4K UHD Review: Rolling Thunder

Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews, Top Story

Quentin Tarantino is obsessed with Rolling Thunder. Back in the late ’90s, he named his cult video distribution company Rolling Thunder. In his recent book Cinema Speculation about ’70s films, Tarantino writes profusely about not merely about the movie. He delves into Paul Schrader’s original script and the changes the producer made. Rolling Thunder is a film that’s easily to get obsessive over. Now that the movie has been upgraded to 4K UHD, there’s even more details on the screen to draw you into the tale of a Vietnam POW coming home to a nightmare as frightening as his time in captivity.

Major Charles Rane (The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training‘s 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 (Men In Black‘s 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. They reward him with 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. 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 handles 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.

Rolling Thunder is a film that works as both a character study of a returning P.O.W. and a revenge thriller. William Devane dominates the screen as the one-armed Major bent on getting the men that ruined his life. This is one of the best films of the ’70s.

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The video is 1.78.1 anamorphic. The 4K transfer on the 4K UHD disc is sharp. You’ll wince at the sink scene even more. This is a different transfer than Shout! used on the 2013 Blu-ray release. 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 movie is subtitled.

Audio Commentary with Screenwriter/novelist Heywood Gould and C. Courtney Joyner is great since Gould was hired to soften up Schrader’s original script. He mentions how Paul Schrader was supposed to direct with John Milius as a producer. While in pre-production, they swapped over to John Flynn as director and brough in Gould to do the rewrite. The military didn’t cooperate with the production.

Audio Commentary with Filmmakers Jackson Stewart (Beyond The Gates) and Francis Galluppi (The Last Stop In Yuma County) has them apologize since Quentin Tarantino should be doing the track. They do reference his book. They discuss their passion for the film. They’ve studied up on the film and share stories they’ve read and heard. They point out that cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth went on to shoot Altered States and Blade Runner. They talk about a scene in the original script that featured Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver making a cameo.

Blu-ray featured the new 4K transfer and all the bonus features.

Lean and Mean: The Early Films of John Flynn (20:12) has actor/historian C. Courtney Joyner discuss the director of the film. He points out that Schrader wanted to direct his script after his success writing Taxi Driver. But producer Lawrence Gordon decided to not risk the project on a newbie. He brought in John Flynn. The filmmaker got his start as an assistant to Robert Wise. He also was assistant director on The Great Escape. Wise set up his own production company to let Flynn direct his first film. The Sargent about a military man who falls for a new recruit. Flynn directed for over another 20 years including Lock Up with Sylvester Stallone, Out For Justice with Steven Segal and Brainscan.

Coming Home To War: Scoring Rolling Thunder (18:51) sits down with composer Barry De Vorzon. He talks about listening to the director to sense what music he wanted for the film. John Flynn trusted Barry to create the score. He explores his approach to his theme song. Barry wanted to give us lyrics that was about hope and that things might work out. He explains why he didn’t create any music for certain scenes or be very sparse on the notes.

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 Fox 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.

Trailers From Hell – Eli Roth on Rolling Thunder (2:31) gets him to layout why the film is great to him. He name checks his pal Tarantino and admits he borrowed a line from the movie for his Cabin Fever.

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.

Shout! Studios 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: April 23, 2024. 

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.