Thunder Road (1958)—for years a drive-in perennial, and still something of a classic on that score—is locally famous for having been shot around Asheville (with the Asheville area playing Tennessee). But its real claim to fame is as the film that gives you the most Robert Mitchum for your buck. Mitchum not only stars, but he wrote the story, produced, had a hand in the songs and brought in his son, Jim Mitchum, to play his younger brother. (That last must be in deference to the idea of, “Gee, Bob, you don’t look old enough to have a grown son.”) It’s also not a bad little movie of its type, though one might reasonably question aspects of the musical score by Jack Marshall (Marshall, of course, redeemed himself scoring his next project, The Giant Gila Monster).
Apart from the Mitchum factor and the location aspect, Thunder Road is really nothing more than an old-style gangster film set in the South with moonshine at its center. Mitchum’s Korean War veteran would have been a WWI vet in an early ‘30s gangster flick. Both the doting mother and the kid brother who must not fall prey to the moonshine-running lifestyle are straight out of any number of ‘30s films, as is the torch singer Mitchum’s hot for. Factor in the Mr. Big character trying to muscle in on the racket and the tough federal man (Gene Barry) who grudgingly respects Mitchum, and it’s pretty much gangster basic. But it’s entertaining gangster basic.