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    Tough, Unstoppable Rain

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    A Fulbright scholar, trained at Stanford and Harvard, a one-time fiction instructor at Yale, Judith Rascoe, who turned 76 last week, may have seemed like an unusual choice to collaborate on the screenplay adaptation of Robert Stone’s gritty 1975 National Book Award-winning novel Dog Soldiers, about Vietnam War veterans opportunistically drawn into stateside drug smuggling after leaving the battle zone. But Stone found her early writing perceptive and smart, and he welcomed her help in bringing his tough, uncompromising story to the screen. Like her, the British veteran Karel Reisz (Morgan!, Isadora, The Gambler) also seemed an off-kilter choice to direct a tale of jolting violence and amorality, yet he too saw a way into working through the dark material. In May 2014, Rascoe told interviewer Paul Rowlands of an early conversation with Reisz: “I remember asking him one time, ‘Why do you want to make this film? What do you find interesting particularly?’ He replied, ‘I am interested in what happens when a nation dishonors its war heroes.’ The title of the book Dog Soldiers refers to the fact that some Native Indian tribes would select certain young men and designate them as 'dog soldiers.' They were then treated as very special beings. They got all the best food and treats that the tribe had. But the price they had to pay was that they had to be unstinting, and go out and die if needed for the tribe. I think Karel saw some of this in the story of Hicks [the Merchant Marine to be played by Nick Nolte] and what had happened to him in Vietnam.” So the story of a military man (Nolte), persuaded by a cynical journalist pal (Michael Moriarty) to bring home to Berkeley a cache of heroin from which a potentially big score could be made, became a story about the psychic scars of war in a year when the heavy shadow of Vietnam would loom large on movie screens courtesy of February’s Coming Home and The Boys in Company C, September’s Go Tell the Spartans and December’s The Deer Hunter. Renamed for the interpolated Creedence Clearwater Revival song, Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978), also starring Tuesday Weld as Moriarty’s flaky and fragile wife drawn to Nolte’s courier loner, and Anthony Zerbe, Richard Masur, Ray Sharkey and Charles Haid as lowlifes who cause a world of hurt in pursuit of the fugitives and their heroin stash, arrived mid-batch in August to strong reviews from several critics like David Ansen and Roger Ebert – and a rave from The Washington Post’s Gary Arnold that United Artists prominently employed in its press materials (read it here: But audiences didn’t heed the call, as might be feared for a film chock-a-block with morally compromised rogues instead of clear-cut heroes and a complex blend of war story/romance/chase thriller and would have benefitted from more nuanced marketing muscle. Reminiscing three years ago, Rascoe remains satisfied with the final product. “I watched it the other day and I was surprised that it didn't date at all,” she told Rowlands. “It was of its day but it was very honest and it didn't try to be more with it or less with it. It told its story in a straightforward fashion. You know, I think the problems we addressed in the film are still with us.” Who’ll Stop the Rain “does an excellent job of symbolizing the death of idealism in the late 1960s through corruption, loss of faith in one’s leaders, and the war” and is “a well-made, tough movie that might have been a 1940s film noir” (Jay Robert Nash and Stanley Ralph Ross, The Motion Picture Guide). “Characters are memorable, casting is perfect, dialogue is sharp and imaginative, and direction of actors strong. It’s good to see Moriarty in a non-neurotic role; and Nolte, looking fit, is an action hero to rival Rambo. What’s most rewarding is that we’re made privy to a fascinating true-to-life storyline that other directors wouldn’t touch because there is no ‘hero’ fighting for what we’d think is a worthy cause” (Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic). Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray includes an Isolated Music Track of Laurence Rosenthal’s score. There’s also a 2017 interview with Supervising Editor John Bloom reflecting on the film and director Reisz, with whom he’d reunite on The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Everybody Wins (also starring Nolte). Who’ll Stop the Rain debuts May 16. Preorders open May 3.