At first glance, the made-for-TV drama Rolling Man might seem like little more than an offbeat mediocrity with an interesting-ish cast. Prolific TV-movie guy Dennis Weaver plays a tow-truck driver who loses custody of his kids while serving a prison term for assault, then struggles to find them upon gaining his release. Supporting him are Donna Mills, Agnes Moorehead, Sheree North, Slim Pickens, Don Stroud, and country singer Jimmy Dean. The story is a bit of a mess, because the leading character tends to stumble in and out of episodes, lingering in places when he should be looking for his kids, so there’s not much in the way of forward momentum until the last 20 minutes or so. Yet the exemplary work of a behind-the-scenes player elevates Rolling Man. By dint of airing about two weeks before another 1972 telefilm, Goodnight, My Love, this picture represents the directorial debut of Peter Hyams, who later became a successful feature-film helmer known for action pictures, conspiracy thrillers, and sci-fi sagas. He does terrific work here, not only by imbuing Rolling Man with a naturalistic pictorial style but also by guiding his actors to render lived-in performances. What’s more, the picture has strong rural atmosphere, from the believable dialects of the characters to the gritty look of low-rent locations including racetracks and trailer parks.
The movie’s unlucky protagonist is Lonnie (Weaver), a simple guy who enjoys working for mechanic Chuck (Pickens) because the lifestyle allows him to avoid heavy responsibilities. But when Lonnie discovers that his wife is two-timing him with racecar driver Harold (Stroud), Lonnie freaks out, chasing the lovers and running them off the road. After the wife dies in the crash, Lonnie beats the tar out of Harold, blaming him for the tragedy. Years later, after leaving jail, Lonnie discovers that his mother (Moorehead) sent his kids to live with a foster family, so Lonnie embarks on a quest to find the two boys, though he’s periodically derailed by dalliances with pretty women. Eventually, circumstances lead to a showdown between Lonnie and his old nemesis Harold. The script never quite clicks, partially because the bond connecting Lonnie to his sons isn’t established well at the beginning. However, nearly every scene in Rolling Man works as a stand-alone piece. Hyams knew what he was doing, as evidenced by the fact that he graduated to big-screen directing after the near-simultaneous release of his first two made-for-TV efforts.
Rolling Man: FUNKY