Friendly Fire (TV Movie 1979) Poster

(1979 TV Movie)

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A surprising Carol Burnett takes on government red tape in superior Vietnam-era story.
gbrumburgh19 February 2001
A stunning, sobering look at the crumbling lives of a heartland farm couple who are forced to deal with governmental apathy and red tape to learn the truth behind their eldest son's death in Vietnam. Superbly written and directed with careful detail as to period and attitude, this already rich and poignant production is all the more enhanced by powerhouse performances.

Comedy icon Carol Burnett is handed THE dramatic role of her career and passes with flying colors. As flag-waving mother-turned-war activist Peg Mullen, Burnett buries her legendary elastic face and broad gestures with startling, subtle conviction and lends bitter truth to the quietly distraught but unstoppable Mullen, a woman on a mission who learns to fight back with every untruth she is being fed. The scene where she visits her son's casket at the funeral home will haunt any viewer for a long time to come. Who would have thought Burnett would be up to this arduous task? Kudos to the producers for such a daring, valiant choice. Mullen, who grew up red-white-and-blue proud, went on, by the way, to serve as a significant symbol of protest against the Vietnam war, prompting the government to give unbiased, accurate accounts of military casualties.

Ned Beatty provides able support as the dutiful, grief-stricken husband who finds it just as difficult coping with the fact that his son died mysteriously by "friendly fire" (American artillery fire)during maneuvers than by heroism. Less committed to tackling government indifference and lies, he shows the inner turmoil of a man forced to stand in the shadows of his wife's newly-found obsession and celebrity, a move which threatens home and hearth. Timothy Hutton effectively portrays the neglected younger son who handles his grief in silence as well. Dennis Erdman as the older, ill-fated son, is superior appearing in war-time flashbacks to reveal the sad truth behind his unnecessary death. Sam Waterston as a well-meaning journalist shows appropriate strength and exasperation as a man caught between helping Mullen and fighting department politics himself.

But first and foremost, this is Burnett's show. For anyone who thinks of her as a limited, one-note slapstick queen will think again after witnessing this performance. Surprisingly, she lost the Emmy award for this once-in-a-lifetime role to Bette Davis, better known for her larger-than-life acting histrionics as well.

A must see TV mini-movie.
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A Film Way Before It's Time!!
sierratc24 July 2006
Friendly Fire hit the nail on the head for that time period. I was in Viet Nam (69/70) when our own artillery hit on top our our position. I was just relieved from my post and I laid my steelpot (helmet) on top of my 50 caliber machine gun. I went inside the Armored Personnel Carrier through the 50 hatch and no longer got inside when arty landed a round in front of the track. A piece of shrapnel bounced off my steelpot and went through the guy who just came on to relieve me. When I saw Friendly Fire it brought me back a few years.

Thank you Ms. Burnett for speaking out and standing up for a lot of Viet Nam Vets. We stepped up for Honor, God, and Country and was never appreciated for our efforts. A few gave some and some gave all for our Country. We as Viet Nam Veterans fought a thankless war.

I saw Friendly Fire only once and have yet to see it again on any reruns. I would like to know how I can acquire a DVD copy of this film??

With Do Respect and Admiration for you work:


Sgt. John Damian Co. A, 1/5 Mechcanized Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, Cu Chi, Viet Nam
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Carol Burnett is Superb in Distinguished Film
FILMBUFFNY14 February 2002
This is the TV movie that established Carol Burnett as an exceptionally fine dramatic actress. She gives a deeply moving portrayal of real-life Iowa farmer Peg Mullen who went on a crusade to uncover the truth of her son's death in Vietnam. The scene when Peg first approaches her son's coffin is emotionally shattering. It breaks me up in tears every time I watch it. Carol received critical raves, an Emmy Award nomination for Best Actress and the People's Choice Award. Such is the power of Burnett's performance that she totally erases the image of the beloved clown of her wildly popular 1967 to 1978 variety show. She gets outstanding support from Ned Beatty as Peg's husband, Timothy Hutton as their younger surviving son and Sam Waterston as the investigative journalist. The film is among the most distinguished ever made for television. It won multiple 1979 Emmy Awards including Best Drama.
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Never a More Timely Movie than now
stillwatervideo8 July 2005
I only rated the movie a 7 of 10 because the real story was lost here. It became more about the author, C.D.B. Bryan than the Mullens and their quest for the truth about what happened to their son in Viet Nam. Carol Burnett gave a moving performance that demonstrated her depth as an actress and Ned Beatty's portrayal of Gene Mullen was stellar. The film had a few sappy moments in it, but overall, it was a powerful movie that is very timely, considering the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the number of friendly fire deaths under-reported in the casualty listings. I would strongly recommend that everyone take the time to read Peg Mullen's book, "Unfriendly Fire - A Mother's Memoir". It reads like Paul Harvey's 'The Rest of the Story', in which Peg Mullen receives a phone call from the man who fired the gun that killed her son and the aftermath of that call. This is a fine film and worth taking a look at.
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Friendly Fire
sueschmitt22 December 2004
I saw this movie many years ago on television and I was deeply moved by it. I don't agree with the comment another reader posted that the Mullens were trying to start a revolution about their son's death. What they were mad about, and rightly so in my opinion was the apparent cover-up the military did on the death. They only wanted the real truth about how their son died not a lot of lies which is what they got. I thought Carol Burnett was marvelous in her role. Up until that time, I had never seen her in anything but a comedic role and it was refreshing to see her in a dramatic role. Ned Beatty, as usual, was his stoic self. I would have liked to have seen his character display a bit more emotion but that was how the male society was at that time, very unemotional. Has this movie ever been released on video or DVD? I would love to get a copy.
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Carol Burnett Is Superb
drednm21 January 2017
Watching this film nearly 40 years later, it's amazing that nothing has changed. We are still involved in useless wars, and the military/industrial complex and secret government continue to lie to American citizens as they profit from their wars.

FRIENDLY FIRE helped make the Vietnam War personal, taking the unnecessary death of an unimportant soldier and showing the world that every death matters.

The story of the Iowa farm couple, the Mullens, is beautifully told here in an straightforward way. It shows us their everyday life, their community, their kids. It shows the devastation their son's death in Vietnam brings. It then chronicles the long journey to discovery the truth about that death.

Carol Burnett and Ned Beatty are superb in playing this middle-America couple. There's nothing extraordinary about them. They are average citizens going about their lives until war claims their son. What ensues is a years-long battle with the government and the military to get to the truth. Their mail is tampered with. Their phones are bugged. They are lied to by the military anxious to cover-up their own ineptitude.

The Mullens challenge the way the war is sold to the American public on the evening news. They challenge the very concept of this "war to save democracy" that actually has nothing to do with this country and that was never legally sanctioned by Congress.

Nothing has changed. Add Iraq and Afghanistan to the list of wars.

In casting comedienne Burnett as Peg Mullen, the filmmakers scored a brilliant bulls eye by using Burnett's cozy personality to embody Mullen's flinty determination. Beatty is also perfectly cast. Together they portray a couple shattered by the death of their son, unable to move forward with their lives. Sam Waterston plays the writer who eventually pens the book this film was based on.

No one wins a war. And this film perfectly portrays the that fact.
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" When one lies, it's bad, but when the Army Lies, it becomes the Official Record "
thinker169110 July 2010
The Unites States Army has a history dating back to 1776. In it's archives are stories of great courage and heroism. Citizens, ranging from school Children to civic patriots who erect statues and monuments to those great men have come to believe in their heroes. It is difficult then to discover that the very people who are entrusted with telling the truth of the fallen have decided to lie to Americans. This movie is called " Friendly Fire " a difficult misnomer if ever there was one. The most famous casualty of friendly fire (accidently killing our own soldiers) was Pat Tillman a courageous man who gave up a lucrative football career to serve his country. However, the U.S Army dishonored his sacrifice and fabricated his death. In this story, Mr. and Mrs. Gene Mullen (Ned Beatty and Carol Burnett, Great acting.) play an Iowa couple who proudly see their son Michael march off to war. Unfortunately, the military replays their trust by first pretending to not knowing the details of their son's death and then later trying to destroy their credibility by not answering their inquisitive questions, spying on them, tapping their phones and finally trying to discredit them as Americans and their tireless efforts to learn the real story behind their son's death. Director David Greene and writer Courtlandt Bryan provide's amply foundation for the Mullen's desperate plea for understanding and final resolution. Sam Waterston plays C.D. Bryan a very sympathetic writer who finally helps them to find a simple peace. One which America still waits on the fifth Tillman investigation. ****
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The Fog of War.
rmax30482313 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
A straight-arrow Iowa farm family loses a son in Vietnam to what the telegram describes as "friendly fire." What is friendly fire? It's fire from friendly forces, initiated by mistake or necessity. Victims are listed as "non-battle casualties". In this instance, the parents (Carol Burnett and Ned Beatty) begin an inquiry into the event and find that an artillery round from an American position fell short and exploded in the bivouac area of their son, killing another soldier and wounding several others.

That's basically the answer but Burnett and Beatty want more explicit information and they push the boundaries of the usual scenario. You're supposed to go into mourning, accept the sympathy of your neighbors, bury the body, and go about your business with a stiff upper lip after the funeral. That's the ritual the script calls for.

What you're NOT supposed to do is to get angry at the United States Army and the politicians who put us in Vietnam in the first place. You're not supposed to exercise yourself in a quest to find SOMEONE to put the blame on. The family winds up being shunned by the other residents of La Porte, who see their activities as somehow unpatriotic.

That, however, is what Burnett and Beatty do. It's understandable. It's always easier to blame an individual -- a person with a name and a face -- instead of the vague bureaucratic system in which the error is embedded. Their joined in their hunt by a sympathetic journalist, Sam Waterston, who thinks he sees an article or maybe a book in their story.

What the seekers find is what Clausewitz called "the fog of war," to use a fashionable metaphor that Clausewitz never defined with any degree of exactitude. They first contact the other men in Michael's unit, then the Lieutenant Colonel who was nominally in charge, all the while gathering bits and details of the story. The three of them spend years on the task and the ultimate answer finally emerges.

Way up the line somewhere, someone miscalculated the height of the trees around the artillery. The shell glanced off a tree and was deflected. The officer responsible was reprimanded. It was never made public because such incidents are routinely classified. There was no cover up. That's it.

It's all explained to Burnett and Beatty after a couple of years of collating information by Waterston.

Are Burnett and Beatty satisfied now? Certainly not. When you build your life around an important quest, it organizes your activities and gives additional meaning to your life. The movie earns my respect for recognizing this. A Hollywood ending would have Burnett and Beatty sobbing with relief, hugging each other, now at last we can sleep at night.... But it doesn't take the conventional and easy way out. Burnett and Beatty shout at Waterston and are left bitter and tight-lipped.

The budget was obviously low and one or two of the performances come off as actorish, but it's a courageous film that uses real names in the development of a real event. It also raises political and ethical questions about this particular war without answering them, not because the answers are deliberately avoided but because no answers seem possible.

A more mature movie than you might expect it to be.
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a look at war from the home front
helpless_dancer23 April 1999
Riveting film about a family torn apart by a death in Viet Nam. The son of a farmer goes to war in an infantry unit and is killed by his own men by accident. The grief suffered by his family was hard to take as I watched the movie. Carol Burnett was brilliant as the shocked and angry mother. This film showed the waste of war, and the military's attitude about a soldier's duty as opposed to a family's rejection of the government calling a farmer a soldier. Everyone should see this program.
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Give 'em Hell, Carol!
wes-connors10 May 2010
Based on a true story, this memorable ABC-TV movie begins in 1969 Iowa, during the Richard M. Nixon Administration. Wide-eyed young Dennis Erdman (as Michael E. Mullen) goes off to fight the Communists in Vietnam. He leaves behind loving parents Carol Burnett and Ned Beatty (as Peg and Gene). From the opening, you know this kid is going to die - it's conveyed not only in the painfully obvious title, but also through the foreshadowing performance from Ms. Burnett, under David Greene's deliberate direction.

The farming family is told son Erdman died from "Friendly Fire" (herein defined as "any artillery from forces not the enemy"). But, the official explanation does not seem to match up with facts. Burnett and Mr. Beatty learn about how the military manipulates casualty figures. She becomes an anti-war activist. Later, investigative journalist Sam Waterston (as C.D.B. Bryan) enters the picture - and, to be fair, he (plus a flashback) offers a reasonable explanation for altering the facts regarding the tragic Vietnam incident.

Still, that the military seeks to alter circumstances, regarding death during military service is a dishonor. Like the movie points out, those who die by "Friendly Fire" (or from wounds inflicted during battle) are just as dead as those who die in battle. Incredibly, this fact-altering practice surfaced again, during the George W. Bush Administration, with the death of Patrick "Pat" Tillman. And, ironically, one of President Bush's opponents, Vietnam veteran John Kerry appears in TV footage, speaking out against the war.

"Friendly Fire" is long and obvious (most of the time), but retains a haze of mystery and loss throughout. Done so close to the actual war, the period detail can't be beat. Four Emmys were shared among executive producer Martin Starger, producer Philip Barry, co-producer/adapter Fay Kanin, director Greene, musician Leonard Rosenman, and sound editor Bill Wistrom. Burnett and Beatty were nominated for leading roles, and there are more than a dozen small, effective parts. Brother Timothy Hutton (as John) leads the pack.

****** Friendly Fire (4/22/79) David Greene ~ Carol Burnett, Ned Beatty, Sam Waterston, Timothy Hutton
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DVD Available, but not USA!
jrude-520-2995444 December 2013
This film is available as DVD at, and, United Kingdom and Germany. Unfortunately not in USA except very high cost VHS version. The German disc (also the provider for UK) has English & German audio tracks. It's a shame no one USA provides this as a DVD version. I saw this when it first came out as a TV movie. It's incredible. An almost forgotten war now except those who participated or were effected in other ways. It's the story of all wars. Waste, horror and unintended consequences. Sad. It continues today in Afghanistan. Friendly Fire, Fratricide. Sometimes they are seen as Heroes. Mostly they are victims as are all the dead of The Extreme Form of Politics, War. Carol Burnett's performance is just heartbreaking. It is hard to get an off Region DVD legally. Surely could offer this in a Region 1 DVD. There's a market. Please fill it. It's available on amazon Prime to view. That's like watching pictures of kittens but unable to touch them.
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Sad but good film
tiger_forlife842 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I remember watching the film on T.V years ago and Carol Burnett's acting was superb.Ned Beatty played it like the character of the Father would be.All these people wanted was the truth with no lies.Also as I remember there was a emphasis on whether he wore his Flak Jacket.Though if you we're fired upon by friendly fire that would kill you regardless.Being a true story made this film more credible and sad these things happen but they do.Like what happened to Pat Tilman the football player turned Soldier who was killed by friendly fire.They should of told the truth right away and not lied.I think Carol Burnett should of been nominated for a Emmy.Its hard to find good television with meaningful TV movies that are true stories these days.I can't believe it was 1979 when I watched this T.V. movie.I was 16 years old.
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period piece doesn't lose anything with passage of time
johnp2344 June 2010
Like other reviewers, I was reminded of the "heroic" death of Pat Tillman. The misguided attempts of some in the armed forces to console the families, friends and country about the loss of a favorite son resonate deeply into the heartland.

Seeing this movie made in 1979 showcases how little we have learned from the lessons of Vietnam, or the Colin Powell doctrine (if you don't know it, Google it). What a rich and fortunate country we are that we can afford to throw away our best young men, over and over and over.

I lost 6 men from my squadron on February 11, 1971. Non-combat related, but dead just the same. Years later, Clyde's heartbroken daughter asked me why he had died. I had no answer for her, just as the Sam Waterston character has no answer for the Mullens. I still don't know. At the time, I didn't even know why I survived. I since have learned that lesson. It's so I can keep the memory of those 6 men alive, and remind others that they once walked among us, and are still loved by those who knew them.

Friendly Fire is not perfect, but it's good enough. See it. Reflect on it. Go out and change the world.
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Vietnam true story with a touch of manufactured grit and spirit...
moonspinner555 July 2010
TV-made drama about a farm family in 1970 Iowa propelled into action against the U.S. military by feelings of anger and injustice when their boy is killed in Vietnam by something the government calls "friendly fire" (a shot fired toward one's own forces while attempting to engage the enemy). Factual account adapted by Fay Kanin from C.D.B. Bryan's book has prestige to spare, and the upswing of turning the victim's passive parents into vocal protesters and rabble-rousers against the Army (or, Goliath). In a trendy bit of casting against type, Carol Burnett as the boy's mother digs deep within for this role; but, unlike Mary Tyler Moore (who set the bar for this sort of transition a year later with "Ordinary People"), Burnett is working with material designed in advance to wallop the audience with emotion. Every character follows a standard pattern, and every event is preconceived into an episodic format. When the mother rages in despair, it's treated like another chapter: she grows frustrated, she plows on. From the family's loss of innocence to their small steps forward in the face of bureaucratic adversity, "Friendly Fire" doesn't bowl us over with emotions because there aren't any surprises. It's been ironed out as one family's battle to get us in the gut. It's good television, no doubt, but it doesn't leave behind that rush of genuine exaltation that great sentimental weepers should deliver.
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Friendly fire a trashy movie
graysroot39 February 2006
This movie was made solely to discredit the Military. Friendly fire is a fact of life and has happened in every war. It is unavoidable.

That said, the movie went out of its way to discredit the Military as a bumbling bunch of nitwits trying to hide the real truth from the American people, and the poor Mullens were lied to and given the old run around to prevent them from finding out the truth.

To say it doesn't happen would be untrue, it does but not to the extent that was portrayed in the movie.

When the Military plays fast and loose with the truth Hollywood is the quick to point it out, but when Hollywood plays with the truth and stretches to the point of being absurd no one says a word.

The movie, except for the acting was trash.
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The Mullens become annoying after awhile.
yenlo2 February 2001
The longer this made for TV movie went on the more I began to look at the Mullens as annoying. Carol Burnett is a fine actress and comedian but this role seemed a bit out of place for her even though her performance did have me taking sides against her character Peg Mullen. American service men have tragically been killed by friendly fire in all wars but this Mother and Father just about want to start a revolution about it. Ned Beatty did stand out in his role.
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Another reason to despise war. In fact, the main reason.
mark.waltz11 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Millions of American families have been through tragedy like this, and nobody but a family who has gone through this can imagine the pain of losing a child through war. The pain of the mother is probably even greater, and this TV movie chose America's "funny girl" to play the part. Carol Burnett takes on her most unique role, playing it straight, simply and beautifully. From the moment she asks son Dennis Erdman if he's packed (to which he responds that he will after performing his regular farming duties), you can see that she is hiding her fear. When she tries to hide tears, it's as if she's seeing into the future, as this is 1969, and this is the Vietnam war he is heading off to, and unlike he tells her, it will not be over in six months.

Letters from their son describe what he's going through, read by her husband (Ned Beatty), keep her jumping, writing letters to everybody from Nixon on down. Then, there's that fateful day that they receive a visitor, and you have a sense that she already knows, such is the power of motherhood.

In disgust to the way Beatty keeps asking if his boy is dead to the almost abruptly cold way a preacher says yes, and all Carol Burnett can do is look blankly as she questions the definition of what friendly fire is. In sitting there watching it, I wanted to scream out in anger (and in not such polite terms), "Just say somebody screwed up!" No war death is "friendly", no matter what caused it.

Coming out around the same time as several other films on the Vietnam war, this TV movie was a ratings giant, one greatly publicized, and one that even school aged kids got to stay up late for because of its themes of anti-war, the rights of families to demand the truth, and the right to question why young men are continuously being killed, especially in a war we still believe we had no reason to be there in the first place. Burnett's mother is a no nonsense woman whose grief erupts into anger towards a government that seems intent on ignoring her or sending form letters and respond to her with standard, pointless answers. Burnett is outstanding, Beatty brilliantly supporting, and a young Timothy Hutton aw the younger son representing what she intends to not go through again or see any other mother suffer without getting to the truth.
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