The Deer Hunter | 1978
Michael Cimino’s Oscar-laden Vietnam movie aroused controversy with accusations of both racism and of inaudible dialogue (though it received an Oscar for its sound), is nominally set in Cleveland, Ohio, and the blue-collar steeltown of ‘Clairton’, about ten miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The town, however, is an amalgamation of eight separate locales. Three are in Pennsylvania: the real Clairton; McKeesport, over the Monongahela River; and Pittsburgh. Two more are towns to the west, Weirton and Follansbee, in the sliver of West Virginia between the Ohio River and Pennsylvania. And three are just over the Ohio River down in Ohio State: Steubenville and Mingo Junction on Route 7; and Struthers, which is about 25 miles north, near to Youngstown.
Similarly, the steelworks, dominating the town, is a different plant from scene to scene. The opening steel factory scenes were shot in US Steel’s Central Blast Furnace, Cleveland, though only after a nervous studio insured its stars to the tune of $5million – the plant is ominously dubbed the Widowmaker.
The church in which Steven (John Savage) weds Angela (Rutanya Alda) is St Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral, 733 Starkweather Avenue at Thurman Avenue, in the Tremont district of Cleveland – claimed to be an exact replica of the Czar’s cathedral inside the Kremlin, Moscow.
The ‘Eagle Supermarket’, in which Linda (Meryl Streep) worked, is now slightly revamped to become Lilly Handmade Chocolates, 761 Starkweather Avenue at Brayton Avenue, just a few doors west of the Cathedral.
The raucous reception is held in the same city’s landmark Lemko Hall, 2335 West 11th Street at Literary Avenue, also in Tremont, which has since been developed as shops and apartments.
‘Welsh’s Bar’, in which Michael (Robert De Niro) and his macho pals play pool, was built for the film behind a storefront on Commercial Street in Mingo Junction. Plenty of product placement here, with all the bottles of Rolling Rock neatly turned to face camera, and Michael’s ringing endorsement, “A good beer – it’s the best around.” To be fair, it is the local brew, from the Latrobe Brewery between Pittsburgh and Johnstown, Southern Pennsylvania.
The town’s bowling alley is the Bowladrome Lanes, 56 State Street, Struthers, Ohio.
The deer hunt itself, though set in the ‘Allegheny Mountains’, was shot 10,000 feet above sea level in the Heather Meadows area of Mount Baker, Washington State, close to the British Columbian border.
The prison camp, where the VC obligingly allow the boys to play Russian roulette with three bullets (with one bound they’re free...) was built on the River Kwai (as in Bridge On The River Kwai).
The 1973 evacuation of ‘downtown Saigon’ was staged on Throng Wad Road in Bangkok, with an enthusiastic crowd of 6,000 responding to a call for 800 extras. The US Airfield is Bangkok’s main international terminal, Don Muang Airport.
Back in the States, Michael finds Steven an embittered patient in the (real) Louis Stokes Cleveland Veteran’s Administration Medical Center, 10701 East Boulevard. Nick (Christopher Walken) is buried (after an unfeasibly extended run as a professional Russian Roulette player) in the Pennsylvania Versailles Cemetery, 1608 Fifth Avenue, McKeesport.