Rolling Thunder is the other big film for me from 1977, and is one of my favorite revenge films of the period, starring William Devane as an Air Force Major and Tommy Lee Jones as an Army Airborne Ranger. It’s 1973 and Devane and Jones have just been returned to America after serving as POWs in Vietnam. His return is not so sweet, as he learns his wife cheated on him while he was away and his kid doesn’t remember him. Dabney Coleman make an appearance in the film as Devane’s senior Air Force doctor, who tries to help him acclimate to being free.
At this point, regarded as a hometown hero, Devane’s home town gives him a welcome home event, and give him several gifts, including a case full of silver dollars, that later would be the cause of all his grief, as some very bad hombres come to his home to steal the coins. They torture him, triggering his memories of being brutalized by his captors in Vietnam. He won’t talk, so the thugs try to push him harder to give up the coins, and destroy his hand in garbage disposal. In the process of this assault, his wife and young boy come home, and in front of him, are butchered by the criminals, and he himself is left for dead. But, somehow his character survives.
After recovering from his injuries, and with a prosthetic hook for a hand, he sets out to find the men responsible for murdering his family. The film builds to a final brutal and bloody show down in Juarez, Mexico, as he is rejoined by his fellow POW, Tommy Lee Jones, who plans to help take out this group of dangerous men.
It’s a dark, violent, but satisfying film.
A side note, I found it amusing that the only actual Military Vets in the film, were either side characters or in the bunch of villains. Two of the main bad guys, James Best, best known as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on Dukes of Hazard, and character actor Luke Askew, both served in the Armed Forces during the 1950’s. Dabney Coleman graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1949, and was drafted in 1953, serving in the US Army. To my knowledge, neither Devane or Jones served. But, both men have done a tremendous job honoring Veterans in their films. Especially Devane, who was awarded a GIFF award for lifetime achievement 2012, for his support for Vets throughout his film and television career.