Rolling Thunder (1976) – a slow burn

Tagline:  Major Charles Rane Is Coming Home To War!

Synopsis: A POW returns home from Vietnam and struggles to pick up his life until a band of thieves torture, rob, and murder his family and he is forced to confront new wounds in order to heal the tides of war with the help of an Army buddy.

Meat & Potatoes: You might not be familiar with the star of this film, William Devane, yet he has been acting since the 1960’s and appears in over 100 movies including 11 episodes of From Here to Eternity in 1980 and the long running television series Knots Landing (Devane was Gregory Sumner between 1983-1993 in 259 episodes).  More recently, fans of the popular series “24” found Devane as James Heller in 20 episodes between 2005-2007.  Rolling Thunder is a movie about the aftermath of war with William Devanes character returning home to a world he doesn’t understand because of experiences that cannot find a place in the simple backdrop of everyday America. When Major Charles Rane, Devane, comes home to Texas, he flounders, joined by Army buddy Tommy Lee Jones as war buddy Johnny Vohden, who ultimately must come to terms with a small town criminal element that prevent them from assuming the life they left behind.  When prototypical bad guy James Best as Texan, the leader of a band of thugs and the physical antagonist of the story, decides to rob Charles Rane, he meets a man who has been robbed of his individuality and consequently a connection with the world he left behind.  The argument can be made that the real antagonist here is Devane’s character himself, the man within the man who must first come to terms with the toils of war before he’ll ever identify with the  man he left behind.  In the end, this is a story about consequences as much as it is about how war takes an effect on soldiers that often last a life time.

You might be wondering why I’m writing a review of a B-film from the 70’s, especially one that might not easily find a list of even the most forgotten films from the era.  I caught this film by chance and watched it because I was looking for the essence of films that came out during this time and wondered what it was about Rolling Thunder that made producers sign on board.

I checked Rolling Thunder on one of my favorite ‘on-line’ movie sites – and not surprisingly didn’t find a listing for budget, box office receipts, or anything for that matter.  I think what brought this film to production was the topical nature of the story, about Vietnam vets returning home after enduring unmentionable horrors as soldiers and POWs.  I am reminded of films like The Deer Hunter when I think of epic films that embrace story as a vehicle for establishing mood and tone, for creating what the world at that time might have been like.  Other films like Born On The Fourth Of July are also close at hand, Platoon and even Deliverance – a film as much bout the camaraderie of soldiers who become friends after the war as a doomed vacation rafting trip that exposes a group of friends to the treacherous backwoods of Georgia.

I write here about the 1976 film, Rolling Thunder because I think it is representative of most war films in that it explores the nature of combat and the consequences of war on the men and women who return home to a world that is quite often unprepared for them.  Rolling Thunder is not the first or last film on the Vietnam war, nor does it pretend to address the circumstances and extenuating consequences associated with combat.  This is a snap shot film from the 70’s about a subject that remains today as poignant and important as the first film to ever scratch the surface of what combat is like and how those experiences affect soldiers returning home after war. 

Bits & Bites: Interview with William Devane about popular television series Knots Landing.

The Closer: Rolling Thunder is a film that you have to watch along a journey of discovery about war, especially the ramifications of the Vietnam war on soldiers returning home.  Rolling Thunder is first and foremost a film of the 70’s, meaning the action sequences are dated at best, the dialog often choppy and at times unbelievable, and aside from the work the lead actors would go on to do – you’ll be best advised to watch this film late at night or at a friend’s house so you don’t have to pay for the rental fee.  A nice glimpse at Tommy Lee Joins career but not a lot beyond that.

About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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