“You gotta learn to love the rope.”
In one of my earlier reviews I said that after many years I managed to see most of those obscure titles that I had longingly checked out waiting around in video stores in my youth. I’d stay up late watching Channel 4 (because it had the most varied selection of films) or borrow from acquaintances to satisfy my passion. A lot of them knew very little about the films they were giving me. That was the beauty of it. You request something unknown and you’re more likely to get it from an unsuspecting adult than say, asking for A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Rolling Thunder proved to be as elusive as Brain Damage. It was never shown on tv, and as more dvds became available, no studio deemed it worthy of a release in this country. Funny that, you’d think that Quentin Tarantino’s favourite film would have thousands of fans clamouring for it.
William Devane stars as Major Charles Rane, returning home from the war after being tortured and held for years in a prison camp. America has changed while Major Rane was away. His son doesn’t remember him; his wife has moved on. He is given a significant amount of silver dollars by his home town, representing each day he was captured. One day, several thugs burst in and demand the coins. In a gruesome and infamous scene, they destroy Rane’s hand using the garbage disposal. His wife and son are killed, and Rane is shot and left for dead by the gang, who take the money. He gradually recovers, and enlists the help of his army buddy Johnny, played by Tommy Lee Jones, to find the men who took away everything he had.
I’ve always found the revenge theme to be one of the most enduring and identifiable. Explored in recent years in films such as Dead Mans Shoes, Man On Fire and The Punisher, and if you appreciated those you’ll lap this up. Devane plays Rane as a man utterly devoid of emotion. His focus is summed up when he tells Johnny that he’s found “The men that killed my son.” Seemingly the death of his wife is not a motivation. Johnny’s response to this – “I’ll just get my gear.” leads to a climactic shootout on the border of Mexico. The film has an impressive team behind it: director John Flynn also helmed brutal crime thriller The Outfit with Robert Duvall, and writer Paul Schrader had recently scripted Taxi Driver, going on to work again with Scorsese on Raging Bull.
I’m still unsure as to why this film has not been available. Maybe its because William Devane is not so well-known in the UK, although you may remember him as Kevin Bacon’s boss in Hollow Man who meets a watery end. It’s also surprising that it wasn’t re-released in the wake of Tommy Lee Jones’ subsequent success. Find it if you can, as you deserve a little more than just Death Wish as an example of the 70’s revenge flick.