Ruckus (1980)

ruckuscoverfrontAKA: Ruckus in Madoc County | A Big Ruckus in a Small Town
Director: Max Kleven
Starring: Dirk Benedict | Linda Blair | Richard Farnsworth | Ben Johnson | Matt Clark
Writer: Max Kleven
Music: Tommy Vig

This review, like so many of my rambling reviews, is based on conjecture with no facts to back it up. But certain things are self evident – the film Ruckus is about a returned Vietnam veteran – Kyle Hanson (played by Dirk Benedict – better known as Starbuck from the original Battlestar Galatica TV series, and as ‘Face’ from The A-Team) – who has trouble fitting back into society after his tour of duty. When he arrives in Madoc County, simply after something to eat, he runs afoul of the local authorities, and a manhunt ensues. The comparisons with First Blood (with Sylvester Stallone) are inevitable. However, it must be noted the film of First Blood hit cinema screens in 1982, two years after Ruckus was released.

Having said that, it must be noted, that David Morrell’s novel was released in 1972, and according to his Morrell’s eBook short, Rambo and Me: The Story Behind the Story (which is available for around .99c and is well worth the read if you’re interested in the character) suggests First Blood was optioned soon after it was published. Columbia Pictures purchased the rights for Richard Brooks to direct. When this didn’t move forward, the rights were sold to Warner Brothers for Sydney Pollack to direct Steve McQueen. In another production, Paul Newman was to play Wil Teasle (the role eventually played by Brian Dennehy). Then it was sold to another studio. You get the picture – the property moved around a hell of a lot. Morrell says 26 scripts were prepared. It took ten years for the film to finally be made. And I’m going to guess over that long gestation period, many people had an opportunity to read one of the various scripts – and even Morrell’s novel, which was readily available.

Now I am not saying director Max Kleven, who wrote the script for Ruckus, was one of the people who read one of the scripts, but one thing is for certain, his film sure shares more than a passing resemblance to First Blood. But that’s enough of my nonsense, let’s look at the film.

The film starts with an old farm truck rolling down a country road. Hitching a ride in the back is Kyle Hanson. Hanson is an unkempt, dirty Vietnam vet. His Special Forces jacket is soiled and he has dirt caked over his face. As the truck reaches a junction, Hanson climbs out and continues his journey on foot. As he makes his way through a small town the locals look at him with disgust.

He proceeds to a diner, looking for a meal. His voice is low and raspy as he places his order – a burger, raw! After acquiring his meal, he sits on the curb to eat his meat in peace. But, wouldn’t you know it, some good ole boys decide to have a bit of fun, and hurl empty drink cans at the undesirable.

Hanson ignores the abuse. He isn’t after trouble. Soon after, a car pulls up at the diner, and out steps Mr. Bellows (Ben Johnson). Bellows ‘runs’ the town. He also had a son in the Special Forces – who never returned home, believed K.I.A., but never confirmed. Bellows is curious to know if Hanson knew his son, and asks the question. Hanson doesn’t respond. All he wants is to be left alone. Hanson gets up and walks off.

Bellows doesn’t take to being snubbed, and sends a carload of his men after Hanson. They catch him at a bridge. The men approach Hanson, and call him ‘hippie’. When Hanson still doesn’t respond, one of the men grabs his coat. Hanson goes berserk. He throws one man of the bridge, and flattens two others. The forth man flees.

While Bellows’ goon squad recovers, Hanson marches toward the city limits, but within minutes the police are after him, and they’ve brought rifles. Hanson disappears into the surrounding forest. Everybody is out for blood, except for Sherriff Jethro Pough (Richard Farnsworth). Pough calls for Hanson to surrender quietly. Hanson still doesn’t respond. The police stream into the forest after their quarry. Hanson disarms one of the deputies and steals a police car. A manhunt ensues.

It is later revealed Hanson was part of a top-secret unit, who lived alone in the Vietnam jungle for eight months. And upon his return from Nam, was locked away in a psychiatric hospital – but now has escaped.

The film differs from First Blood, in two ways. First, it gives the hero a love interest, in the form of Jenny Bellows (Linda Blair). She is the wife of the Special Forces vet that never returned home. At one point in the movie, as the manhunters after Hanson close in, she tries to convince him to surrender.

He says, “They’ll try to lock me up. I can’t handle that.”

She pleads, “Don’t run. Those men out there are all hunters. They’re just looking to shoot at something.”

To which he replies, “I can handle that.”

The other major difference between Ruckus and First Blood is style. Ruckus was made at the end of the Smokey & the Bandit era, when Dukes of Hazard ruled TV. It has a good ole boy vibe to it, rather than that of an `80’s action movie. The soundtrack features tunes penned by Willie Nelson, which is not criticism, but merely highlights the difference in style.

As an action B-movie, from it’s era, I guess Ruckus is okay, but, as you’ve read, my issue is its similarity to First Blood. Maybe my attitude is misplaced. Maybe the plot similarities are purely co-incidental. I’ll probably never know the truth. But if B-grade films featuring crazed Vietnam vets are your thing, and you’ve never seen Ruckus, give it a shot. It’s not the worst film in the genre.

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