A very Happy Birthday to one of the most under-rated actresses of the 70's (and one of my favorites) Linda Haynes. Plus, Rolling Thunder (one of my favorite movies) opened on Nov.2 - so we got a double celebration here. Born on this day in 1947 actress Linda Haynes is one of those special actresses that could always be counted on to elevate whatever movie she appeared in. Working primarily during the 1970's she made well remembered appearances in 1973's Coffy as a jealous prostitute who runs afoul of Pam Grier's razor blade booby trapped afro, Jason Miller's wife in the interesting (and under-rated) The Nickel Ride from 1974 and as a country singer turned shock therapy guinea pig prisoner in the truly bizarre and sadistic Human Experiments (1979).
Before The Deer Hunter & Coming Home 1977's Rolling Thunder explored the alienation of the returning Vietnam veteran as here portrayed by William Devane as Air Force Major Charles Raines, who returning after eight years as a P.O.W comes home to a wife who has found another man and a son who doesn't know him. Although cheated out of the only things that had kept him going Devane takes each one of these setbacks with stoic ruefulness. Later what remains of his world shattered when his wife and child are murdered by a gang of house robbers (including a wonderfully evil/slimy tag team of Luke Askew & James Best) and in one of the more grimmer scenes in 70's cinema has his hand chewed off in a garbage disposal.
Although labeled & marketed as a standard exploitation picture (which at its core it is), Rolling Thunder rises above its labels thanks to an engrossing character driven script by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver & Hardcore) and Heywood Gould. Neatly divided into two parts (character build-up & revenge), the movie is helped in no small part by its leads. Devane has probably never been better, plus as his ally there's a young Tommy Lee Jones (fresh off Jackson County Jail and the TV Howard Hughes bio) as a troubled young ex-solider, who clearly very uncomfortable in civilian life only comes to life in the brutal bloody final shootout in the scuzziest Mexican whorehouse ever.
Linda plays Linda Forchet the simple but sweet bar waitress who befriends Raines and joining him on his revenge odyssey desperately (and sadly) tries to get close to him (its she who's the films emotional conscience). When we first see her at a ceremony for Raines (she has worn his P.O.W. bracelet), she looks like the All-American sweetheart in a pretty pink dress, but later when talking to him at the bar where she works, although still pretty she now shows some world weariness and a hardened sweetness about her (you just know she's always had the asshole boyfriends). Later when along with Devane she's blasting away with a shotgun and pistol at some floating logs all the while telling us how she was a disappointment to her mother and the tomboy of the family, its pretty much guaranteed that every male member of the audience has fallen in love with her. She is simply amazing here and in a perfect world this would have led to bigger parts in major movies. Although she did have small roles in major projects such as Brubaker & The Drowning Pool she retired in 1980 and became a legal secretary.