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The plot is about a guile young terrorist who is able to blackmail a series of companies by placing home-made radio controlled bombs within the central attraction of amusement parks; roller coasters. The young man played by Timothy Bottoms gives a hard time to the cops after they give him UV marked money. He then wants revenge and places a bomb in a roller coaster at the most important amusement park event of the year. Written by
This is probably my favorite childhood film having seen it 30 times at the theater during the summer of '77 (to put it in perspective I only saw Star Wars 12 times) and it still holds up very well. I'm sure part of that is the nostalgia factor as it seems to capture a time and place(s) pretty well, but there's a bit more to its appeal to me than that. It works because none of the characters are grossly exaggerated caricatures but everyday men with foibles like struggling to quit smoking. The Caulder character is identifiable because of his family and work failings while Bottom's soft-spoken psychopath (which probably would be portrayed as over the top if the movie were to be made now) is much more in tune with an understated realism that most contemporary madmen you see on screen today lack. While the Widmark character of Hoyt is a pretty much by the book portrayal of a federal dick, his sardonic exchanges with Segal lend an heir of authentic, yet begrudging mutual respect. That credit should go to the screenwriters. Henry Fonda's exchanges with Caulder are similar in their edge and that makes for an understanding of what Harry is up against in trying to stop the bomber. Susan Strasberg as Caulder's love interest is sympathetic, and very pretty, but isn't given much screen time outside of being a nanny for Caulder's daughter...a minor complaint to be sure.
After Roller-coaster came down from my long since demolished local three screen multiplex and had its initial HBO run it sadly all but seemed to disappear from my life, outside of an occasional run on late night TV during the eighties, but reappeared in 1998 when I stumbled upon a VHS copy from a company called GOODTIMES at a Tower Record store in Seattle. I was ecstatic. I still pull it off the shelf every once in awhile to remind myself that some of the minor films of the seventies that weren't appreciated in their day deserve another view.
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