Color, 1978, 126 mins. 20 secs.
Directed by Karel Reisz
Nick Nolte, Tuesday Weld, Michael Moriarty, Anthony Zerbe, Richard Masur, Ray Sharkey
Scorpion Releasing, Twilight Time (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A key figure in 1960s British cinema thanks to his kitchen sink realism classic Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, director Karel Reisz wasn’t exactly the most prolific filmmaker around but was definitely worth checking out each time he released a new film. His brief transition to Hollywood in the 1970s only resulted in two films, starting with 1974’s The Gambler with James Caan and continuing with 1978’s Who’ll Stop the Rain, which lifts its title from one of the familiar Creedence Clearwater Revival songs on its soundtrack. Based on the award-winning novel Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone (who co-authored the screenplay with Judith Rascoe), a title retained on some prints, the film is part of a string of films in the second half of the '70s dealing with the fallout of Vietnam and was largely overshadowed by two big award-winning productions that same year, The Deer Hunter and Coming Home. Instead this one takes an action thriller approach to a certain extent, putting it closer to the company of films like Cutter's Way and Rolling Thunder that frame the experiences of vets damaged by the war within a pulpier context. What sets this film apart is the compelling cast with an unbeatable set of pros at its center, doing some of the most potent work from this era of their careers and giving the film a sense of gravity that helps it linger in the memory.
At the height of the Vietnam War, the once-idealistic war correspondent John Converse (Moriarty) has quickly become corrupted and jaded by the dishonesty and destruction around him. When an opportunity presents itself to smuggle a large cache of heroin to San Francisco into hands of his wife, Marge (Weld), who can broker its sale, Converse enlists the aid of merchant marine sailor Ray Hicks (Nolte). Upon returning from the war, Ray isn't sure who he can trust as he finds his possession of the heroin putting him in the cross-hairs of multiple interested parties including Antheil (Zerbe), a DEA agent who's far from an upstanding lawman. Suffering from an addiction of her own to Dilaudid, Marge ends up going on a journey with Ray as he tries to find a way out of a predicament that seems to be circling ever tighter around him.
An unusual experience in the way it mixes heady, socially conscious subject matter with a grungy exploitation approach at times, Who'll Stop the Rain often feels like an action film with just enough prestige cred to make it palatable for people who normally wouldn't wade into a seedy thriller about the drug trade, corrupt officials, and post-combat trauma. The film proved to be something of a turning point for Nolte, who had scored the lead in The Deep, another drug-themed thriller a year earlier, but he didn't exactly bowl over critics at the time; after this his acting chops were indisputably proven, paving the way for his breakthrough role in North Dallas Forty all the way to his eventual Oscar win for Warrior. Equalling him is Weld, who was doing some sparse but very rewarding work around that time since her startling work in Play It As It Lays and had just gotten an Oscar nomination for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, both films still tragically MIA at the moment. Of course, the always colorful Moriarty is never less than compelling and definitely comes off less eccentric here than his later work in the '80s, perfectly cast as a onetime straight arrow bent by the circumstances around him into a totally jaded cynic.
Initially released on DVD by MGM in an okay but sparse anamorphic presentation and then repackaging as a two-movie set with Rush, Who'll Stop the Rain first appeared on Blu-ray in 2017 from Twilight Time featuring a trailer and an interview with editor John Bloom, plus liner notes by Julie Kirgo and Kevin Hagopian. That edition went out of print fairly quickly like many of the label's titles, paving the way for a 2021 Blu-ray reissue from Scorpion Releasing via Ronin Flix sporting what's promoted as a new 2020 HD master. The transfer looks very healthy with fine, natural grain and a strong, warm color scheme throughout that makes for an appealing viewing experience, certainly more robust than the drab and faded look it had in the scant repertory screenings around major cities that stopped around a decade ago. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds crisp and without any significant issues, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided. A new audio commentary by film historians Daniel Kremer and Scout Tafoya is extremely thorough, starting off with a lengthy appraisal of Reisz and the role of this film in his career (including some welcome nods to his earlier, undervalued version of Night Must Fall) as well as an analysis of how the film tackles the idea of America dealing with the moral rot that had set it over the preceding decade (at least). As with nearly all MGM-connected commentaries subjected to the studio's legal team, this appears to have suffered from some obvious trims in a few spots (an early mention of Apocalypse Now cuts off very abruptly into a bit of dead space, for example), and amusingly, a couple of references have already dated (such as the now former location of Amoeba Records in Hollywood and a mention of the "deceased" Wings Hauser, who turns up briefly here alongside a very young Jonathan Banks). Three new featurettes are included here starting off with actor Richard Masur (11m56s), who explains his own working relationship with Stone, the true meaning of the source novel's title, and his later reunion with Nolte on Under Fire. Speaking of which, that latter film's director, Roger Spottiswoode (who also went on to Terror Train and Tomorrow Never Dies), turns up next for an interview (13m55s) in which he recalls serving as an associate producer on this film and being taken under Reisz's wing at the time after working as an editor for Sam Peckinpah. He also shares plenty of stories from the shoot, including memories of Nolte's impassioned dedication to the project and his character. Last up in screenwriter Judith Rascoe (12m), who chats about her own connection to Stone and her familiarity with the real-life scene involving writer Ken Kesey that inspired a large portion of the book. She also goes quite a bit into the writing process, which involved compressing the book down as much as possible while retaining all the dialogue they could. The theatrical trailer is also included in SD along with bonus ones for Trackdown, 9/30/55, Rollerball, Hell Camp, The Dogs of War, and, uh, The Norseman.
Reviewed on April 12, 2021.