William Devane in Rolling Thunder (1977)


(director: John Flynn; screenwriters: from a story by Paul Schrader/Paul Schrader/Heywood Gould; cinematographer: Jordan Cronenweth; editor: Frank P. Keller; music: Barry De Vorzon; cast: William Devane (Maj. Charles Rane), Tommy Lee Jones (Johnny Vohden), Linda Haynes (Linda Forchet), James Best (Texan), Dabney Coleman (Maxwell), Lisa Richards (Janet Rane), Luke Askew (Automatic Slim), Lawrason Driscoll (Cliff), Cassie Yates (Candy), Jordan Gerler (Mark Rane), Roscoe P. Coltrane (gang member); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Norman T. Herman; Goodtimes Home Video; 1977)

“It’s the best cold-blooded Death Wish type of revenge film I’ve seen.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The screenplay was co-written by Heywood Gould and Paul Schrader (“Taxi Driver”), and has the same kind of troubled vet-vigilante protagonist but goes in a different narrative direction. It’s the best cold-blooded Death Wish type of revenge film I’ve seen. John Flynn (“The Outfit’/”Out for Justice”/”Nails”) does a masterful job keeping the action sharp, the tension always going and the damage war does to a man’s soul down to simple terms.

Major Charles Rane (William Devane), an Air Force flier, returns home to San Antoine, Texas, after eight years imprisoned and tortured in a Vietcong POW camp, and is given a hero’s welcome by the flag-waving locals. He soon learns his wife (Lisa Richards) met another man, policeman Cliff (Lawrason Driscoll), and is asking for a divorce, and his nine-year-old son (Jordan Gerler) doesn’t remember him. When the town gives him a new car and a supermarket gives him a couple thousand dollars in silver coin (one for each day of his imprisonment), Charlie is like a dead man and accepts the good and bad news in the same emotionless way. The publicity attracts the attention of some vicious redneck thugs who break into the major’s house and torture him, after he refuses to tell them where he keeps the coins. When his wife and kid enter, the kid tells them where the coins are hid and then the gang kills the kid and his mother. They leave Charlie for dead without a hand, as he now must wear a hook.

Upon his recovery, Charlie quietly vows for revenge. The taciturn, embittered Charlie hooks up with blonde, world-weary cocktail waitress Linda Forchet (Linda Haynes) and tracks down one of the gang in Mexico and then leaves her in El Paso with enough money to get back to San Antoine. There he hooks up with his fellow haunted POW mate, an Army sergeant named Johnny Vohden (Tommy Lee Jones), and they are heavily armed as they track down the remainder of the gang in a Juarez whorehouse and take them down in a rousing action-packed shootout.