The RSPCA were left shouting “the horror, the horror” at director Francis Ford Coppola before the classic Apocalypse Now was released, censors have revealed.
In the final scene when Martin Sheen’s troubled assassin hacks renegade Col. Kurtz, chillingly played by Marlon Brando, to death charity officials squirmed in their seats.
The sequence in the violent 1979 film was inter-cut with the ritual slaughter of a bullock by a local tribe in the Philippines, where most of the 153 minute epic was filmed.
Members of the tribe had been acting as extras on Coppola’s opus and The Godfather director used their cultural beliefs to brutally visualise one of the film’s major themes.
Apocalypse Now is one of the best-known Vietnam anti-war films of the 1970s, starring Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall and a young Laurence Fishburne.
It tells the story of Captain Willard, played by Sheen, and his secret mission to the heart of the Cambodian jungle to kill a brilliant soldier who has gone insane.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) have released files from the archives and argued in favour of Coppola because the ‘powerful sequence is central to the ending.’
However, it raised problems and speculation that the animal was treated cruelly and killed in an inhumane way, which would set the film-makers on a path through a legal minefield.
The Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937 was passed in response to widespread public concern of animals in the movies, particularly westerns and biblical epics.
It was designed to prevent animals being used as live and disposable props, so the footage of a bull being mercilessly hacked to death, like Kurtz, caused concern.
The RSPCA wrote to then director of the BBFC James Ferman raising concern over the manner in which the bull was killed.
The graphic scene intertwined with a brutal, but shadowy, human murder makes for powerful and disturbing viewing.
According to the BBFC files the chief censor argued the event ‘appeared to be an actual ritual slaughter… not orchestrated solely for the purposes of the film.’
Ferman, an American who helmed the BBFC for 24 years before his death in 2002, insisted the slaughter did not “fall foul” of the Act.
The work was passed uncut with a 15 certificate.
A spokesperson from the BBFC said: “In the DVD release of the work Coppola took some pains to stress that he did not arrange for the animal to be slaughtered for the film.
“The sequence has attracted many complaints over the years and still attracts queries from the public.
“If the BBFC had felt compelled to remove the sequence then one of the most famous films in modern times would have changed profoundly.”
A spokesperson for the RSPCA said: “When we see something in films or on TV with the regard to the treatment of animals we raise our concerns with the authorities.”