gory of film noir, which may seem eitherrnan obvious or a weak suggestion—but it isrnnot a suggestion I have seen anywhere.rnThunder Road is not listed in any book onrnnoir I know, not even in Silver and Ward’srnencyclopedic account. But noir saysrnsomething about Mitchum’s imagination.rnAfter all, Mitchum was one of the stalwartsrnof film noir; add to that the vision of night,rnof darkness, of the day-for-night shots inrnThunder Road, as well as the familiar associationrnwith violence, automobiles, crime,rncops, and—above all—doom. The rusticrnsetting is no problem, since there is sornmuch urban business. Carl Kogan andrnhis hoods would be right at home in a filmrnnoir—and so is the nightclub singer, Francie.rnBesides, Moonrise (1949) is a noir setrnin the rural South.rnBut another category suggests itself asrnwell, and that is the “Southern”—so I callrnit in parallel with “Western.” There is arnlot to say about Thunder Road as a Southernrnmovie—more than a movie set in thernSouth, it’s a movie about the South. Wernhave the display of Southern accents andrnmanners, folklore and music, values andrnculture. Williamson has noted muchrn(though not all) of this, in Doolin’srnchivalric attitudes toward women, his respectrnfor his parents, and solicitude forrnhis brother. The scene in the tobaccornbarn, in which the men of the communityrndiscuss their options, is very effective,rnindeed one of the best depictions ofrnhumble democracy, of community in action,rnever filmed. (Such a scene can berncompared with similar ones in Shane.)rnThe scene at church is authentic, as isrnthe boredom of Robin Doolin and thernabsence of Luke.rnMore powerfully Southern, in arnlarger sense, is the evocation of dialecticalrnopposition — social, economic,rnand otherwise. Because the Southrnlagged behind in economic and socialrndevelopment, it has always been used asrnthe ostensible topic or as a vehicle ofrndramatization, in Swallow Bam beforernthe Civil War, and in Gone With thernWind long after. When the men discussrnsecession in the great opening scene ofrnthe novel and movie, Scarlett O’Hara isrnpreoccupied with her manipulations.rnThe contrast is effective throughout thernstor}-. Scarlett kills a Yankee, but she also,rnas a capitalist, becomes one. She gainsrnwealtii and loses the reason to have any. Itrnis a universal story, not just a Southern one,rnthough set firmly in Georgia. The dialecticalrnvision is of two opposed economies andrnsocieties that, melded in war, create a synthesisrnin which the strong survive —at arncost. Marx would have understood. Hegelrnwould have seen Scarlett as alienated notrnfrom her labor (or that of her fatlier’s slaves)rnbut from herself Gone With the Wind,rnmisread to this day, shares something powerfulrnwith ThunderRoad—which is knownrnas “the Gone With the Wind of the driveins,”rnas Server has noted.rnLucas Doolin is, like Scarlett O’Hara,rna partly admirable but self-destructivernprotagonist. He exists within community,rnbut deep down is not part of it, as his rivalsrn(“cousins”) and the women who lovernhim know. Predisposed to violence andrnnever backing down from a challenge, hernhas no future. The Southern backgroundrn(here, the Cumberland country,rnTennessee and Kentucky) is the scene ofrndialectical conflict because of the possibilityrnof contrast. The bureaucratic Tmenrn(or ATF agents, as we would say today)rnare as much the enemy as the urbanrncrooks. Either way, whether through legalrnnicety and taxpaying, or through thernillegal mob operation, the moonshiningrnenterprise has no hope of maintaining itsrnbase, its innocence, or its liberty. PaparnDoolin says otherwise: “We’ll be back inrnbusiness, brighteyed and bushytailed asrnever.” But today, in fact, moonshine doesrnnot cut much mustard. Marijuana is thernsurreptitious cash cow in the contemporaryrnSouth.rnMany familiar films show a dialecticalrnbackground such as I have indicated,rnwhat Andrew Lytic has called, in referencernto fiction, “the enveloping action.”rnThe sense of time passing and inevitablernchange haunts many a Western of quality.rnIndeed, the passing of the old order isrnthe explicit topic of the most famousrnWesterns. Shane (1953) makes a suggestiverncomparison with Thunder Road. Therndialectic is clear; The old cattle baron,rnRyker, cannot long stand in the way ofrnprogress in the form of the homesteaders.rnThe hired killer Wilson forces the gunfighterrnShane to return to his violent ways,rnwhich he does out of love for the Starrettrnfamily. The scene in Grafton’s generalrnstore is suggestive of economic developmentrnand nostalgia as well: The homesteadersrngawk at the catalogue, and Shanernis shocked by the price of store-boughtrnclothes. He regresses to his old buckskinsrnas he discusses with Ryker the obsolescencernof their respective ways of life: “Therndifference is, I know it.”rnThunder Road has a similar sense of socialrnand economic conflict. Luke Doolinrnis a darker character, however, thanrnShane, who seems a paladin out of a romance.rnBut the affinity with Shane andrnother such Westerns, I think, shows somethingrnof the stature of Thunder Road asrnmore than a noi’r melodrama. It is arnSouthern-situated tieatinent of the ongoingrncrisis of modernization, which is therngreat topic of our consideration in the mediarnof discourse, from Defoe to Tolstoy tornMargaret Mitchell —and to RobertrnMitchum, whom I have wanted to thankrnsince 1958. Better too late than never.rnI thank Lee Server as well. RobertrnMitchum is not only the best book aboutrnMitchum and his movies—it is also thernbest book I have ever seen about Hollywood.rnI think its distinctions are twofold.rnFirst, it takes us as close as possible to thernpersonality of an enigmatic man, andrnshows us, past the barroom brawls andrnbad-boy antics, a man who was gifted,rnsensitive, and even sweet. Server showsrnus how Mitchum was impaled on thernhorns of a dilemma. A natural rebel, hernwas trapped by the need to become partrnof the system in order to afford his distancernfrom it. Robert Mitchum’s sense ofrnabsurdity, earned the hard way, wasrnbound to be stimulated to unendurablernexasperation in La-La Land. WhateverrnMitchum was, he was not a phony, andrnreading about him can be a great pleasure.rnHe was hard to know but easy to enjoy.rnWhen George Peppard asked him ifrnhe had ever studied the StanislavskyrnMethod, Mitchum replied, “No, but I’vernstLidied the Smirnoff Method.”rnThe other distinction of Server’srnMitchum, I think, is its nuanced precisionrnin defining the moment and the valuernof so many films. The directors andrntheir idiosyncrasies, the cinematographers,rnthe other actors, the exact socialrnand political contexts of a given situationrn—it is all there and almost alwaysrnspot on. There are a few passages wherernServer assumes the leftist interpretationrnof the anticommunist episode, but thatrnhas long been routine. Otherwise, LeernServer has excelled in rendering the personalityrnand the career that we knowrnfrom 54 years before the camera. He hasrnshown us the Mitchum who was crazylikerna fox. Defiant to the end, Mitchumrnwas on oxygen as his lungs failed him andrncancer destroyed him. Ofthe oxygen, hernsaid, “I only need it to breathe.” The lastrnthing he did was smoke an unfiltered PallrnMall—before he flew on to the only realrnfreedom there is.rnSEPTEMBER 2001/25rnrnrn