Friday, January 1, 2010

Thunder in Dixie

Behold, the power of reduced expectations! I'm not sure what I would have thought of Thunder in Dixie if I didn't watch Speed Lovers first, but I found myself more entertained than I had any right to be. Here was a movie where people could act! The camera was handled well! The score was jazzy! Hell, the script even had some tension in there! Plus it had main titles by Saul Bass' Non-Union equivalent, which was kind of neat. Overall, this movie was not awful, I'm impressed.

Once upon a time there was a race driver named Mickey (Harry Millard). He drove very drunk and killed the wife of another racing driver, Ticker (Mike Bradford). As a result, Ticker blames Mickey for his wife's death, and is very angry. He also wants revenge. So, at the first race Mickey comes back to, he intends to be very aggressive and hopefully kill him. This is not effective conflict resolution. Realizing this are the girlfriends of the drivers. Lily (Judy Lewis) doesn't want her husband racing anymore, and is trying to convince him to give it up. Karen (Nancy Berg) doesn't want boyfriend Ticker to die either, though admittedly she wasn't very interesting so I don't remember her character very well. It all builds to the climactic race, where we are promised thrills, spills, and so on.

Much like Speed Lovers, the bulk of the time is spent in hotel rooms. Unlike Speed Lovers, the actors involved can mostly put in decent performances. Judy Lewis is even somewhat impressive, doing a lot with a middle of the road script, and managing to give her character some depth and visually telegraphing her concern for her husband through just looks and the way she pauses. She even manages to build tension in otherwise boring scenes, as she acts her way out of the paper bag known as the script. The other actors are generally also not awful, and it makes the core story of the film believable and almost interesting. That's faint praise, but I'm coming off of Speed Lovers, give me a break.

Of course, it's not perfect, it clearly didn't have the budget for perfect. It needed a race, and it didn't have some racing driver to exploit footage of. As a result, the race is actually somewhat intense and easy to follow. It also is essential to the plot, unlike Speed Lovers where the race - much like every scene in the movie - isn't essential to anything. Unfortunately, it's also clearly the only race they could afford to film, and still mainly uses stock footage, so we have to deal with a cavalcade of hotel rooms yet again.

That's the real problem with Thunder in Dixie, it's cramming a full half hour of story into 80 minutes. Scenes repeat, constantly, and the action really goes nowhere for the entire middle third of the movie. To be fair, it was made for drive-in theatres, and that's prime make out time. Really, all you need to see is the beginning and end, as though the filmmakers knew to allow for heavy petting mid-picture.

It's dull, and really not a very good movie in the grand scale of things. What it is, however, is competent. That's not high praise, but having just seen Speed Lovers, competence is a wonder. I embrace this film's dull competence. Bless you Thunder in Dixie, you are not as bad as you could be.

As a side note, Happy New Year! We're coming up on a full year of Movies at Random, and what a year it's been! What can you expect in 2010? Well, we've got something from Belgium, something from Clint Eastwood, and more wacky adventures lined up. Stay tuned for more MaR, because I enjoy the project most of the time.

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