Holy shit, ROLLING THUNDER finally hits DVD!

mp_rollingthunderHas everybody here seen ROLLING THUNDER? Written by Paul TAXI DRIVER Schrader, directed by John OUT FOR JUSTICE Flynn, starring William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones, this is one of the hall of fame badass revenge movies, a must-see classic. Yet it’s never been legitimately released on DVD, and fairly hard to come by on VHS. When it played in a small theater in Seattle a few years back the only known print had to be borrowed from Quentin Tarantino’s collection, and I hear it was not in good shape. Tarantino loved the movie so much he named his short-lived theatrical re-release label after it, and yet even he didn’t get it a re-release. So I always figured there was some weird deal with the rights, or an ancient Egyptian curse of some kind. At one point I even got a chance to ask John Flynn’s daughter if she knew why it hadn’t been released, and she had no idea. (She says he was a great dad and a real cool guy, by the way.)

But there’s a fairly recent phenomenon pioneered by Warner Brothers, the manufacture-on-demand archival DVD. If you’re not familiar with it, the Warner Archives is a program where WB have been going through their vaults, remastering everything and making them available… but instead of spending all the money to manufacture a big print run, market and distribute them and hope enough people want them they just have them listed online, you order one, and they print you up a DVD-R. I think they got the idea from the original release of Seagalogy on lulu.com. Same basic concept.

With this approach they’ve been able to release all kinds of obscurities that there wouldn’t be enough of a market for otherwise. I was amazed when THE SERGEANT was one of the early titles released by Warner Archives. You mean to tell me that Flynn’s 1968 drama about post WWII army sergeant Rod Steiger trying to stifle his sexual attraction to John Phillip Law came to DVD before ROLLING THUNDER? How is this possible?

Well, thankfully now the other studios are following the Brothers’s lead, and with the other day’s announcement of Fox releasing 400 MGM titles (timed to distract me from being bummed out about the election) comes the news that the official #1 on my list of Movies That Need To Fucking Be Released On DVD, For Crying Out Loud can finally be crossed off. ROLLING THUNDER will be part of the first wave available to order– well, it doesn’t say. But soon, it sounds like.

Fox had done some titles before, including WHITE BUFFALO, but now they’re going full hog, planning to release 400 titles over the next 18 months (they only seem to have announced the first 50 so far). Also being released are VIGILANTE FORCE, a never-even-on-VHS Kris Kristofferson/Jan Michael Vincent/George Armitage redneck joint that I hear is pretty good, and THE WITCHES, which has an early appearance by Clint Eastwood.

Obviously I believe ROLLING THUNDER is worthy of a Criterion Edition, and would do well with one of those sort of specialty labels and some interviews with Schrader and all that. But I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth. And we can assume the print quality will be good, because it’s been airing remastered on HD channels. I just don’t have an HD TV so it did me no good until now.

Now officially #1 on my list of Shit That Needs To Come Out: THE OUTFIT. Also directed by John Flynn.

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47 Responses to “Holy shit, ROLLING THUNDER finally hits DVD!”

  1. I second the Lock Up love. It’s the second best Stallone Behind Bars movie of 1989. (The best is obviously Tango and Cash.)

  2. Oops, meant to post this on the John Flynn Tribute. My bad.

  3. fuckin’ finally. caught this a few years ago on 35mm at the george eastman house and it was killer.

  4. Vern – Also add Mann’s THE KEEP and Frankenheimer’s THE CHALLENGE to your list.

  5. This is great news. Thanks for the heads up, Vern. I caught this on a dodgy bootleg VHS to DVD transfer. It was always ludicrous it wasn’t out on DVD. Not only does it have the greatness of a guy with a hook-hand getting revenge, but it’s also a really classy, well made movie.

  6. “I just don’t have an HD TV so it did me no good until now.”

    Oh man… Not is that any of my business, but is this some kind of anti-establishment statement, Vern? I mean, as a film lover you obviously prefer widescreen versions of the movies, and nowadays a widescreen TV basically gives you a theatrical experience (screen size notwithstanding) at home.

    I mean, I’ve got the smallest, cheapest LCD set available and I absolutely can’t imagine watching 2.35 : 1 movies shot by someone like John Carpenter on a standard TV anymore. They just look like totally different pictures.

    Again, don’t mean to offend or start some kind of “real film appreciation vs. hardware elitism” war, I just honestly flabbergasted.

    P.S. Maybe I misunderstood and you just meant paid HD Channels or something. In that case, I apologize in advance.

    P.P.S. There’s nothing wrong with watching John Carpenter movies on a widescreen laptop or a PC, of course!

    P.P.P.S. Crap, probably shouldn’t have posted this at all. But we do live in the year 2010 and HD TV’s still haven’t turn out to be killer robots in disguise, so I’ll just gonna hit this “Submit Comment” button and hope for the best.

  7. Maybe he just has to pay rent in an expensive city and getting a new TV isn’t a top priority. I still rock my old square joint because it still works fine. When it dies, I’ll upgrade. The cathode ray tube has served me perfectly well for more than three decades. I’m pretty sure I can survive a few more years.

  8. Hey roachboy,
    Get off his back. Some of us spend more money buying movies than we do on the bullshit format upgrades currently being hoisted on us every six months. I still watch a lot of movies on VHS (I own over a thousand) because what matters isn’t how you consume them but why you do and what you get out of it.
    So stoked on a DVD release of Rolling Thunder BTW. This is one that I have yet to get better than a bootleg on.

  9. I’ll join Team Roachboy.

    Get it together and get some LCD TV’s,Blu-Ray players and even a sound bar/surround sound.

  10. I actually don’t like surroundsound. It disconnects the sound from the image for me, which I gather is the opposite effect that it’s supposed to have.

  11. All I remember about VIGILANTE FORCE is Kristofferson shooting some chickens (although, unlike PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, these chickens are obviously fake. One just tips over to the side) and I think everyone gets dressed like a marching band and goes around firing bazookas at the end (although I might be wrong about that).

  12. Surround sound is The Devil.

  13. I hope to get one some day, Roachboy, and a new computer too, but I got bills to pay. I’ve come across ROLLING THUNDER on one of the HD channels before, but on my square TV they show up squeezed.

  14. Sorry, Vern, didn’t mean to sound like a yuppie scum.

    Someday, the generation of lonely urban guys with cathode ray sets will be replaced by the generation of lonely urban guys with LCD TV’s, and the world would be awesome.

  15. Rolling Thunder on DVD. HELL YEAH. RIGHT ON.

    “Just lemme get mah gear….”

  16. And yeah, Vern’s right, this really should be on Criterion or have some equivalent big-deal special edition featuring interviews with Schrader, Tommy Lee Jones, William Devane, Heywood Gould (the guy who rewrote Schrader), Tarantino, ect; an audio commentary by Schrader, a second commentary by Tarantino, a PDF of Schrader’s spec draft, ect ect. But hey. Rolling Thunder’s finally gonnna be on DVD. Good enough for me.

    2. I’ve never seen Vigilante Force, but I can confirm that it does conclude with said Force blowing up the town dressed as a marching band.

    3. There’s some other damn good movies on that MGM list of coming releases too, particularly one which I’ve loved for a long time: CRUSOE, a version of the Robinson Crusoe story with Aidan Quinn as the title character. It’s like a cross between HELL IN THE PACIFIC and NEVER CRY WOLF; a really beautiful, artful, sadly overlooked film.

  17. I don’t know if I fully understand here. They send you a DVD-R? Does it at least come in a proper case and have the title printed on it? Or is it just some guy hand-writing “ROLLING THUNDER” on a Maxell disk or something?

    I know where Vern and Majestyk are coming from. I wouldn’t have upgraded my TV on my own, but my Dad was upgrading his and asked if I wanted his early generation HDTV as a birthday present. He made a big deal about ensuring that I really genuinely wanted it, because apparently it’s obsolete technology now, but I took it. So I have this big monster that’s a 1080i, not a 1080p, which real aficionados will tell you is a piece of fucking shit. Looks pretty good to my eyes though. And if the HDTV broke down at this point I don’t know if I could go back to a normal one. I have like 80 Blu Rays now, for one.

    I still have my old cathode ray set in my bedroom and it’s actually my preferred TV if I watch something that’s still on VHS. Not that I have a VCR anymore, but sometimes I download rare stuff that hasn’t been released to DVD. Like this one last night called A COLD WINTER’S DEATH that was actually really fucking impressively good. But the copy I watched was one that someone had recorded off TV, with commercials edited out and everything. So that’s up there on my list of shit they should release properly.

    I also don’t like surround sound and agree that it has the effect of disembodying the audio from the visual.

  18. Gwai Lo, They come in a nice case with artwork on the disc. You wouldn’t even know it’s a DVD-R if not for the blue bottom. I love the on demand programs.

  19. Ahh, I see. That is pretty cool. I bet they don’t bother hiring Photoshop hacks to do new covers either? I’m assuming the artwork they use are close to the original posters/lobby cards? This actually makes a ton of sense for those of us who are into a lot of total obscurities.

    roachboy – I can’t see/answer your second PM right now as CG appears to be down?

  20. The first Warner cases had dark blue covers with a film still in the middle. They now use the original poster art. MGM disc’s vary but nothing too ugly. Universal and Sony also have these programs. It can be difficult to find complete lists of releases though.

  21. billydeethrilliams

    November 4th, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Let’s go ahead and get a proper dvd of Sorcerer as well. Never saw it, but I won’t watch anything pan-and-scanned, and I trust Friedkin. And Rolling Thunder is a good one. I thought a little too much time was spent on the girlfriend/sidekick, but overall a kick ass revenge flick. Devane was great, but I think the inclusion of Tommy Lee Jones really sold it for me. “I’ll go get my gear.” Classic.

  22. billydeethrilliams – Actualy, the 4:3 is Friedkin’s preferred aspect ratio for SORCERER. I believe it was shot in 1:85:1 but projected in 1.66:1 and it’s a really weird AR – basically, it doesn’t look very good on both widescreen and square TV sets without heavy enchantments.

    I guess it’s a Kubrick type situation – if you trust the director, you should watch the fullscreen DVD, if you want the theatrical experience, you should wait for the HD transfer.

  23. Generally I would trust the director I suppose, even though Friedkin’s “director’s cut” for EXORCIST was worse than the original edit.

    I read somewhere once that Friedkin claimed SORCERER was his favorite out of all his own movies.

    Too bad I was hoping it was that evil baby-eating tree movie he did.

  24. Or you could just watch THE WAGES OF FEAR and call it a day.

  25. Great news about Rolling Thunder, but the one I’ve been waiting for for 20 years now is The Outfit – one of the coolest movies ever made. I know it airs on TCM on a regular basis, but to own it on dvd would be something else.

  26. billydeethrilliams

    November 5th, 2010 at 5:45 am

    roachboy- I’d rather have something close to the theatrical experience. Especially watching some of the beautifully restored Criterion dvds.

    RRA- Don’t mean to be a wet blanket, but I didn’t care for The Exorcist. All the ingredients are there, but it just didn’t suck me in. It felt disjointed, even though as some films have proved that can be used to great effect. Could it be because I’m an atheist?

    Gwai Lo- I watched the first 50 or so minutes of Wages of Fear and fell asleep. Granted I was tired when I watched it, but I figure if a movie is good it’ll wake you up enough to want to finish it. As of now it’s sitting on my dvd shelf and I’m debating whether or not to continue.

  27. billy – So is Friedkin.

  28. billy – Both WAGES OF FEAR and SORCERER are totally fucking bad ass action movies after the oil rig’s explosion, so – yes, you should try to watch it again.

    The slow beginning is essential to establish the crappy town full of losers were nothing ever happens. It is literally the last place in the world to look for bad ass Nitroglycerin-loaded truck drivers.

  29. billydeethrilliams

    November 5th, 2010 at 6:59 am

    RRA- I just assumed that Catholics were deeply affected by it. Then again, I’m STOOPID! I don’t know why I typed that.

    roachboy- That’s what I hear, however it’s been almost two weeks and I don’t feel like starting over again. Guess I’ll just go from where I left off. But I also have The Seven-Ups and I Stand Alone to watch. Decisions, decisions…

  30. Just finished watching ROLLING THUNDER and man does it kick ass. the story is well told, no bullshit,well directed. Fuck me I need to see this again!

  31. …and this whole Warner Bros archive Program seem to me to be a cheap-ass way for WB to release movies. Instead of giving them the proper treatment, they give them the cheapest possible treatment to cut corners. i think it´s bullshit and don´t fuckin´encourage these assholes!

  32. Or they could just not release the movies at all because there’s no money in it. Your choice.

  33. Duke – that’s exactly the point, it has to be the cheapest so they’ll finally release the movies that they never bothered with before. I think they could’ve done ROLLING THUNDER for real, but not most of the hundreds (maybe thousands by now) of other titles that have come out this way between Warner Brothers and the other studios that have copied them. Almost all of these are movies that literally never made it to DVD before, in some cases not even VHS. There’s an economic reason why they never bothered before.

    I’ve talked to people who work for DVD labels that lovingly restore and put out cult movies. Those labels don’t usually last long because it’s expensive and time consuming to make a good DVD and not easy to make the money back. The studios know this and don’t dip into the vault when they don’t think its economically feasible. This method finally makes it economically feasible to put out any movie regardless of how many people are waiting for it.

    Majestyk is right. The other choice is they don’t ever release most of these movies. So I DO want to encourage these assholes.

  34. Ok. Good points, I understand if the economics of restoring the movies does´nt make it financially worth while from a business point of view. i remember the Hong Kong Legends , the british brand that put out excellent editions of kung fu movies. i guess it was just a matter of time before they hit the dust. it was a great experiment. In a perfect world we would have these kind of labels. Unfortunatly
    it´s not a perfect world we live. From a movielovers point of view it´s sad though, and you are right Majestyk. it´s better they are being released that way than not at all.
    Sorry if i came across as a douchebag, i guess my only excuse was that i was pretty drunk writing it.
    Lesson to be learned; Writing and Alchohol is NOT a good combination, just like guns and alcohol and
    ….ehh.. I guess anything combined with alcohol!

  35. ….I just re-read my earlier comment and can´t believe I wrote that stupid shit. Again i´m sorry about that rant. Will never happen again.

  36. Played twice last night at the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, and it was way worth the trip. Holy beans. The whole audience started buzzing when Devane sharpened the hook and Tommy Lee Jones stole the entire third act. Great flick.

  37. Your posts were fine, DukeTogo. Don’t worry about it.

  38. Grim Grinning Chris

    November 6th, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    How about the 80s arcade game, Rolling Thunder. That was a fun one.

  39. Vern doesn’t have an HD TV? OH MY GAWWWWWD

    nah I’m kidding, my HD setup is relatively humble, I just watch blu ray movies on my gaming desktop computer with my 1080p monitor, nice speakers and sub woofer

    now some of you may scoff at watching a movies on a computer, but I got a super comfy 200 dollar chair to go with it, so it’s all good

  40. Holy crap!!! I’ve heard about this movie. But, wasn’t this based on a true character, who, in reality, killed his wife and blamed it on hippy home invaders? It was so long ago, I almost forgot about that.

    And, also, I have to side with roachboy on this one too. I certainly don’t have a home theater, but buying an HDTV was essential to enjoying the best from my movie collection. Movies from even a standard DVD player look 100% better on an HDTV. And, the prices are going down more and more.

    It looks like we’re all going to need to buy some more shirts from you, so you can afford one. ;-)

  41. I seem to vaugly recall the guy who tried to blame his wife’s murder on Manson-family style hippie killers, but as far as I know it has no connection to Rolling Thunder. Schrader has always said his inspiration for Rolling Thunder was wanting to write a modern film noir about the Air Force POWs who were released by the Vietnamese in 1973.

    Co-writer Heywood Gould was involved in a lot of other good films (Fort Apache, The Bronx) and some not so good (Cocktail): he wrote and directed a pretty decent movie with Micheal Keaton called One Good Cop that shares some of Rolling Thunder’s tough, blunt impact. It no question has cinema’s all-time greatest fight inside an elevator.

    But honestly, it’s a mistake to grant too much of Rolling Thunder to Gould. If you read Schrader’s original 1973 spec script, it’s very close to the finished film. The entire structure, all the characters, most of the action, it’s all there, and it’s really–with all due respect to John Flynn as well–a Paul Schrader film, the same way Jeremiah Johnson is a Milius movie, even though he didn’t direct it, and somebody else rewrote it, and Deadhead Miles feels undeniably like Badlands-era Terence Malick.

  42. I just found this and Mamet’s Homicide on vhs at a flea market! Score!

    Vern, you should do a Mamet marathon. He’s got a bunch that i’ve not heard much about, like Things Change, etc.

  43. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, actually. There’s a bunch I haven’t seen and also I’d like to watch THE EDGE again.

  44. Yay! I’ve got a small collection of his that i’ve yet to watch, such as Oleana, ect.

  45. Criterion came out with a pretty good DVD of Homicide like a year ago. Something you might want to check out.

  46. I’ve been reading a lot about this new DVD-R release of “Rolling Thunder,” but unless I’ve missed it no one has listed its actual specifications. Can someone confirm that its aspect ratio will be 1.85×1 and the transfer anamorphic? I will immediately order it if it is, but will pass if not. I have a cropped “Vestron” laserdisc which features a terrible transfer, but can still be watched so unless this new release is 185.1, I’ll live with it.

    I would spring for a Criterion Blu-Ray if one were ever to be released, but won’t hold my breath. It’s a GREAT FILM!

  47. i just bought the spanish region 2 dvd, which will arrive in my mail in a few days. Hopefully it looks good,but the cover is pretty bland and doesn´t say much.

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