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"Welcome Home, Soldier Boys" is a fun movie if you check your mind at the door. I saw the film in a cheap Tokyo theater while attending Sophia University on G.I. Bill payments I had earned through 4 years in the air force including one year in Vietnam. With "Welcome Home Soldier Boys" the viewer rides along with four Vietnam vets who buy a large touring car (a black Cadillac, if I remember correctly) as they drive east after being discharged on the West Coast. Within a few hours they pick up a female hitch-hiker and have sex with her in the back seat of the rambling car. They offer her something like two hundred dollars but she intends to extort A LOT more than that out of them since, as she points out, they have just transported her over a state line which makes their activities a felony. An argument ensues, followed by an altercation that accidentally results in the young lady falling out of the car at 65 miles per hour. "What do you think?" one of them asks Joe Don Baker, the still recognized ranking man. "I think she should have taken the two hundred dollars." Interrupted by a few pleasant moments, a series of disappointments and frustrations gradually eats away at the patience of the four Vietnam vets. The last straw is when they run out of gasoline in a small town. What happens next makes the wrath of Rambo against the small Oregon town look like a model of restraint.
The theme of this movie, Tracks with Dennis Hopper and Rolling Thunder with Bill Devane is that the American home-front and the public in general have no ideas about the horrors of the Viet-Nam War, and only by bringing the war "home", will the people back home understand the full violence of Nam. Strong stuff. This film depicts the homecoming of 4 combat weary U.S. Army Green Berets. They rent a car and travel across country; meeting different people, picking up and accidentally killing a girl, watching a high school basketball game, and being totally disillusioned with coming home. The ending is similar to the Dennis Hopper film, Tracks. However, where Tracks freeze-frames to a violent ending, Welcome Home, Soldier Boys takes itself to a more graphic conclusion. The ending scene of the four blood-crazed vets freeze-framed will leave a lasting impact. Raw, brutal, down-beat, yet well-acted and intense. If you're a fan of symbolism, Joe Don Baker, and Viet-Nam era movies, this movie is a must-see.
A bus dumps our returning veterans back into the United States while country & western plays. Joe Don Baker channels Elvis Presley with his puffy-eyed, thick-lipped pouting, while their homecoming falls apart around them. A Cadillac is procured. A road trip out west is on the itinerary, where dreams await. At every stop along the way, something happens to dampen the enthusiasm of the returning heroes. Locals cheat them at every turn and grumble about the war. "Back when we fought a war, we didn't come home til the war was over!" growls a gang of grumpy Korean War Vets while Joe Don Baker does the slow burn.Things come to a head during a stop in New Mexico when our boys take all the crap they can swallow and explode in a killing frenzy.Rambo and Rolling Thunder were soon to follow...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Richard Compton's contemplative, unsettling character study of four Vietnam Vets is worth the wait for the movie's shocking denouement, but more for its staggering emotional effect afterward. The movie could be considered small in stature for its almost complete absence of drama in the first 2 acts, but the performances are distinctive and sympathetic--though many will object to the soldiers' treatment of a poorly written whore who services the group--and the tension that so effectively pervades the movie is intelligently established throughout, with plenty of symbolism. The men, at one point, are allowed to sleep off a night in the town jail by a kindly sheriff, further characterizing (and strengthening) their outcast status in a "normal" community. Another colorful detail is the ridiculous clothing the soldiers wear as civilians. The too-tight bowling shirts and slacks with cowboy boots mark them as tacky and unwanted within social arenas populated by young people, and even in one seedy hillbilly bar, their appearance suggests city slickers looking for trouble. This invites some threats from a Korean war vet about the fact that Korea vets "didn't come home before the job was done."--another interesting detail that creates tension. Luckily, Compton shows all of this with little heavy-handed foreshadowing, and nothing prepares the audience for the brilliantly insignificant event that triggers the movie's about-face near the end. And we're talking the last explosive 15 minutes. Obviously an influence on other revenge-minded Vietnam vet movies from "Rolling Thunder" to "First Blood", it's impressive to see the subject handled with such delicacy yet serve such a volatile climax. The finale is undeniably cathartic, more for showing the almost inexpressive soldiers finally "emote", but the lack of explanation for the men's spontaneous actions, and the lack of identification of any graspable enemy, is what makes the scene so powerful. And disturbing. Leave it to a 70s movie to paint even a standard revenge-action movie in complete shades of grey. "Vigilante Force" this ain't. Leonard Maltin and a few other unworthy critics slammed this movie, dismissing it as irresponsible and unoriginal, leading many to believe it another implausible action movie showing war veterans as psychos. But Compton's flick establishes some real characters. To witness their tragic, senseless actions unfold packs a lot more punch than your average Billy Jack movie. Paul Koslo, as a soldier who utters no more than two lines of dialogue, expresses more emotional discomfort in one shift of his shoulders than the entire cinema of Tom Cruise. Movie's climactic destruction is both shot and edited with the utmost ferocity.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cocky, brooding Danny (superbly played by Joe Don Baker), laid-back, laconic the Kid (an excellent Alan Vint), intense Shooter (the always fine Paul Koslo) and talkative, jocular Fatback (amiable Elliott Street) are four former Green Berets who have just finished their tour of duty in Vietnam. The quartet purchase a black Cadillac and go driving cross country. The pick up a sexy hitchhiker (pretty Jennifer Billingsley), take turns making love to her, and toss her out of the car after she demands $500 bucks for her services. Things get even more ugly when their car breaks down in a sleepy rural armpit town whose residents have zero tolerance for our guys' rowdy ways. Director Richard ("Macon County Line") Compton, working from a smart'n'tart script by Guerdon Trueblood (who went on to helm the fantastic "The Candy Snatchers"), maintains a steady pace throughout, elicits bang-up acting from a top-drawer cast (Baker, Koslo, Vint and Street are all outstanding in the leads), ably creates a gritty, chillingly amoral tone, and vividly evokes a strong sense of dusty rustic backroads heartland America. Don Birnkrant's polished cinematography, the strikingly picturesque scenery, a lively, flavorsome hillbilly bluegrass score by the Country Gazette, and several beautifully forlorn country ballads sung by a pre-"Nashville" Ronee Blakely further enhance the overall sound quality of this compellingly dark and downbeat road movie. Popping up in nifty supporting roles are Lonny Chapman as Danny's jolly father, Billy "Green" Bush as a hard-nosed sheriff, Geoffrey Lewis as a smarmy motel manager who sets our boys up with a few hookers, and Francine York as a friendly Texas prostitute. Potent central message: War turns men into cold-blooded psychopathic killers. The explosive action-loaded final fifteen minutes are absolutely incredible. An pleasingly rough-edged unsung nugget.
Discharged soldiers, just back from Viet Nam, decide to drive across
country and see the nation they protected. The country doesn't want to
see them, and after being hustled by a hooker, their car breaks down in
a small town that doesn't treat them well. Their revenge makes Rambo's
look like gentile tea party.
One of the many angry vet goes nuts films that popped up through the 1970's. Despite the fact that 20th Century Fox released this this is pure drive-in fodder. The film isn't really that good, but is made watchable and memorable by the total destruction of the town. Personally everyone had it coming on all sides, except the audience who has to wait an hour through bad acting to get to the good stuff. Containing what is probably the single worst performance of Joe Don Baker (Mitchell) this is the sort of movie that makes you really wonder how he was ever considered a star and leads you to the inescapable conclusion that Baker is rightly the punchline of jokes. I say this as someone who likes him as an actor.
If you get to see this just watch the end, where the mismatched gun shots (how many different noises can a single machine gun make?) make this worth seeing.
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"
Really not much of a welcome home for four Vietnam Green Berets. Along the road, on the way to California, they are treated with almost total indifference or slightly worse. Their trip through Texas and into New Mexico is mostly girl chasing, with one tragic event early on. Eventually the old Caddy breaks down. Out of money and out of gas, Joe Don Baker instigates a final confrontation with the locals, who prove no match for four Green Berets. Soon the National Guard arrives on the scene with some real fire power, and suddenly it's war in New Mexico. With thankfully zero car chases, and several interesting stops along the way, "Welcome Home Soldier Boys" is an intriguing road film you should see. - MERK
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