Saturday, April 13, 2019

WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER BOYS 1971


"Danny, Shooter, Fatback and the Kid. They learned a trade in the army. Killing."  


    Best known today for the classic MACON COUNTY LINE from 1974 three years earlier Richard Compton directed this 1971 film which is an early film entry dealing with Vietnam vets returning to an uncaring country. Written by Guedron Trueblood (who in 1973 would direct THE CANDY SNATCHERS) it also fits with the road movies of the era which started with 1968's EASY RIDER and would continue in the 70's. These movies featured individuals or sometimes disparate groups of both men and/or woman who were searching for America on a journey to more often then not ended up nowhere while the country itself was being torn apart by the political and social upheavals of the time. Most often through the barren landscapes of the west and featuring gas stations, diners and small towns dropped along endless highways these journeys also often grew darker as they went on.
    Four Green Berets including Danny (Joe Don Baker WALKING TALL), "Shooter" (Paul Koslo MR. MAJESTYK), "Kid" (Alan Vint MACON COUNTY LINE) and "Fatback" (Elliott Street HONKY) are discharged from the army after serving in Vietnam. The uniformed men are unceremoniously dropped off at a bus station with no one to meet them. Danny discreetly removes a large bundle of cash from a locker and it's unclear to what the origins of it are although its implied that perhaps it's through an illegal enterprise such as drugs. He splits up the money between the four which is several thousand dollars each and it's reveled that the group have a plan to drive cross country to California to live on a cattle ranch that has been inherited by Vint.




    They purchase a used Cadillac in a humorous scene (in stark contrast to future events) in which they keep bartering down the price as the car is disassembled by Shooter and finds mechanical flaws. Danny seems to be the leader of the men (he's the only one referred to by his actual name) not because of their service rank as the others just defer to his decisions and each of them seen unable to function socially outside of the group. The first night on the road they pick up a woman (Jennifer Billingsley WHITE LIGHTNING) and take turns having sex with her in the backseat. They offer her $100.00 but she demands $500.00, bringing up the Mann Act as they have crossed state lines whereupon Baker angrily throws her out of the fast-moving car. Although she is most likely killed the men don't seem to give it much concern and drive on.
    There's a point where they stop at a totally vacant motel run by (in very weird performance) Geoffrey Lewis and a bevy of prostitutes appear (including Luanne Roberts from THE PSYCHO LOVER and BONNIE'S KIDS) turning in to an orgy. In one the film's more gentler moments Baker relates to one of the women that the only thing he knows how to do anymore is "killing" and Vint shares a battered picture of their ranch with another.
    It's here that the story takes a progressively dark turn, and this continues with a stop at Danny's home and a family reunion with his parents (With his father played by character actor Lonny Chapman) that turns out ugly as they scoff at they're idea of the cattle ranch. Later their car breaks down in a small town and finding the car needs major repairs. Feeling they are being taken advantage of and becoming more & more at odds with the townsfolk, including an ugly barroom scene with Korean War veterans chiding "We didn't come home until we won", the sheriff (Billy Green Bush FIVE EASY PIECES) places them in jail for protection. 




    Upon leaving the town, it's discovered that Fatback's money is missing, and this leads to a brutally violent climax in a small town ironically called "Hope" which is instigated by something as unassuming as a locked gas pump. The climax packs a punch even to this day and it's easy to see the filmmakers were going for a comparison to the infamous 1968 Mai Lai massacre and the cinematography turns jerky handheld looking like the Vietnam newsreel footage that was showing up nightly on network news. It's only after the violence that the four men seem to totally relax and as the camera pans through the bloody destruction it's almost with a sense of resignation of the inevitable.
    Best known for his role in WALKING TALL along with appearances in three James Bond movies Baker was a fairly major star in the 70's starring in several movies and despite of his brawn there was always a certain gentle demeanor about him. A much better actor then ever given credit for he can also bring a darker side to the surface as he does here. An instantly recognized face Koslo spent almost his entire career playing weaselly underlings and slightly off-kilter personalities and he's one of those actors that always bring a smile to my face. Vint would later appear in MACON COUNTY LINE and would show up once again with Joe Don Baker in the CHECKERED FLAG OR CRASH a Filipino off-road racing from 1977.
    There's a country-tinged soundtrack from The Country Gazette with songs by Ronee Blakley who would later appear in Robert Altman's NASHVILLE. After years in home video purgatory this has recently been given a full frame transfer DVD release from Fox in their Cinema Archives line.







4 comments:

  1. This does sound interesting and I really love that poster

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    1. It's a solid little film with a great cast Thanks.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Ditto, sounds interesting, never heard of this one before....found this> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=052V60HOyNM

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