Thursday, November 7, 2013


Thunder Road stars Robert Mitchum, who also co-wrote the screenplay, produced the movie, co-wrote the theme song and one other song used in the movie, and it is rumored that he also directed part of the film...pretty damn good for a pothead. Thunder Road is the story of a Korean veteran who runs the moonshine his father makes. Both the revenuers and a local crime syndicate want to put him out of business. The first one by the law, the second one by any means necessary. If you've ever heard the song, you pretty much know the story. While Mitchum doesn't sing the song on the soundtrack of the movie, he did release a single which made the Billboard Hot 100 twice, once in 1958 when the film was released and again in 1962 when hot rod songs gained radio popularity.

Mitchum wanted Elvis Presley for the role of his brother and Elvis was eager to do the movie. However, Col. Parker demanded a huge salary for Elvis (more than the budget for the whole movie), so Mitchum cast his own son in the role. Mitchum also hand-picked Keely Smith for the part of his big city girlfriend. Keely sings one song in the movie, "Poor Whipoorwill" (co-written by Mitchum). Keely, while not terrible, was still a mush better singer than an actress. But then again, all the female actors in Thunder Road were weaker than the male actors, with the exception of Francis Koon, who plays Mitchum's mother. Koon has a great scene where she puts the younger brother "in his place" (as we say here in the South), but in case there's someone who hasn't seen the film, I won't spoil it for them by discussing it here. 

Thunder Road is on my list of top ten favorite movies of all time. A big reason is because this was the first movie I can remember seeing where I felt like I knew these people and could identify with the characters.  Mitchum, who spent most of his life in Connecticut, New York, and California, captured what people were like in the hills of North Carolina, South Carolina, Northern Georgia, and Tennessee better than most other filmmakers ever have. In his teen years, during the depression, Mitchum traveled around the U.S., perhaps that is where he bumped up against people who were typical of those seen in this movie. Whatever it was, Mitchum got it right and if you grew up in this region during the 50s and 60s, you should recognize these characters also. If you've already seen the acclaimed Mitchum classics The Night Of The Hunter, Out of The Past, and Cape Fear, I would suggest you check out Thunder Road, I don't think you'll be sorry.

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