War leaves many victims in its wake, not just the soldiers and civilians directly affected by combat. In the case of the Vietnam War, sexual liaisons between American troops and indigenous women led to the birth of thousands upon thousands of children, many of whom were abandoned by their fathers and thereby consigned to lives of loneliness and poverty. The humanistic made-for-TV drama Green Eyes offers a poignant look at this cycle.
Paul Winfield, in a touching performance, plays a U.S. Army veteran who returns to Vietnam in order to search for the son he left behind. Upon arrival, however, the soldier discovers that war orphans have become a major national problem, that the survival rate among such children is poor, and that because of economic and political strife lingering in Vietnam, the best chance for some children is adoption by foreigners. Based on a story by Eugene Logan and written with considerable sensitivity by Hollywood veteran David Seltzer, Green Eyes is the cinematic equivalent of encountering a social problem, looking up to the heavens in anguish, and asking, “What can I do?” Yet while bleeding-heart liberalism of the noblest energizes this project, the filmmakers don’t let their editorializing impede the telling of a good story.
At the beginning of the picture, African-American Lloyd Dubeck (Winfield) returns home with a heavy heart and a limp, having escaped Vietnam with injuries but cognizant that he impregnated the Vietnamese woman with whom he once cohabited. Lloyd has difficulty settling back into civilian life, and his conscience gnaws at him, so he arranges transport back to Southeast Asia, even though the war has not yet ended. Returning to safe zones occupied by American advisors and their colleagues in South Vietnam’s armed forces, Lloyd begins a quest to find his lost lover. Aiding him is Margaret Sheen (Rita Tushingham), an English social worker who operates a bustling orphanage. Lloyd also has a number of encounters with Trung (Lemi), a wide-eyed street urchin who exploits the naïveté of foreigners while using various scams to survive. All of Lloyd’s experiences educate him about the plight of children whose parents are, for all intents and purposes, the war itself.
Director John Erman does a more than serviceable job of delivering the narrative, utilizing the film’s locations in the Philippines to create a strong sense of verisimilitude. Scenes in slums are particularly evocative. Given the picture’s downbeat storyline, the filmmakers wisely modulate tone by including flashes of humor and playfulness. Better still, moments designed to tug at viewers’ heartstrings have impact without being needlessly maudlin. Driving the whole piece, of course, is Winfield’s warm persona. His pain at witnessing deprivation feels credible, and his joy during the rare moments when his character is able to have a positive impact is contagious.
Green Eyes: GROOVY