Movies Till Dawn: Tough Guys

* indicates that this title is also available to rent, stream, or purchase on various platforms. Please note that streaming options may differ from these home video presentations in terms of visuals, supplemental features, etc.

Rolling Thunder” * (1977, Shout Select) Soldier William Devane returns to Texas after a seven-year stint as a Vietnam War POW to find a son that doesn’t remember him, a wife engaged to someone else, and a fistful of gold coins as repayment for his captivity. Said coins catch the attention of four desperate types (among them James Best and Luke Askew), who separate him from the loot but not before killing his family and shoving his hand into a garbage disposal; now outfitted with a prosthetic hook, Devane teams up with equally taciturn ex-POW Tommy Lee Jones to track down the quartet in Mexico. Few audiences found favor with director John Flynn and co-scripters Paul Schrader and Heywood Gould’s mix of stark, introspective drama and exploitative violence; even 20th Century Fox disowned the final result when producer Lawrence Gordon refused to cut the grislier scenes and unloaded it on American International Pictures. In recent years, these elements, along with Schrader’s connection to the film, which shares several DNA strands with his script for “Taxi Driver,” have helped “Rolling Thunder” find favor with ’70s-minded cineastes and grindhouse devotees alike (and combinations of the two, like Quentin Tarantino, who named his production company after the film). Shout Select’s new Blu-ray presentation will appeal to that demographic with a 4K transfer taken from the original camera negative and new commentary tracks by Gould and historian C. Courtney Joyner, among others; other new extras include an interview with Joyner about Flynn’s film output, a talk with composer Barry De Vorzon, and Eli Roth’s take on the film from “Trailers from Hell”; interviews with Devane, Jones, and Schrader, as well as trailers and TV spots are all culled from a 2013 Blu-ray release

The Shootist” * (1976, Arrow Video) John Wayne stars in his final screen role as an aging gunfighter dying of cancer (as Wayne was in real life) who returns to his former stomping grounds in Carson City, Nevada, where he earns a chance to recast his legacy through the prism of various locals: a hero-worshiping boy (Ron Howard), his prim mother (Lauren Bacall), a sanguine doctor (James Stewart), and a pair of heels (Richard Boone and Hugh O’Brien) with scores to settle. Autumnal drama by Don Siegel – who, as the director of “Dirty Harry,” ushered out Wayne’s brand of bloodless, myth-making action films – satisfies as a modern Western with no bones about the deadly side of carrying a pistol in the Old West and as an elegiac nod to the Hollywood variation and its recurring notions of honesty, personal code, integrity, and self-determination. Not an easy act to pull off, but the pairing of Wayne and Siegel (who butted heads throughout the production) certainly lends credence to both sides of the argument, as does the fine, understated (and Oscar nominated) production design, score by Elmer Bernstein, and a cast of vets (and frequent Wayne co-stars) that includes Harry Morgan, Scatman Crothers, John Carradine, Sheree North and Bill McKinney. Arrow’s Blu-ray features a decent (if somewhat muted) 2K transfer and commentary by Howard Berger; video essays on Siegel and Wayne by David Cairns and Scout Tafoya (who addresses Wayne’s often unpleasant personal opinions), an interview with C. Courtney Joyner on author Glendon Swarthout, on whose novel the film is based and a appreciation for Bernstein’s score by Neil Brand round out the disc.

The Invisible Fight” * (2023, Kino Lorber) Undone by a trio of bandits blasting Black Sabbath’s “The Wizard” as they carry out their assault, hapless Russian border guard Ursel Tilik (who suggests a genetic splice of Rupert Grint and Jerry Cantrell) seeks out a secret order of Orthodox monks in order to learn the “black metal” kung fu that will not only defeat the invaders but also restore his confidence and over his inamorata (Ester Kuntu), a comely but skeptical bottle washer. Endearingly loopy Estonian comedy gains much of its laughs from Tilik’s full-tilt performance and knowing nods to ’70s martial arts movie aesthetics (aggressive zooms, relentless sound FX); director Rainer Sarnet also allows for sly digs at the decided uncoolness of Russian oppression (“Everything cool is banned in the Soviet Union”), which adds a degree of context to Tilik’s quest for independence and self-mastery. But “Fight” is, at its core, a charming goof and a well-executed one to boot. Kino’s Blu-ray is subtitled and includes the theatrical trailer.

Yakuza Graveyard” * (1976, Radiance Films) Cop Tetsuya Watari’s loose cannon approach to police work gets him dispatched to a precinct in Osaka, where he falls in with gangsters who rely on him for insider info to aid in their fight against another gang. Matters become complicated when he falls for a former boss’s wife (cult icon Meiko Kaji of the “Lady Snowblood” series) and his superiors (which include director Nagisa Oshima) catch wind of his links to the underworld. Issues of status, both class and racial (much is made of the fact that Kaji and Watari’s yakuza connection, Tatsuo Umemiya, are Korean), loyalty, redemption, and moral codes are regular touchstones in Japanese yakuza films, but Kinji Fukusaku’s visual palette (handheld camerawork, neon color schemes) and the casual brutality (emotional and physical) help to distinguish “Graveyard” from the vast array of other films in this subgenre. Radiance’s Limited Edition all-region Blu-ray includes a visual essay on Kaji’s film collaborations with Fukasaku and screenwriter Kazuo Kasahara and a interview with filmmaker Kazuya Shiraishi, who discusses his appreciation for Fukasaku and Kasahara’s output and how it influenced his own films; the liner notes booklet includes a new essay by Mika Ko on representation of Koreans in Japanese features and reprints of writings by Kasahara and Matsuda Masao on “Graveyard” from a 1976 issue of “Scenario.”

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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