Monday, April 19, 2010

THUNDER IN CAROLINA

VCI Entertainment has unearthed another obscure drive-in classic, with THUNDER IN CAROLINA (1960), a racetrack melodrama set in the world of "Southern 500" stock car racing.

Rory Calhoun (MOTEL HELL) is Mitch Cooper, an ex-moonshine runner-turned-professional driver who, after injuring himself in a crash, decides to mentor a young man named Les York (John Gentry) in the fine art of stock car racing. The two men come into conflict over a woman, and Les goes it alone, becoming very successful... and an arrogant jerk. In the end, Mitch has to take on his apprentice on the track and teach him a thing or two about what racing -and being a real man - is all about.

The script is typical sports opera stuff,with a plot right out of a hundred B-Westerns and other movies, but it's capably handled by director Paul Helmick and well-acted by the rugged Calhoun and energetic Gentry, with solid character support by Alan Hale Jr. (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) and pretty TV actress Connie Hinds. The real attraction here, though, is the authentic race footage that makes up a good percentage of the movie's 92 minute running time. Fans of vintage cars and stock car racing will find a lot to enjoy in THUNDER, which features a number of professional drivers of the era behind the wheels of the cars on screen.

VCI Entertainment's forthcoming DVD features both 1.33:1 fullscreen and matted, 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, transfers. Both versions (the same print, obviously) look remarkably good for a low budget film of this vintage. The image is a little soft, but colors are bright and there's no evident print damage or dirt/debris. Bonus features include the original theatrical trailer, a selection of 50's promotional shorts for Chevrolet, and a nifty stop-motion educational film from Shell, THIS IS OIL, produced by George Pal (DESTINATION MOON, THE TIME MACHINE) in his patented "Puppetoon" process.

I'm not a huge fan of car racing (or racing movies), but I had fun watching THUNDER IN CAROLINA. It's a great little time capsule of the sport in the late 1950s, and the B-movie melodrama is reasonably engrossing. But this one's really for vintage car buffs and NASCAR enthusiasts with an interest in the history of the sport. If that's you, you'll want to check it out.

BUY: Thunder In Carolina