remotely interesting to say. As for the style, there was some cheesy stock footage and the dreadful technique of having faint sounds on the soundtrack while a prisoner was telling stories. In one tale, he discusses his father and a heroic WWII battle. As he gets all gung-ho and shit, we can hear sounds of gunfire and patriotic music. When that same soldier talks about hockey games he remembers as a boy, we hear crowd noise and players engaged on the ice. Hokey to say the least, such manipulative tools are typical of films with an overt political agenda. And did I mention how fucking overlong and boring it is? The least they could have done was show an anal rape or two.

Post-Mortem One-Liner:

The slimy Cuban doing revolutionary work for the Vietcong has the only one (after he kills a prisoner): “Adios, Latino.” I know, fucking awful.

Stupid Political Content:

Where do I begin? First, there is a glowing endorsement from President Reagan on the back of the video box! He calls the film something “every American should see.” Second, the film is a Golan-Globus production, which means that it is a work of unapologetic propaganda, bordering on fascist flag-waving. Third…..ah, hell, here’s a damn list:

  • The opening scene features a military stud saying that the war is worth fighting because “the South Vietnamese want to establish a country with values similar to our own.”
  • We hear a Marine talk hatefully about the “long hairs.”
  • Religion is pushed at every opportunity, from a Christmas dinner to a POW praying to God while a beam of light shines on his face. Other characters say the following:
    1. “Keep the faith in God and Country.”
    2. “You can always pray, then you’re never alone.”
    3. “God speaks to all decent people.”
  • A prisoner shouts at one point, “Kiss my rosy red American ass!”
  • Another hothead talks about his desire to strangle hippies, presumably for their audacity in expressing their First Amendment rights.
  • Two characters who are supposed to be Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda are straight out of sketch comedy. The Fonda character even hassles a POW: “Apologize… to the women and children you bombed.” At the end of the trip, the Fonda character hugs the VC commander. Nothing like red meat for the Right, eh?
  • When Ho Chi Minh’s death is announced over the camp loudspeaker, one character looks to the sky and says, “Thank you.” Of course! God waited until the war was nearly over and millions were dead before he snuffed out Ho’s light. Brilliant, soldier boy!

Like the Rambo films, The Hanoi Hilton is trying to redefine the war in terms of the “men left behind.” If our concern becomes MIAs and POWs, the misguided policies that got us into Vietnam in the first place can be forgotten. It’s no accident that this film appeared in the same year as Platoon.

Novelty Death:

The only novelty was that a prisoner actually died of natural causes.

What You Learned:

The writer and director of this film (Lionel Chetwynd) is the same guy who wrote that 9/11 film for Showtime that essentially made George W. Bush a Christ figure. And if a man is imprisoned for eight years without even one glimpse of a female, he will not succumb to homosexual temptation.

About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52