Saturday, March 02, 2013

Out In The Film Noir Night-Out In The Hills And Hollows-Robert Mitchum’s Thunder Road

DVD Review

Thunder Road, Robert Mitchum, Keely Smith, Gene Barry, United Artists, 1958

…he came out of the hills and hollows (I know, I know, hollas but let’s leave it at and get to the good stuff and not get stuck on that cultural gradient business), came out in any fast-back 1950s sedan (Fords and Chevys favorites, all tooled up, all geared up to rip out the best the cops, the fed cops, the whiskey tax boys, could run against him and any other civilian hound-doggers who wanted to try, and they did and got more, much more than they bargained for) converted to dark night whiskey runs that he could put together and hold together on those back woods thunder roads. Proud of it or not proud of it, that is what he, Luke Doolin, did, ran whiskey, corn whiskey, white lightening, and if anybody didn’t like it, well, they could eat his dust, and they usually did. Ran it all around the Appalachian valleys just like his daddy and his daddy before him going back to mist of America times, pioneer times when people tired out of eastern seaboard clutter and picked up and moved west, eternally moved west, except his people lost the wanderlust early and stayed put on the worked out land, and then got wise to the name of the game.

Yes, Luke Doolin was a piece of work, something out of the olden times, old world times, old Irish times, when a man counted himself a man because he was a man and acted the part, maybe not a hero, no, definitely not a hero, but not a man to be pushed around, not with that couple of centuries pedigree out in those stark mountains, mountains where he fit in or didn’t fit in depending on his mood but where he was doomed to end his days, whenever and however that fate was dealt.

And of course Luke had that jut-jawed look, that take a punch and still stand look, that primitive man look but with some sensitive feelings, feelings that he learned to express a little when he was in the “real world,” the cities and the war fight that rounded out his education that drew women to him like a magnet. Made those women toss and turn all night, some nights anyway, thinking, thinking hard about what exactly they were going to have to do, what seductions they were going to have to perform to draw Luke’s attentions. Needless to say, mountain man that he was, only one woman, one hard-headed woman, would win the brass ring but others would surely try, try or of have more restless mountain wind nights.

Women were the least of it though, although he had had his share, maybe more that the share due him in his line of work. Trouble was brewing, always trouble when cheap jack liquor and dough combined, and maybe throw in some tough-nosed federals looking to bust the untaxed trade. See some guy, some city guy usually, because mountain people usually didn’t run to big adventure ideas-just brew the corn-run it to the cities – collect the dough and make some more, easy and done- yes, some city guy wanted corner the market, run the whole show himself. Even the thought of the idea should have sent that city guy packing, packing the first time he proposed to Luke and to the other backyard distillers the deal he had for them, the deal, or else. But once a guy gets that corner the market lust in his blood he begins to make odd-ball decisions and so there you have it. In the end it was Luke’s way too, or no way.

And as fate would have it, a fate Luke had signaled one night to one of his lady friends- “he was born of the hills and hollows just like other men were born of the sea, it was in his blood, no, more it was a way of thinking about things, about how you wanted to be treated, about what you would, or would not, take, maybe, not like other men who would give a little here, give a little there and then before you knew it they were hollow men, men working for some clock, or something like that. All he knew was that at night, in the middle of the night, with the moon blasting away, the driver window down, maybe on the passenger side too, a cigarette hanging from his sullen lip, taking the turns all sweet and gentle one minute all tense and taut the next he felt alive, felt part of something, felt like the mountain wind’s own brother.” Let leave it at this, he said , it was hard to explain, hard to explain to a woman, a woman with her home-seeking ways, but if that didn’t explain it then just this- “he was a transporter, and that was what he did, and so he would play his hand that way –there was no other way out.”

Hell, they still talk about old Luke and how he got it, got it just like he lived it that night he ran that last run out of the hills and hollows of thunder road and how he did it his way, his way alone, and about how they didn’t make them like Luke any more…

And hence this film


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