Rolling Thunder – Paul Schrader – screenplay


Rolling Thunder (1977) is a cult classic, directed by John Flynn, and starring William Devane (Charles Rane) and Tommy Lee Jones (Johnny Vohden) as two POWs who return home after seven years of horrific captivity in a Vietnamese prison camp. When Rane’s wife and child are murdered by a group of thugs in a home invasion robbery (which also costs him one of his hands that he has replaced with a steel hook), he tracks them down and, with the help of Vohden, he goes on a murderous rampage of revenge against them in a seedy Mexican brothel.

The screenplay was originally written by Paul Schrader, with a violent ending obviously influenced by the final scenes of “Taxi Driver” (in fact, Travis Bickle makes a tongue-in-cheek cameo appearance in the script, watching a porno film at a drive in!) Intended as a “metaphor for the American racism in Vietnam”, the Schrader version was about (in the author’s words) “a Texas trash racist who had become a war hero without ever having fired a gun”, and it ended not only with Rane killing dozens of Mexicans (guilty and innocent), but also with Rane’s death. These elements were changed by the filmmakers and screenwriter Heywood Gould, without participation by Schrader, and he disapproved of the final film. Quentin Tarantino has said that “Rolling Thunder” is his alltime favorite movie, to the extent that he named a distribution company after it.

Should they have used Schrader’s version? Read this and decide for yourself.

Rolling Thunder


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