Rolling Thunder (1977)

At the start of the film “Rolling Thunder,” U.S. Air Force Major Charles Rane, portrayed by two time Emmy nominee, William Devane (The Missiles of October), has been freed. He has been released from a Hanoi prison camp after seven years of captivity, which encompassed physical and mental torture. Rane is being flown home to San Antonio, Texas. He is not alone. Master Sergeant Johnny Vohden, played by Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive), is accompanying him. The plane transporting the two men lands at an air force base, where they will receive a hero’s welcome from military personnel, Texas politicians, a high school marching band, and a throng of cheering well wishers. Two of those who are waiting to welcome Rane home, are his wife, Janet (Lisa Blake Richards), and his son, Mark (Jordan Gerler).  

Thoughts of seeing his wife and son again, were the motivators which kept Rane going during his imprisonment. When he returns home, however, he finds that Janet has fallen in love, and intends to marry Cliff (Lawrence Driscoll), a sheriff’s deputy. Mark, who was only a toddler when Rane left for the war, needs to learn how to be around his father again. The year the film takes place is 1973. In addition to dealing with his family, Rane needs to adjust to the societal changes that have transpired during his time as a prisoner. In his mind, Rane had everything worked out, as to how it would be upon his return. He relays that information to Maxwell, an Air Force psychiatrist. The part of  Maxwell, is acted by Emmy winner, Dabney Coleman (Sworn to Silence). Maxwell imparts to Rane that readjusting to civilian life will take time. He does, however, address Rane’s foremost concern, that Janet is going to move out of state, thereby denying Rane access to Mark. The psychiatrist intimates that if and when she attempts to do such a thing, Janet can be challenged from doing so through legal means.

It is not all dismal for the returning war hero. Rane receives a brand new, cherry red, Cadillac convertible. In addition, at the same televised ceremony he is given $2555 in silver dollars. One for each day that he was in captivity, plus one for luck. The dollars are presented to him by twenty-nine year old, Linda Forchet (Linda Haynes). She wore his ID bracelet every day he was in Vietnam. When she meets Rane, it will be obvious to the viewer that she is smitten. This will not be the only interaction between the two characters in the film. The ceremony is a nice occasion for Rane. He doesn’t come across as overly gregarious, because his character, throughout a large portion of the film, is restrained, but when he accepts the gifts, he is both appreciative and polite.  Unfortunately, whatever happiness Rane gets from the ceremony is short lived. A day or two after, upon returning to his house, he is grabbed by a group of thugs, known as the Acuna Boys. The leader of the gang is called the Texan (James Best). He gets right to the point, and lets Rane know that they are there for the silver dollars. Rane, after enduring torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese, is not about to give the Acuna Boys his money, nor anything else. He loses a hand in the process, which is implied, not shown. Rane might have been willing to lose more, but his wife and son return to the house. Mark shows one of the thugs where Rane has put the silver dollars. Afterward, all three are shot. The problem for the Acuna Boys, that sets up the second half of the film, is that they thought they left Rane for dead. Even though he won’t admit it to Cliff, or any other member of law enforcement, during his convalescence, Rane remembers a great deal of information from the attack. The second half of the film, showcases a once nearly broken man out on a quest for revenge against those who killed his family. (As an aside: James Best is most famous for playing the part of Sheriff Rosco Coltrane on “The Dukes of Hazzard” television series, which aired from 1979 – 1985). 

“Rolling Thunder” was directed by John Flynn (Protection). The screenplay was co-written by Heywood Gould (Cocktail), and Oscar nominee, Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), based on an original story written by Schrader. Cinematographer, BAFTA winner Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner), does an excellent job capturing the grittiness of certain scenes, and, for the most part, never shows too much in the way of onscreen violence. Oscar nominee, and six time Emmy winner, Barry De Vorzon (Bless the Beasts and Children) composed the music for the movie, and wrote the song “San Antone,” which opens the film. The song is sung by Denny Brooks. The movie premiered on October 14, 1977, in New York City. Parts crime, drama, and thriller, the film has a runtime of 95 minutes. Quentin Tarantino named his distribution company “Rolling Thunder Productions” after the movie. When he was a teenager, he would go to see the film wherever it was playing in the greater Los Angeles area. He said his love of the movie led to him taking the bus to some dangerous and seedy areas. Kris Kristofferson was originally set to star as Rane, but dropped out.

“Rolling Thunder” is a film that I hadn’t seen in a number of years, but when I saw it was going to be on one of the movie channels, I set my DVR. It is the type of film that once you see it, you don’t soon forget it, and I certainly hadn’t. Devane, who has always come across to me, in any performance I’ve seen him in, as a very competent actor, is outstanding as Rane. The unfortunate aspect of the film, and it is something that Devane has spoken about in interviews, is that the studio didn’t give the movie the proper push that would’ve have made it a mainstream hit. For the most part, it was relegated to the drive in movie theaters, as well as theaters that were known for showing exploitation films.

I recommended it for fans of Devane, and those who would be interested in seeing Tommy Lee Jones in one of his earliest roles. Furthermore, those who like action movies, but don’t need them to be non-stop, “Rolling Thunder” as aforementioned builds at a slow pace, especially the first half, which up until the incident with the Acuna Boys, is more of a character study. The second half, however, which focuses on Rane’s mission of revenge, contains more of an energetic pace. 


About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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4 Responses to Rolling Thunder (1977)

  1. Amanda says:

    Beautiful write-up about the movie! I will definitely put this movie on this week to watch. I’m a Tommy Lee Jones fan so, of course, I must check it out now.

  2. Amanda says:

    By the way, I just want to personally thank you for always supporting my blog over the past years. It does mean a lot to me. So thank you Robbinsrealm!

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