review for Thunder Road on AllMovie

Thunder Road (1958)
by Michael Costello review

In an age when even billionaires can be described as "cool," it's hard to know if that half-century-old word still has any meaning. But if it doesn't apply to this cult classic with Robert Mitchum as the baddest moonshiner who ever popped a 180, it's dead. While Arthur Ripley is credited as director, with story and executive producer credits, this is clearly Mitchum's show from start to finish, reflecting his terminally cool persona and dedication to the celebration of kamikaze lifestyles. As a returning Korean vet, he tries to keep his brother out of the family bootlegging business only to be pulled in himself. A film made up of car chases, violence, music, and more car chases, its deeper significance will be evident only to the most skilled of semioticians. Others can just sit back and enjoy the narcoleptic presence of the star as he screeches around the mountains of Tennessee hills, birthplace NASCAR in a 1950 Ford Coupe with the revenuers on his tail. Fans of James Bond should appreciate the primitive but effective oil-spurting jets on this car, not to mention the quick-release whiskey tank in the trunk. To add to its cult status, the songs "The Ballad of Thunder Road" and "Whiporwil," both sung by Mitchum, spent time on Top 40 charts, and, along with the movie, are clearly alluded to by Bruce Springsteen in his own "Thunder Road."