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|"Let me tell the story -- I can tell it all;
'Bout a mountain boy who ran illegal alcohol..."
One of the All-Time Great Drive-In Movies...
|Produced by, co-written by and starring Robert
Mitchum, this is his film all the way -- and would still be if it had been
a slick studio product, instead of the wildcat production it was.
Seeing this film for the first time today, it must be almost impossible to
imagine the impact it had (especially in the South) forty plus years ago;
it's one of the first i know of that actually showed some understanding of
what made those folks up there in the hills tick. I grew up in the Piedmont
region of South Carolina and i was ten when this came out -- watching it
today takes me right back to that time and that world.
I know for a fact that this film was so popular that it was still playing
regularly as a summer drive-in movie in the Carolinas ten and more years
after its release.
said to Sonny -- Son, make this run your last;
The tank is filled with hundred proof; you're all tuned up and gassed --
But, son, he said, be careful -- and if you can't get through
I'd rather have you back again than all that mountain
The story is a bit simplistic, the dialog ranges
from adequate to banal, some of the performances just about adequately cover
up otherwise blank places on the screen, there are continuity slipups (a
scene set in Memphis is shot right in front of a store that says "Asheville's
Finest", as i recall)... but none of that stuff MATTERS.
It doesn't matter because the performance that counts -- Mitchum's (and to
a lesser extent, Gene Barry as the Fed) is Right On The Money. It's a classic
Mitchum performance -- Big Bob at his sleepy-eyed, existentialist-loner best...
the man who doesn't really give a damn about much of anything till someone
*makes* him care. Which is about equivalent to walking up to a sleeping pride
of lions and kicking one in the teeth.
The final, 3-way chase that leads to the inevitable tragic/mythic ending
is a bit crude by the slick standards of today's action films, but, (especially
for anyone who has driven the back roads and hills where they shot it and
where it is set) it'll still get your adrenaline pumping. (Watch for the
outside of Beardon, there they made the fatal strike;
He left the road at ninety, that's all there is to say --
The Devil got the moonshine and the mountain boy that
((Of course, any review of "Thunder Road" must inevitably
mention Mitchum's hit recording of the theme song from the film -- which
i have to warn you is, unfortunately, *not* the version that was used on
the print i remember, but which is worth looking for in and of itself.))
A great film, just on its own terms, but there's a bit more:
This, from what i have read, was the film that Mitchum ramrodded thru to
save his career and prove he was still "bankable" -- that people would still
go to his films -- after a brush with the law that would barely even be reported
today, but was looked upon in the Hollywood of the mid-Fifties as a career
Imagine what we would have missed between then and now if "Thunder Road"
there was thunder, thunder over Thunder Road;
Thunder was his engine -- white lightnin' was his load
And there was moonshine, moonshine, to quench the Devil's thirst --
The Law they swore they'd get him, but the Devil got him
|And yet another "Another Thing"
about this film -- i have recently been contacted by a writer for a
Knoxville-area paper who is researching the actual case -- including the
fatal crash -- that was the basis for the film.
Apparently, much of the story recounted in the theme song is substantively
true; the Feds did send in a special task force to shut down one particularly
annoying 'shine operation, and the crash as stated occured roughly when and
where the song says.
According to my correspondent, it was pretty much hushed up (at least partly,
apparently by the Feds) at the time and wasn't even much covered in the local
I haven't heard any more from them, but i'm interested; the involvement of
the Memphis gang in the crash in the film is just a bit too pat, as if Mitchum
and Co. wanted to avoid problems with Someone, and blamed Sonny's death on