Number 10 on Gene Siskel’s best films list of 1977 and Quentin Tarantino has the movie on his Sight and Sound best film list for 2012 and 2002, Shout! Factory has just released Rolling Thunder on Blu-ray.
Released in 1977 from American International Pictures after Twentieth Century Fox produced the film and then bailed because of the violence. It’s 1973 Texas. William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones are a couple of Vietnam war veterans who come home after several years as prisoners of war. Devane gets a hero’s welcome but can’t adjust to normal life. His son doesn’t remember him and his wife has moved on to another man. Devane continues to have flashbacks about the prison camp and he still maintains the same daily regimen that he had while captive. He also seems emotional detached from everyone around him.
The town gives him a car and a case of silver dollars, one for each day he was imprisoned which comes to $2500. A couple of hoodlums see Devine on TV and decide to steal the silver coins. Lead by James Best (from Dukes of Hazzard) they attack Devine in his home. They torture him but he won’t give up the cash. They stick his hand in the garbage disposal and then threaten his wife and kid. The kid gives up the money and the thugs shoot them all. Devine survives and plots his revenge.
The film is directed by John Flynn who a few years earlier directed The Outfit, the third Parker novel with Robert Duvall in the Parker role. Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver fame came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay although he has complained that the filmmakers completely changed his story. the film is excellent. It starts off slow, setting up Devine and his post-traumatic disorder and then casually building into a revenge film. I’m not sure I would have the film on a best of list but it’s entertaining enough.