Mon
Apr 14 2008
06:26 am
By: WhitesCreek

By Ray Collett

Hello Readers, The third annual Thunder Road Festival is right around the corner, April 19, 2008. Please make plans to attend this "fun day." Lots of good food, music, crafts, classic cars, and motorcycles. Here is a little trivia about the movie "Thunder Road" that might be of some interest.

The movie was released May 10, 1958 with a tag line saying, "Raw and Rough As Today's Billion-Dollar Whiskey War." The main plot was a veteran comes home from the Korean War to the mountains and takes over the family moonshining business. The role of Robert Mitchum's character's younger brother was originally written for Elvis Presley, per Mitchum's request. The script was submitted to Elvis in Los Angeles by Mitchum personally. Elvis was eager to play the role, but his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, stepped in and demanded that Elvis be paid an enormous sum of money. His request was more than the entire budget for the movie. And so that was the end of that negotiation.

All of the "moonrunner" cars in the film had actually been used by moonshiners in the Asheville, N.C. area where the film was shot. The moonshiners sold the cars to the film company 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 the steering wheel.

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 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, somewhere between Bearden Hill and Morrell Road. The incident occurred in 1952 and may have been witnessed by James Agee who passed the story on to Robert Mitchum. James Agee was an American novelist, screenwriter, journalist, poet, and film critic. He passed away in 1955.

The movie's theme song, "The Ballad of Thunder Road", was later recorded by Mitchum and became a popular single record, although Mitchum's rendition does not appear in the film itself. "Thunder Road" certainly remains Mitchum's most popular cult film by a country mile, but toward the end of his life he often admitted to interviewers that his one real career regret was that he hadn't taken the effort as a producer to make it into a better film than it was.

Many loads of "shine" sure came through Rockwood, and nearly every edition of the Rockwood Times in the '40's and '50's had a story along with pictures of cars being stopped with a trunk full of "moonshine" and "whiskey stills" being chopped to pieces. I guess about the only two reminders of those days in Rockwood are the Highway Patrol Station on Gateway and Kingston Ave. and our famous "Calaboose" located in the alley behind REU and "Yonder Holler." Ray Devaney called me the other day and suggested that I do some research and a story about our old "Calaboose." I figured most of our readers don't have a "first-hand" experience there, but does anyone know when it was built? I remember going by it as a kid on the way to the theater and beating on the sides of it, giving the "occupants" a worse headache than they already had. Shame on us kids....

Please plan on attending the festivities in Rockwood on our "Thunder Road" Festival...

See you there........Ray

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