Starring: Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, Valerie Perrine
Director: George Roy Hill
Distributor: Umbrella Entertainment
An ageing American named Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) is typing a letter to the editor of the Ilium Daily News explaining how he has become “unstuck in time”. He jumps back and forth from his memories as a prisoner of war to his futuristic existence on the planet Tralfamadore shacked up in a dome with the soft porn star Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine). It’s all rather confusing but there’s a wonderful sense of the absurd in Slaughterhouse 5 which carries both Billy and the viewer through what could otherwise be a truly frightening nightmare.
Drafted as a young assistant chaplain, Billy is taken prisoner by the Germans along with a nasty bloke named Paul Lezzaro (Ron Leibman) who unfairly blames him for his buddy’s death. But Billy has lady luck on his side. The coat that he is given by the enemy as a joke turns out to contain a diamond in its pocket. And the kooky silver boots that his friend gives him endears him to the local children. However the firebombing of Dresden and the sight of 100,000 dead leaves a psychological wound that is almost impossible to mend despite a dozen shock treatments.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. claims that there was only one person who benefited from that air raid and that was him. The novel that he wrote based on his experiences catapulted him to fame and the royalties that flowed from the screen adaptation would have made him extremely comfortable too. But he remained disgraced by his government’s decision to bomb civilians until his death in April last year. Director George Roy Hill adds another loss to the shameful human tragedy by celebrating the rich architectural beauty of Prague as a stand in for pre-war Dresden and juxtaposing it with the bleak aftermath.