THUNDER ROAD (MP 1958) RARE! HARD TO FIND! Robert Mitchum, Gene Barry, James Mitchum, Peter Breck, Jacques Aubuchon, Mitchell Ryan, Sandra Knight, Keely Smith
Thunder Road is a black-and-white 1958 drama-crime drama film directed by Arthur Ripley and starring Robert Mitchum, who also wrote the story. The supporting cast features Gene Barry, James Mitchum, Peter Breck, Jacques Aubuchon, Mitchell Ryan, Sandra Knight and Keely Smith. The film's plot concerns running bootleg moonshine in the mountains of Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee in the late 1950s.
The Plot: Lucas Doolin (Robert Mitchum) works in the family moonshine business, running liquor his father distills to clandestine distribution points throughout the South in his hot rod. However, Lucas has more problems than evading government "revenuers".
Both a hothead and a fatalist, he is concerned that his teen-aged younger brother Robin (James Mitchum), who is also his mechanic, will be tempted into following in his footsteps. An aggressive urban gangster, Carl Kogan (Jacques Aubuchon), is trying to gain control of the independent local moonshine producers and their distribution points. Dead shiners strewn along Thunder Road prove he is willing to kill anyone who stands in his way. Determined Treasury department Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent Troy Barrett (Gene Barry) is drawn in to stop the bloodshed, and its cause.
Bartlett's attempt to engage Lucas are thrown right back in his face. The stakes rise when an attempt by Kogan to kill Lucas results in the deaths of another moonshine driver (Mitchell Ryan) mistaken for him and one of Bartlett's men.
Still, Lucas does not back off, a stubbornness and strike-first hostility attributed by townsfolk to a "machine-gunner's mentality" they feel he brought home from the Korean War, which pervades his every doing. Only with nightclub singer Francie Wymore (Keely Smith) can he drop his guard, as far as he is able. At the same time, he steadfastly resists the attentions of the belle of the mountain girls, innocent Roxanna Ledbetter (Sandra Knight), who has a crush on him and fears for his life.
When a series of government raids destroy local moonshiners' hidden stills, Lucas's father and the others shut down production "for a spell" to let the government deal with Kogan in its own time. In spite of this, Lucas is forced by circumstances and his own code of honor to make one final run of his dad's shine.
Kogan's men successfully to trick Robin into agreeing to drive for them, infuriating Lucas, who sends Robin home on the bus. Barrett tries to enlist Robin's help in convincing Lucas it's Kogan his Bureau is after, not his brother, but is rebuffed. In the exchange Bartlett reveals Lucas never left the States in the Army, and implies he may have spent his hitch in its stockade instead, explaining his pent-up anger and seeming death wish.
After Lucas meets with Francie and forebodingly gives her a large sum of money to hold for him, he calls Kogan to let him know he is coming to kill him for trying to set up his brother. Meanwhile, Francie spills all she knows about Lucas' intended final moonshine run - for now, anyway, till things sort out - to agent Barrett's wife when she can't contact Bartlett directly. He deploys a sweeping dragnet of Bureau men and state police in an attempt to intercept Lucas before he gets caught, or killed, in Kogan's trap.
Kogan sends his top henchman after Lucas just before Barrett and his officers arrive and arrest Kogan for murder. Lucas turns the tables on Kogan's driver and runs him off the road. Kogen's men then set spike strips to blow out Lucas's tires, which send his car careening down an embankment into an arcing electrical transformer. Bartlett arrives too late to help with anything.
As a snake of headlights winds up the lonely mountain road back home Robin and Roxanna stand alone in silence. The same cortege of mourners bringing their own back home as when a local boy was taken out by Kogan's men early in the conflict. As the glows draw closer Robin and Roxanne approach one-another slowly. Without a word they clasp hands and walk away together into the dark.