Transporting illegal alcohol over dark two-lane mountain highways, Lucas Doolin (Robert Mitchum) races wildly through the night, crashing road blocks and outrunning ambushes, defying anyone who triesto stop him. A man has... more » a right to do anything, he says, including making whiskey, as long as he makes it on his own land. But when ruthless racketeers muscle in on Doolin's territoryand kill one of his men in the processthe Kentucky bootlegger declares war, fiercely determined to maintainhis hard-won business and independence...even if it costs him his life. Boasting breathtaking auto chase scenes (The Film Daily) and a superb performance from Robert Mitchum, Thunder Road is breathtaking excitementthe most exhilarating road thriller of them all.« less
Moonshine, moonshine, to quench the devil's thirst
Steven Hellerstedt | 05/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"IF you're a Robert Mitchum fan, it's almost impossible not to give THUNDER ROAD five stars. Heck, he even wrote and sang the title song.
Mitchum plays Lucas Doolin, a Korean War vet turned Kentucky moonshine runner, a man with "a machine gunner's outlook and death don't faze him much." Times are hard along Thunder Road, the revenuers from Alcohol and Tobacco are stepping up the pressure and a big city operator, Carl Kogan (Jacques Aubuchon), is trying to buy out all the local moonshiners. Luke Doolin is the best runner out there, and when the revenuers & Kogan push, he pushes back.
The revenuers, personified by Troy Barrett (Gene Barry), want to shut down things and especially want help in capturing the big fish Kogan. At one point he even (mistakenly) tries to intimate Luke into cooperating. "I reckon you can do all you say," the sleepy-eyed Luke says after listening to Barrett's threats. "But first you got to catch me. If you can." Kogan's threat is more direct and lethal. He wants to buy out and build his empire. In other words, the moonshiners belong to a loose cooperative and Kogan is threatening a hostile takeover. Barrett tries to win through persuasion; Kogan's goons use guns.
THUNDER ROAD loves cars and driving. When we aren't underneath the souped-up '51 Ford's hood admiring the curves of its engine, we're speeding and chasing and crashing along the rural backroads. The chase scenes were probably pretty exciting for the time, although today they just look quaint and hokey.
Mitchum is, as always, excellent. In an interesting bit of casting, and perhaps as a nod to the dubious paternity in some areas of rural America, Mitchum's son James is cast as his brother Robin Doolin. The less said about his acting the better, but they do look an awful lot alike. Another interesting and somewhat wooden choice is the golden-throated Keely Smith as Mitchum's big city's girlfriend Francie Wymore. As a bonus to her fans, she sings a couple of songs.
THUNDER ROAD is a minor cult classic, most popular in the Appalachia region. I read an interesting bit of trivia from the IMDB site: Elvis Presley was originally offered the part of Robin Doolin, but Tom Parker put the kabosh on it. Now THAT would have been interesting."
One of the All-Time Drive-In Movies
Michael Weber | Atlanta | 03/13/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"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 studion 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.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 cigarette...)((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-killer.Imagine what we would have missed between then and now if "Thunder Road" had flopped."
Thunder Road a Great Movie
John Edward Wright | Blue Mountains Australia | 03/04/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The movie Robert Mitchum's " Thunder Road" released in 1958 is a classic in the truest sense it combines the culture of hotted up cars, rum runners and bonds to the strong family values that are part of life in America's south. The traditional values of the Appalachian mountain people, their strict code of silence, to even talk to a Federal man means ex-communication from their kin forever. Robert Mitchum wrote the story based on an actual accident and crash of a blockader. The accident occured just near Knoxville at Reardon, Tennessee in 1954 and is told through song " The Ballad of ThunderRoad " written and sung by Robert Mitchum. During the opening credits the song supports the movie theme. RM also wrote another song in the movie "The Whipporwill." . Mr. Robert Mitchum recorded the title song with RCA records remaining high on the charts during 1958 and it was re-released in 1962 staying in the charts for months, certainly a credit to this fine multi-skilled talented actor. The Cast The lead of course is Mr. Robert Mitchum playing the role of Lucas Doolin a returned Korean war hero living with his folks high in the Appalachian mountains and his kid brother played by RM's son, James Mitchum in his first role as Robin Doolin. They produce moonshine and RM transports it to distribution centres in Tennessee. The other notable talent is Mr Gene Barry playing ATF Federal Agent Troy Barrett. The balance between these two great actors is emense. There is only two scenes where they actually appear together, very powerful and played to a tee by both great veterans. Jacques Aubuchon plays Carl Kogan the fat greedy leader of the Mafia style organization that wants to take over Harlan County and the illegal whiskey it produces. Aubuchon moved onto other small roles and was notable in McHales Navy playing a corrupt fat island chief. Ms.Keely Smith plays Francie Wymore a cheap nite club singer down on her luck working in rundown dives and shine boxes, she is also the romantic end of the city where Doolan delivers his shine. Her acting is ordinary and stiff however with only a small part she is passable. The other actor worth noting is a very young Mr Mitch Ryan who plays Jed Moultrie, he is uncredited in this movie, however he has progressed very well over the years and shines in this small role. His career now has covered four decades and he appears in motion pictures and the successful TV sitcom Dharma and Greg playing Greg's wealthy father. Locations The locations are very well done the country scenes were taken around Translyvania County, North Caroline. The city scenes were shot in and around Asheville. The Story It is a simple tale about a family of moonshiners that have been making whiskey in them there hills for nee on 250 years, honest hard working tax evaders that have been romanced in this entertaining movie. The highlights The movie high points are the car chase scenes which were shot during the day and filtered over to give the appearance of nighttime. The chases are exciting and the final scene where RM's car blows all of its tyres through of the use of steel spike trays placed across the road by the bad guys. The rollover in his Ford Fairlane was executed very professionally by stunt driver / stunt director Gary Loftins. The other notable scenes staged by Gary Loftin was the drive through crash scene by RM whilst out running the bad guys. To finalise this review; The legend Robert Mitchum is great and never misses entertaining the viewer regardless how many times this movie is shown. It has a cult following and was mentioned in a Australian TV series some months back which centred around fast cars and illegal activity. Gone but not forgotten. Still some forty plus years the movie ThunderRoad is credited for the start of hot cars, teenage loving and just about everything that the movie stood for small people taking on Federal governments and organised crime. Thunder Road personified a feeling that existed in the World of the 1950's. Five Stars all of the Way."
Possibly Robert Mitchum's finest; a must!
Michael Weber | 01/28/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This black-and-white movie appeared in countless drive-in theatres in the south during the late 1950's and achieved a cult following as the definite favorite of the good old boy set. In fact, any understanding of southern males who are today between the ages of 45 and 60 is incomplete without considering this movie. Robert Mitchum is a moonshine runner, using souped-up Fords as tankers and fighting both the feds (Gene Barry plays the head fed) and organized crime. The attitude conveyed is that a man should be able to do what he wants on his own land, including make alcohol. Mitchum's movie makes a compelling case for this, one especially receptive to southerners and those who were then between ages 15 and 25. Thunder Road has thrilling car chase scenes and fine acting performances by Mitchum, Keely Smith, Gene Barry, and Jim Mitchum (Robert's son). A big song was also composed by Mitchum: "The Ballad of Thunder Road." This is one to get and watch over and over again, especially with a six=pack of beer, hot dogs, barbecue, and lots of serious drive-in grade junk (fun) food, This is for a good old time, so grab it and enjoy!"
Thunder was his engine, white lighting was his load...
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 02/13/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Amazon editorial review for Thunder Road (1958) begins "The preeminent moonshine movie, the 1958 Thunder Road stars Robert Mitchum as a backwoods bootlegger in Tennessee, getting squeezed by both the federal government and organized crime." The preeminent moonshine movie? This would suggest to me a whole sub genre of films about moonshiners, and after a quick search, sure enough, there were any number of films dedicated to the making, selling, and distribution of illegal hooch including The Moonshine War (1970), I Walk the Line (1970), with Gregory Peck no less, White Lighting (1973), and Moonrunners (1975), to name a few (the genre appears to date back to the very early days of cinema, but eventually petered out in the late 70's). Directed by Arthur Ripley (The Chase), the film stars Robert Mitchum, who, incidentally, had a hand in writing and producing the film, and even composed some of the original music (although his version of `Thunder Road' isn't present in the film. Also appearing is Robert's oldest son James, Gene Barry (The War of the Worlds), Jacques Aubuchon (The Love God?), singer, and one time wife to Louis Prima, Keely Smith, and Sandra Knight (Frankenstein's Daughter, Tower of London). Very brief appearances to look for... Jerry Hardin, a character actor whom many may know as the original `Deep Throat' character in the X-Files Television series, and a very young Mitch Ryan, who more recently appeared on the television series `Dharma & Greg', as Greg's uptight father.
Robert Mitchum is Lucas Doolin, a man who comes from a long line of whisky makers, located somewhere in the southeastern United States. Now, from what I can tell, there's about three or four things you can do in the south to make a living...pig farming, growing tobacco or cotton, or making that old timey sipping whiskey...problem with that last profession is it's illegal, and basically only because the gooberment can't tax it...there's also the factor that some of it may be made in such a way as to be impure and ultimately dangerous to consume, but that's relatively minor the whole lost revenue issue. Anyway, it's a family affair for Lucas as his father makes the shine, Lucas delivers the shine (generally termed transporter in the film), and Lucas' brother Robin (James Mitchum) is the mechanic, keeping Lucas' cars in tip top running order, even adding a few James Bondian modifications when necessary (his dream is to ride with his brother, but Lucas is dead set against his little brother becoming any more entangled in the business). Anyway, on top of having to deal with the gooberment types, there's also the emergence of Kogan (Aubuchon), a shady, yet smooth talking criminal with visions of unifying all the still owners and drivers under one organization, led by Kogan of course, even if it means using strong arm tactics and the occasional murder here or there. The stakes are high and chances of death higher, but if this film taught me anything it's hillbillies are a stubborn lot, and once the moonshinin' gets in their blood, they ain't a never going to stop.
I did like this film a lot, and it seems I'm not alone. A long time staple of southern drive-ins, Thunder Road speaks not only to specific population, but deals in terms many can understand. The underlying theme seems to be the ingress of a gooberment determined to take what it believes to be its' share, and an individual's right to do as he pleases on his own land, especially if it's particular trade passed down from generation to generation. The main theme is a small group of whiskey makers and their unwillingness to acquiesce to outside forces, regardless of the consequences (actually, after the demise of a few `transporters', the small band decides to suspend operations until the heat dies down). The film does have its' share of problems (continuity flubs, poor acting, etc.), but the production ultimately overcomes these issues solely based on Mitchum Sr.'s performance. My favorite Mitchum film has always been (and still is) The Night of the Hunter (1955), but this one ranks very high. The casting of Mitchum's real life son James as his character's younger brother was interesting and worked well, as the two look a heckuva lot alike (almost to the point of twins), but I couldn't help feel a little creepy as the twenty plus year age difference seemed to be apparent (I know, I know, this separation in age can occur in siblings, especially in the south, but it's just not something I'm used to, being a Yankee and all). The car chase sequences are certainly thrilling (apparently many of the cars used were real moonshining cars, sold to the production by real transporters who then used the money to by newer, faster cars), and I especially liked the cool modifications Lucas had on his car (the quick release bumper, oil slick, etc.) The plot did slow down at certain points, especially when Lucas was interacting with his girlfriends, but I think the point here was to give definition to Mitchum's character, so for any of us watching the film and asking, `Well, if what he's doing has become so dangerous, why doesn't he just quit?', we can see things aren't as simple as they may appear, presenting a story tinged with a sort of Shakespearian quality, especially as the ominous portends around the main character continue to build.
The full screen, original format picture looks fairly sharp throughout, with some very minor age deterioration, and the audio came through fairly clear. Special features include an original theatrical trailer, and on the back of the DVD it does say a collectable booklet is included, but mine seems to be missing. Remember kiddies, the next time you're high ballin' it with 250 gallons of Tennessee's finest mountain juice, keep your eyes peeled on the road in front...spike strips are real and they will ruin your day.