This film no doubt planted the seeds for more good ol' boy action pics, but Mitchum's story and charismatic screen presence make Thunder Road a ride to remember.
Reviewed by Mike Emery, Fri., Jan. 31, 2003
THUNDER ROAD (1958)
D: Arthur Ripley; with Robert Mitchum, Gene Barry, Jacques Aubuchon, Keely Smith, Sandra Knight, James Mitchum.
The "moon-runnin'" genre is one that's frequently forgotten by film critics. With "YEEE-HAA" images of hot-rodding anti-heroes, these films set the pace for today's high-dollar crash-'em-ups. Thunder Road is the one that started it all -- and still surpasses all imitators. Credit the film's appeal to leading man Mitchum, who wrote, produced, and even penned the theme song, "Whippoorwill." He plays Luke Doolin, a war vet turned moonshine runner in Tennessee. When gangster Kogan (Aubuchon) threatens the county's moonshiners, Luke goes on the defensive. Meanwhile, federal agents led by Troy Barrett (Barry) want to shut down the whiskey stills and bring the murderous Kogan to justice. Doolin remains unflappable, outrunning cops and crooks, juggling two girlfriends (Smith and Knight), and trying to protect baby bro Robin (real-life son, James Mitchum). As Luke, Mitchum personifies Southern cool with his steely gaze and tough exterior. Barry and Aubuchon are great foils for his character, and the interplay between all parties is rendered in true noir fashion. Some of the effects are a little dated, but the car chases hold up surprisingly well. The opening action sequence and thrilling climax (a clip that was recycled for They Saved Hitler's Brain) are certainly above par considering the era's limited stunt capabilities. This film no doubt planted the seeds for more good ol' boy action pics (White Lightning, Smokey and the Bandit), but while many of those vehicles relied solely on high-speed hijinks, Mitchum's story and charismatic screen presence make Thunder Road a ride to remember.