WOULD you like your carnage with cheese on top? Get stuck into 1967’s Thunder Alley, which serves up vintage US stock car mayhem with kitschy teen grooviness, baby.
Yes, it’s cheap B-grade drive-in fodder. Yes, it stars a couple of vanilla-flavoured hams whose careers were on the slide in former Mousketeer Annette Funicello and pop singer Fabian. And yes, the storyline is as flimsy as an old wooden guardrail. But despite all that (or perhaps because of it?), Thunder Alley is good, dumb fun. It’s got car crashes, fireballs, mud wrestling and bar brawls, and a wild party that Austin Powers wishes he’d scored an invite to.
Fabian plays pretty-boy stock car racer Tommy Callahan, who finds himself working as a stunt driver when he is suspended from NASCAR (although the term NASCAR is never actually used) after he wrecks and kills a fellow racer, the impeccably named Jimmy John Jones. Callahan is prone to suffering blackouts while behind the wheel, and, judging by the cheap visual effects that cloud his head whenever he’s losing the plot, it has something to do with go-karts and his childhood.
Reduced to working for shameless conman Pete Madsen (Murray) in the stunt biz, Callahan makes the most of things by putting the moves on female stunt driver Francie (Funicello), who also happens to be the boss’s daughter, and trying to convince old pal and team owner Mac Lunsford (Adams) to give him another shot at the big time. It’s hard to feel too sorry for the bloke when you see him swaggering around town in his custom daily driver, the hideous Barris-built Dodge Thunder Charger!
It’s obvious that the cheapskates responsible for this flick started with a stack of racing footage from Daytona and Darlington and subsequently built a movie around it. Cue the obligatory shoddy blue-screen driving scenes.
Helping to tie all the random racing and stunt footage together is track announcer Sandy, played by Californian track announcer Sandy Reed. Though it’s no great stretch acting-wise for him, he brings a small amount of authenticity to counter-balance Funicello’s struggles in trying to make you believe she’s a stunt car driver. Oh yeah, heads-up: she also sings a song, so get ready to fast-forward through that.
Without spoiling too much, Callahan does eventually nab a drive in the Southern 500 at Darlington, where he must confront the go-karts in his head once and for all.
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THE way to get full enjoyment from Thunder Alley is to embrace its corniness, to laugh where you may just as easily cringe. NASCAR and old-school race fans will delight in seeing cars like LeeRoy Yarbrough’s ’67 Charger and Richard Petty’s ’66 Plymouth tied into the plot. Warning: If you are easily triggered by old films where tons of now-classic cars are smashed up, wrecked and burnt, Thunder Alley may lead to outrage, nausea and vomiting. Chevs, Plymouths, Fords, Studebakers and Dodges were all harmed in the making of his movie – not to mention several acting careers. Check it out on YouTube here.
- 1967 Dodge Thunder Charger
- 1957 Chevy 150
- 1949 Ford
- 1960 Dodge Dart
- 1957 Plymouth Plaza
- 1956 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria
- LeeRoy Yarbrough #12 Dodge Charger
- Richard Petty #43 Plymouth Belvedere
- Annette Funicello
- Diane McBain
- Warren Berlinger
- Jan Murray
- Stanley Adams
- Sandy Reed
Stock footage of NASCAR racing with a focus on wreckage and fire; low-rent stunt driving; go-go dancing; go-kart visions
A racer in the naughty corner attempts to overcome the go-karts that haunt him and get back in the big leagues while charming the pants off the boss’s daughter
COOL FLICK FACT:
Quentin Tarantino used some of the music from Thunder Alley in the big car chase scene in 2007’s Death Proof.