sat 20/10/2018

DVD: Rolling Thunder | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Rolling Thunder

DVD: Rolling Thunder

Cold-blooded revenge film from 1977 counts the cost of American involvement in Vietnam

Beauty and the beast: Linda Haynes and William Devane in 'Rolling Thunder'

It may be glimpsed only in brief flashbacks, but Vietnam is always on the mind of Rolling Thunder (1977), one of the earlier attempts by Hollywood’s generation of indie filmmakers to confront the conflict’s impact on its citizenry. William Devane plays Major Charles Rane, who returns from the war zone hardened after years in captivity to discover that women no longer wears bras and his wife has moved on. Worse, hoodlums come to steal the cache of silver dollars ceremonially presented to him by his grateful Texan hometown. When they can’t break him into submission with violence, they kill the son with whom he's just been reunited.

The rest of the film is a revenge saga which takes Rane south of the border, newly tooled up with a claw-like prosthesis and a sawn-off shotgun. He’s accompanied by an innocent all-American blonde beauty queen (Linda Haynes) who has fantasised about this mythic figure’s return only to find him desensitised by torture. “My eyes are open and I’m looking at you but I’m dead,” he tells her. “They’ve pulled out whatever it was inside of me.” That’s more or less scriptwriter Paul Schrader’s theme, that homecoming Vietnam veterans are lost in a kind of moral no man's land between the front line and the hearth. It would be more crudely explored in First Blood and Born on the Fourth of July.

This was Schrader's first script after Taxi Driver. He would probably only surpass it with Raging Bull. Indeed, one of the oddities of Rolling Thunder is that, apart from a supporting part for a gunslinging young Tommy Lee Jones, it was a stand-out gig for almost everyone else involved. Above all it’s a peach of a role for Devane, an actor with the mug of a young basset hound who went on to do a decade in hell as a star of Knot’s Landing. Haynes’ career was pretty but brief. Quentin Tarantino, a Rolling Thunder fan, offered her a comeback when he directed ER but, as she explains in the extras 35 years on, she had no idea who he was. Most poignant of all, it was also the apex of John Flynn, who directs with an unfussy understanding of the revenge plot’s requirements.

Watch the original trailer for Rolling Thunder

This was Schrader's first script after Taxi Driver. He would probably only surpass it with Raging Bull

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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