November 2nd, 2007


John Milius

What, you’ve never heard of John Milius? That may be so, but there’s a good chance you’re familiar with at least a bit of his work. He’s a screenwriter whose credits include Dirty Harry, 1941, Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian, Clear and Present Danger, and more recently, the TV series Rome.

I bring this up because I saw an interview with Mr. Milius the other day in which he spent most of his time talking about the screenplay for Apocalypse Now. That movie made a HUGE impression on me when I first saw it. I watched it at least 3 or 4 times in movie theaters and have periodically revisited it since then. I consider it to be one of the classics of the film medium.

Anyway, the interview asked Milius about the oft-quoted line spoken by Kilgore (Robert Duvall): “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Milius laughed a little and said that when he first wrote the line, he looked at what he’d written and thought, “Well, that’s a little over the top; that will probably be the first thing they cut.” The fact that it has become arguably the signature line of that movie is a bit of a wonder to Milius; he maintains that he never has any idea which lines are going to emerge in that manner, and he disclaims any ability to write with that goal in mind.

This is all a humble footnote, to be sure, but it felt good to learn something new about a film that I hold in such high esteem!
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