It’s one of the most famous re-castings in film history. But according to the film’s editor Walter Murch, actor Harvey Keitel – who was replaced by Martin Sheen as Captain Willard after three weeks of shooting – actually appears in the finished version of ‘Apocalypse Now’.
“He’s in the film,” says Murch, a frequent Coppola collaborator who cut the Vietnam epic.
“If you look at the shot, it’s from a helicopter looking at the boat as it’s taking off from the dock at the beginning of the trip. The boat leaves the dock and circles and heads out in the ocean. The person sitting on the front of the boat is Harvey Keitel. It’s such a long shot you can’t tell, but he is in the film!”
You can see the shot he means here (click on the picture for a closer look).
Murch, 71, has won three Oscars and is also a renowned sound editor. He’s one of the few people to see footage of Keitel as Willard before he was fired.
“Yes, I have seen that material,” says Murch, whose most recent work is on science documentary ‘Particle Fever’, which tells the story of the Large Hadron Collider and is available to stream now.
“The nature of Willard in ‘Apocalypse Now’ is that he is the eyes through which you watch the events. He’s your guide into this inferno. But he doesn’t really ever do anything. He kills that woman on the boat and then he kills Kurtz at the end. But in terms of an action hero, he’s very not that.
“And on a simply biological level, Martin Sheen has very big eyes that look at the world and Harvey Keitel has very narrow eyes.
“I wasn’t in the Philippines during the shooting of the Harvey Keitel footage,” he continues. “But he was impatient with the fact he had nothing to do. It was hard for him to sit still, which is one of the requirements of what that character does and that was not the case with Martin Sheen.”
As well as ‘Apocalypse Now’, Murch has edited movies such as ‘The Godfather: Part III’ and ‘The English Patient’, as well as directing cult kids movie ‘Return To Oz’.
‘Particle Fever’ came about as a result of his friendship with director Mark Levinson and follows a small group of scientists at CERN as they try to discover the Higgs boson.
“My default mode for reading is science,” says Murch. “It was a nice way to spend more than a year, in that environment, talking to physicists which has been a long-standing interest of mine.”
Still, editing a film about particle physics had its challenges.
“How much physics can we put in there?” he says. “You can’t put it all in there because you would overwhelm an audience. [We’re asking] who are the people who run this thing and what are they asking it to do? What’s going on with them? It was mainly focused on the machine and the people and then just enough science.”
But while he continues to work on interesting projects – he edited next year’s secretive ‘Tomorrowland’ – there will always be a fascination with his work on ‘Apocalypse Now’.
So come on, was Brando’s epic monologue scene as riveting to cut as it is to watch?
“There was a lot of material,” says Murch. “That was all stuff that Francis and Brando worked out during the course of making the film. His speech at the end, I think it was probably about an hour-and-a-half of material that was eventually condensed down to ten minutes or so. I’m just happy we were able to finish the film and have it be the wonderful film that it is.”
‘Particle Fever’ is showing at the Barbican on 25 November and is also available to buy via Amazon, iTunes and Simple Cinema.