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Was a Live Gun Used in the Film “Deer Hunter”?

Released in 1978 as an Anti-War Movie set in the Vietnam War, Deer Hunter is most known for its Russian roulette that enslaves the viewers’ attention with its intensity per scene. To ensure the maximum authenticity of the set, not only did director Michael Cimino request for the usage of live rats and mosquitoes, but Cimino also complied with Robert De Niro’s request to use a live gun. 

Most known for the Russian roulette scene in Deer Hunter, it’s revealed that Robert De Niro requested a real gun with a live cartridge during the intense clip, making his co-star repeatedly check the revolver in between takes. 

The Iconic, Anti-War Deer Hunter

With the beginning of Deer Hunter set in the late 1960s in a minute area in Pennsylvania, the audience comes to know five men that would initially work in a steel manufacturing plant before serving in the Vietnam War. Michael and his peers, Nick, Steven, Stan, and Axel, are played by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, John Cazale, and Chuck Aspegren.

Before directly heading for Vietnam, the main characters celebrate Steven and Angela’s wedding at a Russian Orthodox Church, which leads to a sendoff party for the Vietnam-bound men. (Source: Spirituality and Practice

As stated in an article by Arthur Knight for the Hollywood Reporter, the script of Deer Hunter divides into three main parts. The first part depicts the men’s daily lives in Pennsylvania, while the second is their war encounters as combat soldiers. The last part of the script is their return and homecoming. (Source: The Hollywood Reporter

One of the most recognized scenes of the Deer Hunter is when North Vietnamese soldiers imprisoned Michael, Steven, and Nick, confining them in cells with rats. Michael Cimino, the director of Deer Hunter, used real rats for an authentic scene.

The Deer Hunter‘s combination of authenticity, talented actors, iconic scenes, a skillful director, and a well-balanced script consequentially made the movie take home Best Director and Best Picture in the 1979 Academy Awards. Additionally, Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep received Oscar nominations for their character portrayal. (Source: Far Out Magazine

Robert De Niro and the Russian Roulette

The Russian roulette scene in Deer Hunter makes viewers hold their breaths due to the unwavering intensity each take has. As one of her favorite films, Jodie Foster expresses her views in the Russian roulette scene in an interview with the American Film Institute.

As each one passes the gun to the other they have to anticipate that they’re gonna watch their best friend’s head blow off, with each click of the gun their bond is cemented even more.

Jodie Foster

To pursue utmost authenticity, director Michael Cimino not only used live rats and mosquitoes on the set, but he also asked actor Somsak Sengvilai, a Vietnamese Soldier in the film, to surprise Nick with a slap.

In addition, Robert De Niro also requested to use a live cartridge within the revolver used during the Russian roulette to intensify their scenes. And although co-actor John Cazale agreed, he obsessively verified the gun’s chamber between takes. (Source: Far Out Magazine)

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