Tag Archives: Paul Schrader

Rolling Thunder (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: No hand no problem.

Major Charles Rane (William Devane) returns home to a hero’s welcome after spending 7 years a prisoner of war. As part of the ceremony he’s given 2,555 silver dollars to commemorate each day that he was held in captivity. A few days later a group of thugs invade his home looking for the silver dollars and when Rane refuses to tell them where they are they stick in his hand into his garbage disposal before shooting both his son and wife dead. Now with a hook for a right hand he goes on an unrelenting search for the killers determined to kill each and every one of them while using his hooked hand as a weapon.

What might’ve been considered violent and groundbreaking back in 1977 seems awfully trite and formulaic now. Paul Schrader’s original screenplay portrayed Rane as a racist and the story culminated with him indiscriminately shooting a group of Mexican’s as a metaphor to America’s involvement in Vietnam, but of course studio execs considered this ‘too edgy’ so everything got watered down and all that gets left is a benign and predictable revenge western updated to the modern-day.

The much ballyhooed violence isn’t all that gripping either. Originally there was a graphic shot that showed a prosthetic hand being sliced up in the disposal, but test audiences became repulsed by it causing the studio execs to take the shot out of the film even though by today’s standards that might not be considered as disturbing as it was back then and might even have given the film some distinction, which it is otherwise lacking.

The scene where the son and mother are killed is poorly handled too because we never see them actually shot as it’s done off camera. This then negates the horror of it and makes it less emotionally compelling with even a quick shot of their bloodied bodies needed for the necessary strong impact. I also thought it was weird that when Rane comes back to the scene of the crime we’re shown the sofa where the two were killed on, but there are no blood stains on it even though most likely there should’ve been.

Devane’s performance is a detriment as well as he is unable to effectively convey the character’s intense, brooding nature. The film would’ve worked better had Tommy Lee Jones, who appears here briefly, been given the lead as he, even in the few scenes that he is in, gives off the required intensity perfectly while Devane is seemingly overwhelmed by the part’s demands making it easy to see why he never became the big screen star that the producers were hoping for.

Linda Hayne’s role was not needed and despite her beauty pretty much just gets in the way. She plays Rane’s girlfriend who begins to date him after his family’s slaughter and tags along with him in tracking the killers, but she tends to be a bit annoying with too many conversations centering around Rane’s need to ‘get over’ his family’s death and seemingly treating his loss like it should be a minor inconvenience that he should simply ‘move on’ from. There is a moment where he seems ready to throw her out of the car and leave her stranded in a field, which would’ve nicely illustrated the character’s obsessed and loner nature, but like with everything else in the film it gets softened by having him dump her later on in a more civil way, which again becomes like a cop-out to the story’s otherwise rough theme.

The shoot-out inside a chapel is pretty good and I really liked James Best as the bad guy with all the sweat pouring down his face, which was apparently accomplished by having him wear ice cubes underneath his hat. Having Devane use his hook to grab, quite literally, Luke Askew by the balls I suppose deserves some kudos too, but overall it’s a bland viewing experience that fails live up to its hype with the whole hooked hand as a weapon concept needing to be played up much more. The movie’s poster makes it seem like it will be a lot cooler flick than it actually is.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: October 14, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Flynn

Studio: American International Pictures

Available: DVD

Blue Collar (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Workers rob their union.

Zeke (Richard Pryor) Jerry (Harvey Keitel) and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto) work at an auto plant in Detroit and become increasingly frustrated with their union and feel it they’re being ripped-off by them. The three get the idea to rob a safe stored at the union office. The crime itself is a cinch, but they only get $600 dollars out of it even though the union reports to the press that $10,000 was stolen. Then they find paperwork detailing some of the union’s dirty loan deals and decide to use that as blackmail, but the union has other ideas.

This was the first film directed by Paul Schrader and although he has gone on record stating that he dislikes it and has never watched it since its release I consider it to be one of his best. The music by Jack Nitzsche is a bit heavy, but otherwise this is a strong hard-hitting look at the life of an auto worker a subject that doesn’t get tackled too often. The fact that the film takes no sides and shows that both management and unions can be equally corrupt gives the proceedings a refreshingly honest tone.

Personally I support unions, but I realize that like with everything some can be less than perfect and since reality is not black-and-white, but instead quite complex it’s important to show all sides of an issue. The whole inspiration for the film came when Schrader went to Detroit and interviewed actual assembly-line workers and found to his shock many of them hated their unions even more than management. Films like Norma Rae, which is still excellent, tend to portray a very one-sided narrative while this one makes you wonder who the good guys actually are especially as the three leads turn on each other for different reasons.

The biggest surprise is Richard Pryor who really drives this film with his excellent dramatic performance. He seems to be channeling his harsh upbringing to create an edgy and enduring character. I loved the way he critiques other black sitcoms like ‘Good Times’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ as well as the way he constantly says the f-word even when in front of his own kids. George Memmoli a very obese actor gets a memorable bit as a disgruntled factory work that destroys a vending machine when it won’t give him his coffee.

The film features two very unique scenes. One is where a character dies while being trapped inside a room where a car is being painted and it’s quite intense. The other scene features Keitel in a car chase as he tries to get away from some bad guys who want to shoot him. Most films capture a car chases from the outside-looking-in with shots showing both vehicles at a distance and the point-of-view of both drivers. This one stays only on Keitel’s perspective making the viewer feel like they are trapped in the car with him and thus making the chase a much more personal and frightening experience.

Due to the subject matter no auto company would allow the film to be shot at their plant, so the producers were forced to use the Checker Cab Company, but this was a much smaller plant and the viewer never gets a true feeling of the immensity of an actual auto factory. The film’s final shot is another distraction as it’s the one point where the movie suddenly becomes heavy-handed despite successfully remaining otherwise gritty. It’s still a strong story overall that brings out perplexing issues without supplying any easy answers.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 10, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Schrader

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video, YouTube