February 5, 2023

Fast Film Friday: Thunder in Carolina


You’ve seen the 1958 classic Thunder Road and the 1990 masterpiece Days of Thunder but if you’re hungry for another stock car racing movie, Thunder in Carolina is free to watch on YouTube.

This 1960 release is a ‘B’ movie destined for release at drive-in theatres of the day. It’s a Doc Hudson / Lightning McQueen story of an old racer teaching a young lion the tricks of the trade. The final scene is taken right out of Cars 3, except in a more violent, crash-up, smash-up sort of way. Fun watching.



The coolest thing about Thunder in Carolina is the fact that scenes were filmed in actual NASCAR races in 1959. Amazing that Big Bill France allowed a camera rig to be bolted into a race car during the 1959 Southern 500. Even more shocking is that the actors actually drove laps during the race; that kind of tomfoolery would never happen today.

There’s no ignoring the fact that this is a 60+ year old movie, and the old stereotypes are there. The only black people in the movie are servants, and the only line spoken by a black actor is the cleaning lady at the motel emptying the white lady’s ash tray.

The treatment of women overall in the movie is just horrific. Perhaps the big star, Rory Calhoun, was the Brad Pitt of his generation. But in this movie he comes off like a stalker or potential rapist as he waits on the bed while his young driver’s wife takes a shower, then tries to kiss her. Disturbing… because as the audience we’re probably supposed to be rooting for him!



There are some real highlights in the movie, too. Alan Hale, the actor who played the Skipper in the old TV show Gilligan’s Island has a large roll in the movie. He’s a joyful, fun-loving ex-racer who becomes crew chief for his lil’ buddy, star of the movie, Rory Calhoun. Kind of like Doc Hudson in Cars. Or Lightning McQueen at the end of Cars 3.



Were you expecting Citizen Cane? Come on! This is a race car movie from the late 50s, and the real thrill is getting to see vintage American iron, including the hero-car 1957 Chevy, turning hot laps at Darlington. In this movie, the cars are the stars!



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