News Column

'Rolling Thunder,' 'Cleopatra' among new offerings

May 28, 2013


There are films that get under your skin, or stuck in your head, and stay there for years _ lines and moments suddenly jumping back into your day. For me, one of those movies is "Rolling Thunder."

Coming Tuesday to Blu-ray (Shout! Factory, $16.98), the 1977 movie stars William Devane as Charles Rane, a Vietnam War POW who has returned home after years in captivity. He receives a hero's welcome and awards in his honor, including a box containing one silver dollar for every day he was a POW. But Rane's adjustment is difficult; his wife has been having an affair, his son is a stranger and Rane himself is emotionally closed, holding in his feelings much the way he did through all those years of imprisonment and torture.

Then things take a horrible turn. Thieves arrive, wanting Rane's silver dollars. Their efforts include torturing Rane, then killing his wife and son. Rane, though, survives and, with help from another POW (Tommy Lee Jones), sets out for revenge.

In some respects, the movie and its violent climax fit in the revenge genre begun a few years earlier by "Death Wish." But the movie is a cut above. The script was co-written by Paul Schrader ("Taxi Driver"). The direction by John Flynn is taut and lean, complementing the tight-lipped performances by Devane and Jones. And this is a chance to see Jones just as he was breaking into stardom, as well as excellent work from a supporting cast including Dabney Coleman, Linda Haynes (a really interesting actress who left Hollywood a few years later) and, in a small role, TV mainstay Cassie Yates.

The movie has some high-profile admirers, including Quentin Tarantino, who named one of his companies Rolling Thunder, but has had only limited availability, including an on-demand DVD. I will not pretend it's a great movie _ since the second half is mostly about setting up the big and bloody revenge scene _ but it is an admirable one. I watched it often during its many runs on pay-cable in the '70s, and have a couple of lines (one by Jones, another by Devane) still in my memory bank.

The Blu-ray has a nice, clean look. And the extras include a 20-minute piece on the making of the movie that has interviews with Devane, Jones, Schrader and co-writer Heywood Gould. It's a clear-eyed look at the movie, and especially interesting when it discusses the transition from Schrader's script to Gould's revisions.

Tuesday also brings the release on Blu-ray of a 50th-anniversary edition of "Cleopatra," the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton film. From Fox, it is being offered in an extras-laden two-disc Blu-ray set for $24.99 and a package including a collectible book for $10 more. Besides the many pieces about the making of the film and an audio commentary, there's the unbelievable high-definition restoration of the movie itself. Yes, it is four hours long and at times ridiculous. But it is a spectacular reminder of what big old Hollywood movies looked like, with eye-popping color. And Taylor is stunning in her beauty, even when her costumes are over the top.

Down video road: The first season of "Rectify," the compelling Sundance drama about a man back in the world after years on Death Row, will be on DVD on June 18. "Brooklyn Castle," a charming documentary about high-school chess players, will be on DVD on June 4.


Rich Heldenfels:


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