Ruckus arrives at the end of the 1970s, a time when The Dukes of Hazzard and Smokey and the Bandit led a redneck renaissance in pop culture.
Kyle Hanson (Dirk Benedict, Body Slam) spent eight months as a POW and stuck in the jungle, never speaking, which left him a damaged man, unable to adjust to life back at home. When he passes through a small town, local bullies harass him, which he easily handles, but things spiral out of control when local deputies and the townies just can’t let him be.
Only one person, Jenny Bellows (Blair) understands. She’s the daughter-in-law of Sam Bellows (Ben Johnson, The Town That Dreaded Sundown), the richest man in town. His son was killed in action during the war, but his body hasn’t been found yet. Instead of the rich guy being the villain here, he’s actually one of the most sympathetic people in the picture.
Jenny brings Hanson out of the darkness, but after being attacked by local bullies and the police time and time again, Hanson claims a small island. Only the intervention of Sam stops the carnage, as they decide that Hanson can keep the land for himself.
Richard Farnsworth plays the only good cop in the film. You’ll remember him from a ton of movies, like him playing Buster in Misery, as the lead in David Lynch’s The Straight Story and as Red in The Natural.
I was struck by this film’s similarities to the first Rambo film, First Blood. That may not be a total coincidence. The original rights the David Morell’s novel that First Blood was based on spent a decade making the Hollywood rounds, went through 10 years of passing hands before culminating in the 1982 Sylvester Stallone film, so this movie could have been based upon that script. There are parts that are just too close to believe otherwise.
This movie is a million times better than I thought it was going to be. It’s pretty entertaining and I’m surprised that it isn’t discussed more. Director Max Kleven would go on to work with Blair again in the film W.B., Blue and the Bean. A stuntman by trade, the supporting cast is filled with his fellow daredevils, all of whom go all out to deliver some great action. Dirk Benedict did the gool ol’ Bandit thing, again, with Terry “Berlin” Nunn and the “hot” country singer Tanya Tucker, in The Georgia Peaches, which was a TV movie pilot for a failed series. But after the failure of Chopper One (the one Aaron Spelling series that didn’t become a success) and Battlestar Galactica, Dirk did alright with The A-Team.
The Ruckus soundtrack is packed with a mix of songs by Willie Nelson and Hank Cochran, along with Janie Fricke singing a few of them. It’s the perfect music, including the song “Ain’t Life Hell.” Ruckus also has some great alternate titles, like The Intruder of Madoc County, Big Ruckus In a Small Town, The Devastator, Eat My Dust, Destructor, The Loner and Ruckus in Madoc Country. For example: Some regional newsprint ads carried The Loner title; the national TV ads ran as Ruckus, and The Loner title was used when it ran on HBO, but UHF-TV channels carried it as Ruckus.
Here are some of the amazing posters discovered that place it across a variety of genres, from Smokey-style car race fun to Rambo-esque military vengeance. It’s truly amazing how one movie could play to so many styles and audiences.
You can check out the poster for Ron Howard’s Eat My Dust and see how similar it is to the Eat My Smoke version (seen below). There was also art work swapping done with Jack Starlett’s Kiss My Grits, which was also cross-marketed as a comedy, action, and steamy adult thriller. During our “Linda Blair Retrospective” feature, we pointed out the artwork theft from Micheal Sopkiw’s Blastfighter and Mark Gregory’s Afghanistan: The Last War Bus, aka War Bus Commando, for Ruckus: a war movie starring Dirk Benedict, Michael Sopkiw, and Mark Gregory—and Linda Blair in a cameo as a kidnapped American oil heiress—is in order! Now that’s an exploitation film.
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