Thunder Road

1958

Starring: Robert Mitchum, Gene Barry

Director: Arthur Ripley

A hillbilly bootlegger, in trouble with both the law and other criminals, races through the hills carrying moonshine by moonlight. Less a car movie than a driver movie, it's all about Robert Mitchum, who's a lot like a film noir version of Burt Reynolds' Bandit -- only cool. And sexy and dangerous. And an actual actor. Plus, he wrote the killer theme song.

The preeminent moonshine movie, the 1958 Thunder Road stars Robert Mitchum as a backwoods bootlegger in Tennessee, getting squeezed by both the federal government and organized crime. Mitchum had a big hand in creating this cult favorite (which reportedly played in drive-ins around America for years), writing the script, producing the movie, and even composing and singing the movie's theme song, which became a radio hit. Directed by longtime cinematographer Arthur Ripley, the film is strong on characters and action, the latter fulfilled by a memorable chase scene at the end. Mitchum was at an artistic peak at this point in his career, and this is really an indispensable movie for his fans. --Tom Keogh

The '57 Ford used in the crash scene was specially built to withstand the force of impact when it was driven in-between the two revenuer cars. The front fenders were made of cast steel and the body and frame were heavily reinforced. The weight of the car was such that special solid sponge rubber tires had to be fabricated and used. No tire of the day could support the weight and speed the car had to attain and still look like normal car tires. The engine also had to be highly modified to produce the horsepower necessary for the speed requirement.

The role of Robin was offered to Presley, Elvis, who showed interest, but the idea was nixed by Presley's manager, Tom Parker.

All of the "moonrunner" cars in the film had actually been used by moonshiners in the Asheville, North Carolina, area, where the film was shot. The moonshiners sold the cars to the film company in order to buy newer and faster cars.

The 1950 Ford that Robert Mitchum drives in the beginning is actually a 1951 Ford with a 1950 grille, and the chrome windsplits removed. The give-away: the V-8 emblems, the "Ford Custom" emblems on the front fenders, the dashboard, and steering wheel.