Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thunder Road (1958)

I'm wrapping up Noirvember with another Robert Mitchum movie that's been on my list for a long time. It's the inspiration for the title of our Thundarr the Barbarian podcast, so it's about time I finally watched it.

Who's In It: Robert Mitchum (The Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear), Gene Barry (The War of the Worlds, Bat Masterson), Keely Smith (sang with and was married to Louis Prima for a while), Sandra Knight (Frankenstein's Daughter, The Terror), and James Mitchum (son of Bob).

What It's About: A moonshine runner (Robert Mitchum) fights a war on two fronts (the law and a crime organization trying to take over the territory) while trying to protect the people he cares about.

How It Is: Mitchum's as charming as ever and I really love that his son is playing his kid brother. They don't just look alike; they also have a lot of chemistry and it raises the stakes considerably to believe so deeply that Luke (Robert Mitchum) is desperate to keep Robin (James) out of the driver's seat. I do wonder how awesome it would have been if Elvis Presley (Mitchum's first choice to play Robin; curse you, Col. Tom Parker) had been in the film, but as much as I love Elvis, I'm not sure I'd want to trade in James.

There's a lot of cool driving stuff, with Luke using a couple of different, tricked out cars. And I enjoyed his confrontations with the law (represented by Gene Barry) and the crime syndicate. The Appalachia and Memphis settings are cool, too.

What pulls the movie down for me though is Luke's unconvincing insistence that he can't escape his job. It's not even that he really wants to escape it. He clearly loves it and simply refuses to give it up. But what's never clear to me is why he feels that way. He has a lot going on in his life including his family and two women who care deeply about him: a Memphis nightclub singer (Smith) and local girl Roxie (Knight). He cares enough about all of these people to want to keep them at a distance where they won't be hurt by his occupation, but not so much that he's willing to give it up and do something different with his life. That would be a great conflict to explore if I better understood what's keeping him behind the wheel in the first place.

Rating: 3 out of 5 proto-Duke Boys.

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