Thunder Road (1958 film)
|Directed by||Arthur Ripley|
|Produced by||Robert Mitchum|
|Written by||Robert Mitchum (story)|
James Atlee Phillips
|Music by||Jack Marshall|
Robert Mitchum (song)
Don Raye (song)
|Edited by||Harry Marker|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
Thunder Road is a black and white 1958 drama–crime film directed by Arthur Ripley and starring Robert Mitchum, who also produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay. With Don Raye, Mitchum co-wrote the theme song, "The Ballad of Thunder Road." The film features Gene Barry and Jacques Aubuchon.
Korean War veteran Lucas Doolin (Robert Mitchum) works in the family moonshine business, delivering the illegal liquor his father distills to clandestine distribution points throughout the South in his souped-up hot rod. However, Lucas has more problems than evading the U.S. Treasury agents ("revenuers"), led by determined newcomer Troy Barrett (Gene Barry).
Lucas is concerned that his younger brother Robin (James Mitchum), who is also his mechanic, will be tempted into following in his footsteps and becoming a moonshine runner. A well-funded outside gangster, Carl Kogan (Jacques Aubuchon), tries to gain control of the independent local moonshine producers and their distribution points and is willing to kill anyone who stands in his way. The stakes rise when an attempt by Kogan to kill Lucas results in the death of a government agent as well as another moonshine driver (Mitchell Ryan).
In a romantic subplot, Lucas becomes involved with nightclub singer Francie Wymore (Keely Smith). He is unaware one of the neighbor girls, Roxanna Ledbetter (Sandra Knight), has a crush on him and fears for his life.
When a series of government raids destroy their hidden stills, Lucas's father and the other local moonshiners shut down production "for a spell" to let the government deal with Kogan in its own time, but Lucas is forced by circumstances and his own code of honor to make a final run.
The film was based loosely on an incident in which a driver transporting moonshine was said to have crashed to his death on Kingston Pike in Knoxville, Tennessee, between Bearden Hill and Morrell Road. Per Metro Pulse writer Jack Renfro, the incident occurred in 1952 and may have been witnessed by James Agee, who passed the story on to Mitchum.
- The role of Robin Doolin, Lucas's younger brother, was originally written for Elvis Presley per Mitchum's request. Mitchum personally submitted the script to Elvis in Los Angeles. The singer was eager to play the role, but his manager Colonel Tom Parker demanded Elvis be paid an enormous sum of money, more than the entire budget for the movie, which ended negotiations. Mitchum's son James got the part, which worked well owing to his close physical resemblance to his father.
In the film Mitchum drove a souped-up black 1950 Ford two-door sedan (which was later repainted gray) with a custom tank in the back for moonshine liquor and a Ford V8 with three two barrel carburetors, but after a run in with the law, it was sold and replaced with a 1957 Ford Fairlane 500 two-door sedan with the same alterations excluding the carburetors. The 1950 Ford ended up getting blown up by Kogan whose henchmen had planted a bomb which activated when a Federal agent put the key in the ignition to start the car. In the film, there was a closeup of the key being inserted in the ignition - a 1951 Ford was used for that interior shot.
Most of the scenes were filmed in Woodfin, North Carolina, along Highway 19 and others at Lake Lure. Some scenes were filmed in Beech, east of Weaverville. Scenes include Reems Creek Road, Sugar Creek Road, and the Beech Community Center. Some scenes were actual local moonshine drivers shot with a camera mounted on a pickup tailgate. Many city scenes were filmed in Asheville, NC, including the explosion of Doolin's car.
The film's theme song, "The Whippoorwill," was sung by Keely Smith in her role as a nightclub singer, and a different studio rendition by her was released as a 45 RPM single on Capitol Records. The film's opening song is "The Ballad of Thunder Road," sung by Randy Sparks, a different arrangement of which was recorded by Mitchum and released as a popular 45 RPM single, also on Capitol. Both songs were co-written by Mitchum.
In popular culture
- "Thunder Road performance from Capitol Theatre, Passaic, N.J., Sept. 19, 1978". Video posted on YouTube.com. bruchee. Retrieved 2011-06-23.