“In Saigon, we don’t ask many questions… where people came from, who they are or …were.” from Saigon Singer by Van Wyck Mason
Saigon, like Casablanca, Shanghai or Istanbul, is a city synonymous with intrigue, mystery, danger and romance.
Perhaps that is why so many novels, movies, theatrical productions and even comic books and graphic novels are set in Saigon—once known as the Pearl of the Orient and celebrated for its Parisian boulevards, French colonial villas, intimate piano bars and of course brothels. Most folks can tick off The Quiet American by Graham Greene, Good Morning Vietnam by Adrian Cronaur, The Lover by Marguerite Duras and the musical classic Miss Saigon. I would hope the Mike Morris - Dick Pirozzolo novel Escape from Saigon will one day rank with the classics.
Additionally, Apololypse Now, the 1979 Francis Ford Coppola Vietnam War allegory, opens with Martin Sheen as Captain Benjamin L. Willard, peering out at a bustling street scene from his seedy Saigon hotel room, as he waits for his mission — assassinate Col. Walter E. Kurtz who is burrowed deep inside the Cambodian jungle.
Good Morning, Vietnam
Though Escape from Saigon includes shades of my personal experiences and recollections from my life in Saigon as a press officer for the Air Force, I always felt a kindred spirit with Good Morning, Vietnam, the 1987 American military comedy-drama film, screenplay by Mitch Markowitz and directed by Barry Levinson based on the novel by Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer.
Recounts Wikipedia, “Set in Saigon in 1965, the film stars Robin Williams as a radio DJ on Armed Forces Radio Service, who proves hugely popular with the troops, but infuriates his superiors with what they call his ‘irreverent tendency.’” Cronauer insists he never took such liberties on air, and indeed much of Robin Williams antics are pure ad-lib. Cronauer also goes on to explain that he wrote the book to raise enough money to pay for law school, which he completed and later went into practice. He's told interviewers that potential clients get squeamish when they make the connection between him and Williams thinking he's too wild and crazy to be their attorney
There are plenty of less-well-known works set in Saigon, officially renamed Ho Chi Minh City in 1975, though locals, expatriates and insiders persist in calling their city Saigon. Here is a rundown based on summaries from promotional pieces, Wikipedia and International Movie Database IMDB.
Among the classics is Saigon, the Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake noir film set in the French colonial port city. Ladd, as Army Air Corps pilot Larry Briggs, takes on a flying assignment for $10,000 to raise money needed to show his terminally ill friend a good time before he succumbs to his illness. But things go awry when, right before takeoff Susan Cleaver, payed by Veronica Lake, boards his plane. I started watching it, hoping for the perfection of Casablanca—close but not quite.
The Quiet American, Graham Greene’s 1955 antiwar novel about the French Indochina war and genesis of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, was first adapted for the silver screen in 1958. That film turned Greene’s antiwar message into a virtual pro-colonial—anti-communist propaganda film with a heroic CIA agent Alden Pyle, played by WW II hero Audie Murphy. Hollywood was still reeling from the era of blacklisting at the time and Greene was furious over having his novel turned on its head, says Wikipedia.
The 2002 remake was close Greene’s original novel. The film starred Michael Caine, as journalist Thomas Fowler and Brendan Fraser, as the mysterious Pyle, both of whom vie for the heart of the beautiful young Vietnamese woman Phoung, played by Do Thi Hai Yen. There is no shortage of deception, betrayal, and love gone horribly wrong in this film adaptation. Journalist Fowler, who is desperate for his paper to keep him in Saigon, where his character foreshadows the life of the Saigon-based journalists who populated the city during the war—around 400 accredited correspondents at any given time.
The Lover (L'amant)
Based on the autobiographical 1984 novel by Marguerite Duras, The Lover–original title L’amant, is the story of a fifteen and-a-half year old French girl played by Jane March and her older, wealthy and overpowering Chinese lover played by Tony Ka Fai Leung. Though her character is a minor, Jane March turned 18 during the filming thus avoiding legal issues over filming simulated sex with a minor.
Vietnam Historian Tim Doling in Tim Doling’s Heritage Portal has done a masterful job of collecting and posting photos of the locations French director Jean-Jacques Annaud used for the fim. Says Doling, the director went so far as to have a Cyprus-based ocean liner the Alexandre Duma brought to Saigon for key scenes.
This novel by Van Wyck Mason was first published in a hardbound edition in 1946, and I’ve managed to get a paperback copy on eBay, which I'm now reading. Mason was born into a diplomatic family in 1901. He traveled the world, became an ambulance driver during WWI, joined the French Army and later traded in rugs and antiques. Eventually college professor John Gallishaw, encouraged him to start writing and he found his calling. Mason, who died in 1978, wrote and published 78 novels during his life according to Wikipedia.
From the book jacket, “Saigon where the mysteries of the Orient are hidden beneath a veil of international sophistication…where criminals and traitors of a dozen nations are found and where Major Hugh North came to hunt a beautiful, deadly, unforgettable woman, the Black Chrysanthimum, traitor, spy and blackmailer!”
Hardcover copies are available on Amazon .
Escape from Saigon - by Mike Morris and Dick Pirozzolo
The reader is immediately pulled in by the heroes, secret agents, turncoats, romance and danger in Escape from Saigon, the fast-paced saga of bravery, intrigue and the human spirit that follows the lives of diplomats, journalists, CIA agents and Vietnamese refugees who are trapped in Saigon—their beloved city, about to fall to the advancing enemy army.
The action is set during April of 1975, the final 30 days of the Vietnam War as the city's inhabitants look for any way to escape. Among them are Matt Moran, a soldier searching for his Vietnamese wife's terrified relatives; Lisette Vo a Vietnamese-American TV reporter who risks her life to chronicle the events of that fateful time; an American businessman who adopts 300 of his employees in a bid to sneak them out. All this while the enemy army tightens its stranglehold on the city in a novel that reveals the plight of ordinary people swept up by the mistakes and folly of their leaders on all sides of the fight.
Escape from Saigon is ideal for anyone who plans to visit Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, and wants to know how the city evolved from a French colonial oasis to a popular travel destination.
Casey Sherman, The New York Times Bestselling Author of The Finest Hours called the book "... a sweeping saga that places you dead center in the tumultuous final days of the war in Vietnam. Authors Mike Morris and Dick Pirozzolo carry on the tradition of Michener and Clavell in that they make history come alive through rich, compelling characters in a pulsating narrative."
And, Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump notes: "Escape From Saigon brings to life the war-torn lives of the men and women, soldiers and civilians alike, each trying to escape the fall of Saigon before it engulfs them all. A vivid, unvarnished vision."
Escape from Saigon by Andrea Warren
Also under the same banner of Escape from Saigon, comes Andrea Warren’s young adult novel. Her Escape from Saigon tells the story of the over a
million South Vietnamese children were orphaned by the Vietnam War. This true account tells the story of Long, who, like more than 40,000 other orphans, is Amerasian—a mixed-race child—with little future in Vietnam. Escape from Saigon allows readers to experience Long's struggle to survive in war-torn Vietnam, his dramatic escape to America as part of "Operation Babylift" during the last chaotic days before the fall of Saigon, and his life in the United States as "Matt," part of a loving Ohio family. Finally, as a young doctor, he journeys back to Vietnam, ready to reconcile his Vietnamese past with his American present according to the author. Available on Amazon.
The story of Ba’s escape with his family is told at the end of Rory Kennedy’s Oscar-nominated documentary “Last Days in Vietnam,” which PBS produced as part of its American Experience series. Recently, WGBH, the PBS member station in Boston, commissioned the artist Eoin Coveney to retell Ba’s tale in graphic form, which is beautifully reproduced in full color by The New York Times
Marcelino Truong's first book about the early years of the Vietnam war, the graphic memoir Such a Lovely Little War was published in 2016 and named "one the best graphic novels" of the season by The New York Times. In the sequel, Saigon Calling, young Marcelino and his family move from Saigon to London in order to escape the war following the assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem, for whom Marcelino's diplomat father was a personal interpreter.
Says the promotional copy, “With its audacious imagery and heart-rending text, Saigon Calling is a bold graphic memoir that strikes a remarkable balance between the intimate chronicle of a family undone by mental illness, and the large-scale tragedy of a country undone by war.
Marcelino Truong is an illustrator, painter, and author. He earned degrees in law at the Paris Institute of Political Studies and English literature at the Sorbonne.
In the Marvel Comic The Avengers » The Avengers #131 - A Quiet Half-Hour in Saigon! released by Marvel on January 1, 1975. The Avengers remain in Vietnam to help Mantis discover more secrets about her mysterious origins. Meanwhile, in the realm of Limbo, demon lord Immortus has rescued Kang and Rama-Tut from the time stream. Back on earth, Mantis is visited by an astral form of Swordsman, which leaves her both confused and scared. From Comic Vine https://comicvine.gamespot.com/the-avengers-131-a-quiet-half-hour-in-saigon/4000-14953/
Comic art interpretations of Vietnam abound in the Marvel Database. Here is Tan Son Nhat Air Base, Cartoon art style
The ‘Nam Vol 1 1 we meet Private First Class Edward Marks
Private First Class Edward Marks landed at Tan Son Nhut International Airport when he arrived in Vietnam. In late October, 1996, he returned to the airport with his squad to defend it from enemy attacks. In February, 1967, he finally departed from the air base to return home.
From the Marvel Database: In this issue we follow Ed Marks through his rude awakening of basic training. He then is posted to the 4/23 Mechanized Infantry .
After a misunderstanding over a bribe with the Top Sgt. he is assigned to platoon of Sgt. Polkow and his band of misfits. There he befriends Mike Albergo prior to venturing out on his first patrol where the guys get ambushed by the Viet Cong in a local village. After the shooting dies down Ed vomits after seeing his first dead body.
As they walk back to base, they accompany an armoured column which falls victim to a booby trap. They are then attacked by a sniper from a hidden bunker, which is part of a wider tunnel system. They clear them out with grenades and request helicopter transportation back to base. Ed finds this difficult as he has issues with flying. On their return the guys go to watch a movie, Major Dundee, while the rest of the base comes under rocket attack. Ed panics but Mike reassures him that the VC will not hit the movie screen because they like to watch too, according to the publisher
From ComiXology Commando #5035: Escape Saigon! In the final bloody hours of the Vietnam War, the P.A.V.N. were at the gates of Saigon. The U.S. embassy was the last refuge for the South Vietnamese who worked for the American government. But as the final choppers ferried the last of the workers to safety, Bill Evans realized that his best friend, Van Thieu, would not make it to the facility in time to evacuate - meaning certain death…
By DICK PIROZZOLO with credit to Wikipedia, IMDB, Marvel and publicity material provided by the works covered here.