The entire time whilst I was watching "Welcome Home, Soldier Boys" I couldn't help thinking about the lyrics to Paul Hardcastle's song "Nineteen". Okay, admittedly the song itself is a typically cheesy 80's electro-pop song, but the lyrics are quite thought provoking and fully relate to the harshly downbeat and depressing subject matter of this obscure early 70's drama gem. In fact, the song lyrics are so infallible that simply copy-pasting them would accurately correspond with the synopsis of the film.
There's a voice-over in the song, allegedly from a newsreader, stating: "the Vietnam vet often arrived home within 48 hours after jungle combat. Perhaps the most dramatic difference between World War II and Vietnam was coming home. None of them received a hero's welcome". This statement marvelously illustrates about half of the film. The intro and opening credits depict how a military bus drops four Vietnam buddies (Danny, Shooter, Fatback and The Kid) in a random little US town without much further ado. They purchase a ramshackle car and drive halfway across the country, passing through Danny's hometown of Foley, to their end destination California where they hope to breed cattle together. In the vast majority of sequences where these four ex-soldiers are confronted with US citizens, you can literally notice how they're nearly begging for a sign of respect or appreciation, but never get any. There's a significant scene in which Danny attends a high school basketball game in his hometown and meets his former friends again for the first time in over five years, and even though he clearly hangs around them hoping to begin a conversation, they completely avoid the subject of his army service. Quite the contrary, when in a bar with older men, the four receive rude criticism on how soldiers fighting the Korean War used to be a lot more devoted and loyal to each other.
Back to the lyrics of the "Nineteen" song. The same voice-over also states the following: "Half of the Vietnam combat veterans suffered from what psychiatrists call Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. Many vets complain of alienation, rage or guilt. Hundreds of Thousands of men who saw heavy combat in Vietnam were arrested since discharge. Their arrest rate is almost twice that of non-veterans of the same age. Well, there you pretty much have the other half of "Welcome Home, Soldier Boys". As soon as they are on the road, the foursome reverts to crime. They pick up a girl and leave her for dead by the side of the road, they extort people and provoke fights and the during the infamous climax for which the film gained somewhat of a cult reputation the veterans completely go insane, destroy an entire village and kill the inhabitants. It comes across as if, due to their service in Vietnam and the lack of guidance afterwards, these men really lost their grip on reality, their moral values and self-control.
Just because of the gloomy themes and content, "Welcome Home, Soldier Boys" is a very difficult film to rate and especially recommend to others. The film is incredibly slow-paced, with sometimes exaggeratedly overlong sequences and story lines that seem to head nowhere. This falsely raises the impression that this is a boring film while it's not really. The melancholy and bitterness is essential and extra emphasized through the mournful country music soundtrack, sober photography and introvert acting performances. Unique film, just don't expect rough Vietnam veteran action from start to finish. For more crazed 'Nam movies, check out "Rolling Thunder", "My Friends Need Killing", "Combat Shock", "Born for Hell", "Open Season" and "The Park is Mine"
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