Rolling Thunder (1977)

Considering the frame of mind I’ve been in for the past month or so, it’s probably not a good idea for me to be watching stuff like this, but whatever. This movie is awesome and a great cathartic experience. Former P.O.W. Major Charles Rane (William Devane from 24, The Dark Knight Rises and the Goldline commercials where he says “I even love the FEEL of gold!”) comes back from ‘Nam all traumatized to his San Antonio home, along with his friend Johnny (Tommy Lee Johes) to a hero’s welcome. These two don’t feel much like heroes at all though. These are two broken men going through the motions of living a normal life. At his hero’s welcome he is presented a with a case full of silver dollars and a Cadillac. And this is where his problems begin.

Rane comes home to his wife and seven year old son, whom he hasn’t seen since he was an infant. Thinking Rane was dead, his wife is now engaged to Rane’s former best friend. Rane shows no reaction to any of this. He adapts to home life like it was the POW camp, imitating his workout routine from there, and in one of the more memorable scenes of the movie demonstrates on himself a torture technique the gooks used on him with the unwilling help of his wife’s future husband.

Shit is about to go down.

A group of thugs break in to steal the silver dollars and end up killing Rane’s wife and son, and think they kill Rane after shoving his hand in the garbage disposal and shooting him. Rane wakes up in the hospital, seemingly unfazed by this. Then he goes home, sharpens his hook hand, saws off some shotguns, grabs his groupie waitress chick, and heads ass down to Mexico looking for the payback.

Scripted by Paul (Taxi Driver) Schrader, the script is effective and minimalistic. There are no monologues or grand speeches explaining characters motivations. There are only small glimpses and violent actions that let us know who Charles Rane is. William Devane does a good job in the role displaying a violent cool, but he lacks the instant charisma of Tommy Lee Jones and it becomes apparent why their careers diverged the way they did after this film. Which isn’t to say Devane is a bad actor, he’s not, but he is better at quiet and understated roles with characters whose actions are very deliberate and measured. That type of role is niche.

They make a great team together and when Rane finds out where the assholes who killed his boy are located, he goes over to Johnny’s house to enlist him, while they are having a family dinner. Everyone around them is talking about this, that, and the other, except for Johnny and Charles who are barely able to meet each others eyes. Johnny knows what Charles is there for and he also knows he is going to help him. When the offer is finally laid on the table, Johnny seems almost glad to break away from his home life and be back in action again. It’s very telling that they both don their service uniforms again before storming the whore house where the scumbags are holed up. All they know is how to be soldiers. Despite their troubled nature, you really want to see them deal out double-barreled justice and when a confused hooker asks Johnny what he’s doing putting together that gun and he nonchalantly replies “I’mma kill a whole bunch of people”, it makes it hard not to cheer for them.

A man of his word.

And yes, he does live up to his reply.

Genre fans will recognize the late Paul (Franklin from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) Partain in a guest role as part of Tommy Lee Jone’s family. I’m pretty sure that it was his only other role, and it’s good to see him not aggravating the shit out of everyone for once.

IF you like gritty 70’s fare, you can’t do much worse than this cult item, which has been brought to the limelight by some dude name Quentin Tarantino naming his late 90’s re-release factory “Rolling Thunder Pictures” after this film, and recently naming it as one of his favorite films of all time. It has recently been made available from MGM fairly cheaply, since it’s a bare bones DVD-R made for specialty orders because they for some reason think people don’t want to buy the damn thing, which led to me having to buy a bootleg version a few years ago before this release. It is also currently streaming on YouTube, so you can watch it there for for free if you want. Either way, just make sure you watch it, damnit.

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9 Comments

  1. I am SOLD. Can’t believe I’ve never watched this gem!

  2. Thanks for the recommendation. I saw this post this morning and, not having anything to do today, went right over to YouTube and watched Rolling Thunder. What a gritty and oddly understated action classic!

    • I am so glad you watched it! That is awesome, and I’m glad you liked it.

      You gotta learn to love the rope.

      • For a movie with not much dialogue it has a lot of good lines. “I remember that song from when I was alive.”

      • “God damn, I wanted to rent ya, not buy ya!”

  3. I really enjoyed it. Nice recommendation! Thanks man.


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