Thursday, January 31, 2013

ROLLING THUNDER (1977) movie review

Rolling Thunder (1977) (2nd viewing) d. Flynn, John (USA)

At first glance, this is a solid piece of 70s vigilante/revenge exploitation. In fact, the opening half hour (minus the gooey “San Antonio” theme song) is a genuinely contemplative, returning-Vietnam-veteran drama, pre-dating The Deer Hunter and Coming Home by a full year, with hardened POW Major Charles Rane (William Devane) tentatively reuniting with his family after years of isolation. But after hoodlums murder his wife and son, leaving him with a bloody stump for a hand following a garbage disposal close encounter, the stereotypical track-down-and-kill-the-baddies stage is set, especially once Devane starts sharpening up his metal amputee hook and
sawing off shotguns.

However, what struck me this time around was how pointedly the film despises its female characters. While cursory efforts are made to camouflage, the message is clear: Men are the only ones that can be counted on. Doesn’t matter that Linda Haynes’ character is reliable, ballsy, loyal, smart and can shoot a gun as well as any swinging dick, she still gets left behind at the hotel for the third act – with money left on the dresser, no less – while Devane rounds up his army pal Tommy Lee Jones to put the hurt on the bad guys. Oh, and did I mention that Devane’s wife cheated on him while he was in that hellish POW prison? Or that Jones’ wife is an over-the-top clucker?

The main performances are all strong and the long-take action sequences are exciting, but the overt misogyny and clunky plot points (Why would the killers shoot the wife and kid, but leave him alive? Do we ever see James Best get his comeuppance? Could the ending be any more abrupt? And what’s the story with that freaking “San Antonio” song???) keep it from being the unmitigated crowd-pleaser that I had remembered from my youth.

Nevertheless, I'm glad to see it finally being made available on Blu-Ray (following its limited MGM DVD release in 2011) for fans who wanna see what all the screaming is about.

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