Rolling Thunder (1977)

Director: John Flynn

That’s THREE films in a row now where a male character has sustained serious groin damage… only this time it’s another guy doing it, William Devane and his, er, right hook. And what I said in my last review about Allan Arbus applies here too… that couldn’t be Roscoe P. Coltrane as that murderous thug, surely, I thought when I heard the voice, and, well, shit, so it was. Anyway, this was co-written by Paul Schrader, who you may recall also wrote a film for Martin Scorsese (maybe this should’ve been called Texas Driver? Sorry, terrible joke) with which Rolling Thunder kind of has to draw some comparisons. Basically, this could be seen as something of a semi-exploitation version of The Best Years of Our Lives, revolving around a USAF major (Devane) shot down over Vietnam and kept as a POW for seven years as he returns home to find life at home isn’t, you know, easy to slide back into after that experience. Apparently Schrader originally wrote it as a critique of the Vietnam War and the major was supposed to be an unsympathetic racist arsehole, and later blasted the studio for taking a film about fascism and turning it into a fascist film… as it stands, Rolling Thunder is certainly somewhat conflicted, wanting to be an essentially straight drama but seeming to feel the need to tack on a revenge melodrama, as if it didn’t quite trust the inherent drama of that homecoming situation. (I was a bit surprised to find American International making such a film until I learned it was actually made by 20th Century Fox, whose executives were appalled by the film’s violence and just sold it to Sam Arkoff instead.) It actually is a fairly good film, Devane succeeds in communicating something about this man who can’t communicate any more and it’s a terrific performance (Linda Haynes is really good too as his “groupie” who’s sustained damage of her own over the years), and the basic story of this poor bastard really still fucked up from his war experience is a solid one. But yeah, the film as a whole is conflicted, like I said. Maybe Schrader’s original story would’ve been better. Maybe not.


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