The WWII veteran has an only adversary, a neighbor lady who frowns on him and the toy tank he operates with his grandson in the yard. It goes awry and fires a projectile into her window, leaving a small hole.
He’s at the Virginia Café run by his old comrade-in-arms when a second customer walks in. The proprietor’s stepped out for a minute, the man helps himself to a couple of donuts, meeting the veteran’s raised eyebrows with a small knife. Instantly some Mexican gunmen enter the café and fire at the man, shooting the place up. The veteran ducks for cover, wounded in the arm.
The gang seeks him out as a witness to be eliminated. He defends his home against them.
The finely-pointed mechanism of the action, far too fine for TV Guide and All Movie Guide, is well-served by the direction, with its lack of emphasis built on naturalism in the key of Charles Durning’s performance, one of the most quietly complex roles put on screen by the very manner of his underplaying, also unnoticed.
The comparison to Straw Dogs (but not to Death Wish III) has been made. As he pauses at the bathroom mirror before applying dark camouflage to his face, the veteran’s reflection might not suggest Bullitt so much as the interlude before the storm in On the Waterfront, by dint of the surprising homeyness of the décor (it’s not hard to see, in a second confrontation at the café, a bit of Giant).
Pam Grier is an attorney, which means nothing to the suspects briefly detained. Bert Remsen is the café owner. After the gang beats him up, the electronic score mellows into saxophone and strings for the veteran’s hospital visit.
A prologue shows the veteran on night reconnaissance in the Pacific. The young actor resembles Durning as he scouts a Japanese tunnel and meets a patrol of the enemy.
How very far advanced this is, and how understated (like the rich colors of the cinematography, the realistic effect of night lighting, the skill and firm artistry throughout), can be seen in the laughing response of the gold-toothed gang leader to the attorney’s jailhouse visit, which is a contemporary statement of a very famous scene in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and also in the look on her face, which is adapted from the same film in the same way.