The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Rolling Thunder

The Vietnam War ended, and American soldiers came home to a country that felt strongly opposed to what had been done as part of the fighting. They were not greeted as heroes as our veterans had been welcomed in previous wars, especially World War II. For some -- and not to sound too flowery -- the fighting was just beginning as those vets tried to re-acclimate to living back home. That's what we've got in 1977's Rolling Thunder as a jumping-off point.

Major Charlie Rane (William Devane) is coming home to San Antonio, Texas. He's spent the last seven years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, subjected to horrific treatment and torture meant to beat him down into nothing. Somehow, some way, he survived though, and he is welcomed back as a hero. Rane on the other hand, he's not so sure. He steps back into a home situation where his wife wants a divorce so she can remarry. His son is almost 10 years old, and he barely knows him. Rane simply doesn't know how to readjust to life as he used to know it. What little balance he finds is quickly destroyed when personal tragedy strikes, the reasoning...simple, pure greed with too many lives as an expense. Rane himself barely survives the incident, telling the police he doesn't remember much about what happened. The Air Force veteran...he remembers though, and Rane intends to exact his own revenge.

I'd never heard of this Vietnam War-themed flick from director John Flynn until recently it popped up on the movie channel Retroplex. It certainly sounded interesting, and in the end, it was. It's not a great film, but 'Thunder' is darkly entertaining, a morbid cloud of cynicism hanging over the proceedings. Isn't that what we all want to see?!? No nonsense about the story either. Straightforward revenge with a more vigilante-themed story mixed in with the more message-oriented story of Vietnam vets struggling to readjust to life back in the states after the horror of what they saw during their tours of duty. It ain't flashy, but it's violent, gritty and uncomfortable to watch. Worth seeking out.

A good to great character actor who never quite became a full-on movie star, William Devane does not disappoint with one of his few starring roles. It's his movie, and he carries it. His time spent as a North Vietnamese prisoner has worn him down while making him tougher in the process. His Major Charlie Rane is almost mute, is claustrophobic, has some form of PTSD and struggles to get back to the things he used to know and love. It is an unsettling performance, full of intensity and menace as Rane struggles to piece it all together. What does it? A release of hatred, a hate-oriented goal of retribution and revenge. He seems to find himself when tasked with a mission, however dangerous. Devane is excellent in a quiet, emotional leading performance. Two thumbs up for a guy often relegated to bad guy roles. Part Travis Bickle, part Paul Kersey, part Wild West vigilante, this is a fascinating character.

I haven't seen much of Tommy Lee Jones' pre-Lonesome Dove work, but here the 31-year old actor shows off that quiet, intimidating charisma that has served him so well in the 35-plus years since. He's underused as Johnny Vohden, a fellow prisoner who experienced everything Rane went through. Through their common, horrifying experience, they've bonded to become friends that can't be broken up. Excellent supporting part. Linda Haynes plays Linda Forchet, a young woman in her 20's fascinated with Rane, drawn to him in ways she can't describe. It's a good part, but somewhat distracting, as her character's personality seems to be wearing tight, thin shirts without a bra. Just an observation. Also look for James Best and Luke Askew as two gutter-trash crooks who wrong Rane in a big old way (wait for those fireworks!). Also look for Dabney Coleman, Lisa Blake Richards and Lawrason Driscoll in supporting parts.

'Thunder' is a bit of a slow burn, even following the surprising, horrifically violent twist about 35 minutes into the 95-minute long flick. It's trying to build that intensity to almost unbearable levels as we wait for Devane's Rane to blow like a volcano. In that sense, it treads that fine line. Things can be a little slow in parts. Never boring, but at the same time, never as interesting as things could have been. I'll give credit where it is due though. Everyone involved seems to know where they want to end up, all the while building up to a blood and bullet-riddled finale. It could have gone for a horrifically dark ending but taps the brakes a bit.

So overall, good but not great. A crime thriller set along the Texas/Mexico border has a gritty, dark feeling, almost like a film noir with a lot of blood squibs! This is a revenge movie that certainly belongs along the likes of movies like Taxi Driver and Death Wish and the Dirty Harry movies. A tad on the slow side at times, but worth checking out.

Rolling Thunder (1977): ** 1/2 /****


  1. that Paul Williams' song, also used in....... another movie later on....... is so dated.

  2. Haha yeah, seems like it was ripped from a bad 1950's western.