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Who'll Stop the Rain

(American, 1978, 126 minutes, color)

Directed by Karel Reisz

Main Cast:
Michael Moriarty . . . . . Converse
Nick Nolte . . . . . Hicks
Tuesday Weld . . . . . Marge
Anthony Zerbe . . . . . Anthiel
Richard Masur . . . . .Danskin
Ray Sharkey . . . . . Smitty

The following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Pennsylvania State University:

Critic Clive Jordan, reviewing Robert Stone's 1974 novel Dog Soldiers, praised the book's "mastery of contemporary American dialogue," and its "evocation of dark forces at work in [American] society." Widely lauded by critics, Dog Soldiers won the National Book Award for fiction.

Four years later, however, when Stone's novel was made into the film Who'll Stop the Rain, the reviews were much more mixed. The screenplay, written by Stone and Judith Rascoe, begins on the battlefield of Vietnam, and follows Converse, a jaundiced war correspondent, and Hicks, his ex-Marine friend, on a plot to smuggle heroin back to Berkeley, a plan that sours into bloodshed and ruin.

Who’ll Stop the Rain portrays what Newsweek critic David Ansen called "deracinated, complex characters" caught up in "the death of the counter-culture." Set in 1971, the picture painstakingly portrays the ragged end of the '60s California drug and hippie culture, including shots of Berkeley's famous Cody's Bookstore and, evoking Stone's own experience as a traveler on Ken Kesey's psychedelic school bus, recreating the guerrilla concert hang-outs Kesey's Merry Pranksters set up with the Grateful Dead in the hills north of San Francisco.

Accordingly, one would expect the soundtrack of the film to include performances by the Dead, but at the end of the project studio executives chose the music of the pop favorite Credence Clearwater Revival for the score, including the hit song that gives the picture its decidedly un-Stonean title. At the time of its release, critics were divided over the film's merits. Stanley Kauffmann in The New Republic scorned its violence as "childishly bang-bang," while The Progressive's Kenneth Turan, using adjectives that are high praise in movie reviews, described the picture as "a spare, lean film with a nasty, nervous edge."

The performers, too, came in for mixed notices. Nick Nolte, combining the qualities of a Hemingway hero and Beat icon Neal Cassidy was, to Newsweek's Ansen, "a fascinating mixture of raw physical power, courage and pathology, equally capable of heroic loyalty to his friends and of sudden, irrational violence." Kauffmann saw him as "a slightly more flexible reincarnation of Buster Crabbe," while Pauline Kael said in The New Yorker" he portrayed the role "with anonymity."

Michael Moriarty, as the reporter Converse, makes out even worse. "Arrogantly casual" Kauffmann complained, "His ego is spreading over his talent like fungus." Kael called Tuesday Weld "appealing" but complained about the brown caftan she wears in the hide-out scenes late in the film. Ansen liked her "brittle, haunting performance." Kauffmann ripped what he termed "her anguished Kewpie-doll act." Yet it was Stone's by then four-year-old novel that took some of the worst abuse in the press. Apparently bent on correcting the tilt toward praise of the author and screenwriter, the cinema critics were ruthless.

Pauline Kael was typical: "The actual plot of the film is simple to the point of pulpdom. It comes from an excruciatingly poor novel called Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone, which for some reason won the National Book Award."

What the critics took away, they also gave, however. Reviewing the notices two decades later, with Stone's novel a recognized classic of its era, one find's David Ansen providing perhaps the most succinct understanding of Stone's contribution to American literature. Dog Soldiers, he wrote, "may be the strongest novel yet written about Vietnam -- or more precisely, about the war's psychic and moral consequences."

— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University

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