The lives of three friends (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage) are changed forever when they leave the close community of their small Pennsylvania steel town to fight in Vietnam.
The many Vietnam movies made since have probably lessened the impact of this heavyweight exploration into just how deeply America was scarred by its involvement in that war.
The murderous game of Russian roulette between De Niro and his Viet Cong captors still looks like a very dubious piece of symbolism, but there’s no denying the power of that sequence and of De Niro’s performance throughout.
Standout moments include the long wedding-party celebrations at the start, De Niro’s homecoming (wearing a Green Beret uniform) to Walken’s girlfriend, Meryl Streep, and what has to be cinema’s saddest rendition of the American anthem, God Bless America.
Walken won one of the film’s five Oscars for his performance but, sadly, co-star John Cazale – who was engaged to Streep – died of cancer before it was released.