Thunder Road is the title of a 1958 drama–crime film about running moonshine in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee in the early 1950s. It was directed by Arthur Ripley and starred Robert Mitchum, who also produced the film, co-wrote the screenplay, and is rumored to have directed much of the film himself. He also co-wrote (with Don Raye) the theme song, "The Ballad of Thunder Road".
The film became a cult classic and continued to play at drive-in movie theaters in some Southeastern markets through the 1970s and 1980s.
Korean War veteran Lucas Doolin (Robert Mitchum) works in the family moonshine business— delivering the illegal liquor his father distills to clandestine distribution points throughout the south in his souped-up hot rod. However, Lucas has more problems than evading the usual government agents ("revenuers"), led by determined newcomer Troy Barrett (Gene Barry). Lucas is concerned that his younger brother Robin (James Mitchum), who is also his mechanic, will be tempted into following in his footsteps and becoming a moonshine runner.
A well-funded outside gangster, Carl Kogan (Jacques Aubuchon), tries to gain control of the independent local moonshine producers and their distribution points, and is willing to kill anyone who stands in his way. The stakes rise when an attempt by Kogan to kill Lucas results in the death of a government agent as well as another moonshine driver.
In a romantic subplot, Lucas becomes involved with nightclub singer Francie Wymore (Keely Smith). He is unaware one of the neighbor girls, Roxanna Ledbetter (Sandra Knight), has a crush on him and fears for his life.
When a series of government raids destroy their hidden stills, Lucas' father and the other local moonshines shut down production "for a spell" to let the government deal with Kogan in its own time, but Lucas is forced by circumstances and his own code of honor to make a final run.
The film was based loosely on an incident in which a driver transporting moonshine was said to have crashed to his death on Kingston Pike in Knoxville, Tennessee between Bearden Hill and Morrell Road. Per Metro Pulse writer Jack Renfro, the incident occurred in 1952 and may have been witnessed by James Agee, who passed the story on to Mitchum.
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