Pros:Some pretty good stunts - considering the era.
Cons:The middle third really starts to drag.
The Bottom Line: Robert Mitchum is charming (if way too old for the part) and the chases are exciting, but they're too few and far between and the rest of the cast sucks.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Ah, the Holidays. What can possibly be more seasonal than Hillbillies and CB Radios and car chases and moonshine and bootlegging and The Deep South? Brace yourself for some Hicksploitation movies - that's right, it is time for my Red(neck) Christmas reviewathon! What did Santa leave me in my stocking this time? It's Thunder Road, the Robert Mitchum vanity project from 1958 (and not the Bruce Springsteen song).
Meet Lucas Doolin (played by Mitchum). Lucas is a recently returned veteran who picks up his pre-war career of transporting illegal Moonshine for his pa. But things have gotten rough as of late, the Revenuers, headed up by agent Troy Barrett (Gene Barry) are really cracking down on the 'shine business. Meanwhile Big City Gangster Carl Kogan (Jacques Aubuchon) wants to move in and take over all the moonshine production in the Appalachians.
What's a good ol boy to do? Make one last Big Run, get out of the business once and for all, settle down with one of the two ladies (Sandra Knight and Keeley Smith) currently wooing him and keep younger brother Robin from picking up the family business. Needless to say Doolin has his work cut out for himself. . . .
Aside from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I can't think of any other cult classic that has enjoyed such success. Thunder Road ran with constant showings at drive-in theaters, midnight movies and late night broadcasts on UHF from its release in the late fifties all the way through the eighties. I remember catching it on the Midday Movie when I skipped school from time to time (Yes, I skipped school to watch bad movies. That should tell you a lot about my early years!)
Unfortunately, like most vanity projects - well it ain't very good. Actually, no. Check that - compared to some vanity projects (I'm looking at you, Battlefield Earth), Thunder Road is a freaking work of art. But as far as visceral exploitation action goes, I find the film wanting.
The problem, the BIG problem? Too much talk, not enough action. Oh, don't get me wrong - there is plenty of car chases and some good stuntwork, but it's mostly frontloaded and during the final reel. Otherwise, it's all talking heads and poorly acted angst about "Which girl will he get? The Lounge Singer or the Childhood Sweetheart" and "When will you let me drive for you, Big Brother! You always hold me back!" and the like. Robert Mitchum was pretty good, but the rest of the cast - well, lets just say that somewhere out there a Community Theater production of Our Town went unmade because of this flick.
Also, the story (written by Mitchum and turned into a script by Walter Wise and James Atlee Philips) never settles down on what it wants to be. Is it a crime drama gangster flick? Is it a rockem-sockem car chase action flick? Police Procedural? Youthful Rebel Hot-Rod Gang movie? Love Story? Really guys, pick one or two pages from TVTropes to shove into your script, not the whole blasted wiki, will ya?
THE DVD -
Thunder Road comes to us in the original 1.33 full frame, non-anamorphic format. Considering how old the movie is (getting on to 60 years now), it looks pretty good. There's occasional print damage (or in the instance of one scene, a big ol' scratch), but that usually occurred around the reel changes. Otherwise, the flick looks pretty good. The sound, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack, seems kind of tinny, but that's more an artifact of the recording processes of the era than any flaw with the DVD.
THE EXTRAS -
We get - wait for it - a trailer! Yup, MGM's archive disc department comes through again!
THE BOTTOM LINE -
Thunder Road is not a bad flick. Robert Mitchum is just interesting enough to carry the movie and the driving bits are pretty good (when you get them). But there is a lot of down time in the middle bits that will cause your attention to wander. This flick is a rental at best, but not much more than that.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12