When Quentin Tarantino named his video distribution company Rolling Thunder, there was a sensation that the movie Rolling Thunder would finally get home video respect. Fans were eager to snatch up DVDs of movies Tarantino name checked from his video store days. Rolling Thunder should have been perfect for MGM’s Midnite Movies Double Feature series since the cult film was originally distributed by American International Pictures. But no dice. There was a disappointing burn on demand offering in 2011. Few became excited about a DVD-R. They wanted a pressed disc. Finally Rolling Thunder is getting its proper respect with a Blu-ray release that will make your TV screen explode like a Mexican bordello.
Major Charles Rane (William Devane) has been away from home for quite a while. The air force officer was captured early in the Vietnam War. After 8 years, he’s finally coming home to San Antonio, Texas to be reunited with his family. But this isn’t the life he left and he’s not the man who left them. His wife admits she gave him up for dead and has a lover. His son has no clue who his dad is since he’s been gone for nearly all of his life. Even worse is the Major Rane can’t cope with freedom. The bed is too comfortable. He almost misses the pain inflicted upon him by his Vietnamese captors. The only person who seems to understand him is a fellow P.O.W. Johnny Vohden (Tommy Lee Jones). This is kind of like the set up to Showtime’s Homeland except Major Rane isn’t a sleeper agent for the Viet Cong. The people of San Antonio are supportive of their released hero. He gets a brand new car and 2,556 silver dollars representing every day he spent as a P.O.W.
However this public act of generosity turns brutal when James Best (Dukes of Hazzard) and his goons drop by the house wanting to claim that prize. Best doesn’t like that the Major has more reserve than the average shake down victim. Forget his goofy Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane, Best is pure evil as he tears apart the Major’s life like the garbage disposal does to the Major’s hand. Major Rane isn’t going to just be a beaten man with a hook for his hand. He now has a mission in his life. He out to track down Best and his crew for revenge. He brings along Tommy Lee Jones for the massive shoot out in the finale.
Rolling Thunder was Paul Schrader’s follow up to his script for Taxi Driver. Both films are about outsider characters pushed into a brutal attack on a brothel. But Major Rane is a more understandable character than Travis Bickle. He’s not bitter that he didn’t come home to a perfect family situation. He gets that life went on without him. He ends up hooking up with the woman who wore his POW bracelet for years so he’s moved on a little bit himself. What breaks him is that after surviving 8 years of torture on the other side of the Earth, he comes home to be tortured by a fellow American. Devine is able to handle the emotional spectrum of his character. He gets sympathy even at him most blood thirsty moment. Rolling Thunder deserves the same level of cult following as Taxi Driver.
The video is 1.78.1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer makes up for the lack of a real DVD release over the decades since you don’t need to consider upgrading. The audio is DTS-HD Mono. This is a mix that brings out the intensity and brutality. You shall wince when that garbage disposal is flipped on.
The Making Of Rolling Thunder (21:49) is great for letting Paul Schrader vent. He’s not happy that Heywood Gould was brought in to humanize his hard edge revenge script. They discuss how the film still scared the preview audience to the point that a major studio unloaded Rolling Thunder on American International Pictures. William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones both show a passion still lingers for the film and their roles
Original Trailer (2:31) hints at the revenge to come from the Major’s return home.
TV Spot (0:32) pushes the Taxi Driver angle. Ernie Anderson does the narration.
Radio Spots (1:32) talks about the Major’s return home. They redefine what Rolling Thunder means.
Photo gallery includes the lobby cards, posters and promo pics from the release
Rolling Thunder is a film that works as both a character study of a returning P.O.W. and a revenge thriller. William Devane is able to handle the emotional and physical edge of his one armed Major bent on getting the men that ruined his life. This is one of the best films of the ’70s. The Blu-ray makes the wait for a proper home video release more than worthwhile.
Shout! Factory and MGM present Rolling Thunder. Directed by John Flynn. Screenplay by: Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould. Starring: William Devane, Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Haynes and James Best. Running Time: 99 minutes. Rated: R. Released: May 28, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Dukes of Hazzard, Quentin Tarantino, Tommy Lee Jones, Vietnam