Ah, the classic Christmas movies: “Miracle on 34th Street”, “White Christmas”, “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “A Christmas Story”… our family watched none of these on Christmas eve.

   We watched “The Deer Hunter” instead.

   The movie had come from Netflix well over a month ago and had been lazily sitting in the basement; a 3-hour monster lurking in its envelope. The time had come to unleash the beast.

   I was the only one in our family who had seen it, but it was so long ago that the memories of it were more a fog than concrete images. I did sort of recall the film was pretty intense. As I watched it, I thought maybe I hadn’t seen the entire film. Maybe I’d just seen chunks of it.

Where's Jimmy Stewart when you need him?

"The Deer Hunter" is a bit more intense than "It's A Wonderful Life"

      This was the film that made director Michael Cimino red hot. His next film was the legendary bomb “Heaven’s Gate” that cooled his career down quickly. “The Deer Hunter” was released in 1979 and won five Oscars, including best picture. 

     It’s a pretty terrific film, albeit one that could use some major pruning. “The Deer Hunter” is slow to develop. Scenes linger, linger, then linger a little longer. A mood is set, relationships are established, plot points are planted, but it all could be done tighter, would be done tighter if it were made today.

    This is a buddy film, a war film, a love story, a coming of age tale, a think piece, a tragic tale. Hmm, maybe it does take three hours to do all that.

    Most of the alleged Western Pennsylvania steel mill scenes (where the buddies live and work) were shot in northeastern Ohio, where I’m from. The Youngstown, Steubenville, Cleveland area do an excellent job playing Western PA. They’re as authentic as cold Rolling Rocks on a beaten bar. However, the scenes of “The Deer Hunter” tracking bucks with his rifle do not fare so well. The alleged Pennsylvania mountains are overplayed by the grandiose vistas of Washington state. Come on Washington state mountains, dress it down a bit–– the Pennsylvania mountains are not that beautiriffic. 

    I won’t get into the story except to say some pals from the steel mills enlist to fight in Viet Nam. It does not go well. Lives are forever changed. War is indeed hell.

    If you haven’t seen “The Deer Hunter”, check it out. Classic performances from Di Nero, John Cazale (what a mug on that guy, the quintessential character actor), John Savage, Christopher Walken (before he developed his odd speaking inflections) and Meryl Streep. 

    No, it won’t become a Christmas tradition to watch it in our house, but it does get the Netflix envelope back into the mail.

   Merry merry and happy happy to all.

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