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Thunder Alley was the last film Annette Funicello made for American
International Pictures, and to some extent the reasons become clear during
1967 was a transitional period at AIP. The Beach Party movies (1963-1966) had run out of steam, but the studio had not yet moved into the hippie/biker material (The Wild Angels, Wild in the Streets, etc.) that would characterize its late 60s production. In that context, the somewhat schizophrenic feel of Thunder Alley (Beach-party-ish romantic themes combined with comparatively risque orgies, drinking, etc.) isn't surprising. The producers knew that edgier trends were emerging, but were still working with stars (Fabian, Funicello) from the late 50s/early 60s greaser/beach era.
While Fabian comes across as hopelessly stuck in the past (his stiff, two-note approach to acting is high school drama club material, his range consists of pouting or getting angry), Funicello is clearly trying to evolve - it's almost as if she realizes that her "Dee-Dee at the beach" period is over, and that to survive she must grow into a more Nancy-Sinatra-ish, "groovy chick" mode.
Problem ws, Annette was far too much the lady to pull that off, so she seems almost blatantly out of place in this movie -- a decent, ladylike but straight talking woman surrounded by drunks, loudmouths, bimbos and opportunists. After this film (and to a large degree as a result of her "decency"), AIP had no more use for her, which was unfortunate: like Vincent Price, stars who had "slummed" at AIP were basically stuck there, so Funicello pretty much disappeared from the big screen after this film (save for one, small and somewhat self-depreciating cameo in the Monkee film "Head" a year later and her canned "nostalgia" appearance in 1987's "Back to the Beach."
One more note: several others who have commented on this film mentioned Annette perfoming the song "What's A Girl To Do" in the film. I have the MGM "Midnight Movie" video release of Thunder Alley and the original 1967 Sidewalk soundtrack album. While the LP contains "What's A Girl To Do," the version of the film on the video doesn't. Also, the "official" Annette collector web sites also comment that song -- while on the soundtrack album -- doesn't appear in the film.) Is it possible different versions of this film (perhaps a "longer" broadcast version containing the song, maybe the video realease is edited) are floating around?
For someone who never had any technical training as an actress, it never ceases to amaze me how natural Annette Funicello is on screen. She's completely at ease in front of the camera, whether being feisty telling off her dad (Jan Murray), trading barbs with a surly blonde (Diane McBain), getting her face muddy, getting ripped on booze, or being funny and sexy with her leading guy (Fabian), Annette is never stiff or embarrassing. In fact, doing a little warm-up song number with a party band in her living room, she's a very sensual woman. The plot of this B-flick is strictly by-the-numbers, but the stock car racing scenes are better than the ones for Elvis Presley's "Speedway", released a year later. Credit future "Stunt Man" director Richard Rush with the tight pacing. The party-orgy looks like an outtake from a "Beach Party" flick gone awry, but it's a transition picture for the A.I.P. studios--and not a bad one. **1/2 from ****
Annette tried to break away from her beach party films in this Drive- In flick! A good performance by Diane McBain and some good racing scenes help to make this period piece fun to watch! The dancing is also "COOL"! Annettes song ""Whats A Girl To Do?" is the real show stopper! Catch this on cable!
Sure, the story is trite and Warren Berlinger is embarrassingly bad, but
"Thunder Alley" manages to be a fairly decent flick. Credit Richard Rush
("The Stunt Man") for getting pretty good performances from Annette
Funicello and Fabian. Diane McBain is always good, as is Jan Murray.
Maureen Arthur gives the movie a poignant edge as the bubbleheaded "Babe,"
who can't really grasp the tragedy which has just taken place around
The stock racing scenes are pretty good, but never really integrate into the story, due to AIP's unwillingness to match the color and resolution.
Annette does a surprisingly good version of "What's a Girl to Do." Couldn't believe she could really sing. Annette also demonstrate some comedic skills which, sadly, neither AIP or Disney ever really put to full use.
This is one of AIP's better efforts. I saw it on FLIX, which, apparently has the extended version which includes Annette's song.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Terminally blah 50's pop singer teen scream Fabian gives a thoroughly
bland and stiff performance as Tommy Callahan, a proud, earnest,
virtuous ace stock car driver whose unfortunate tendency to black out
whenever he gets boxed in causes a massive lethal pile-up that leaves
two drivers dead. Tommy gets suspended indefinitely from the pro racing
circuit by hard-nosed NASCAR bigwig Stanley Adams. Tommy, disgraced and
desperate for work, humbly accepts a degrading gig as a stunt daredevil
driver in a two-bit thrill circus outfit owned by shameless skinflint
opportunistic con man hustler Pete (a hearty turn by stand-up comic Jan
Murray). Naturally, Tommy shows cocky eager beaver protégé Eddie
(amiable Warren Berlinger) the ropes and falls in love with Pete's
feisty, hot-tempered daughter (a surprisingly lively and hence more
tolerable than usual Annnette Funicello). Of course, this latter
development doesn't go over well with Tommy's current main squeeze, the
extremely jealous and possessive racetrack groupie hottie Annie (the
always enticing, attractively slender blonde spitfire Diane McBain, who
heats up the screen with her customary fiery aplomb).
Director Richard Rush, whose other 60's exploitation feature credits include the terrific hippie dope acidhead treat "Psych-Out" and the killer biker pictures "Hell's Angels on Wheels" and "The Savage Seven," jazzes up the standard-issue story by keeping the pace galloping along at a brisk clip and offering up a lot of snazzy visual flourishes. Monroe Askins' funky cinematography pulls out the wondrously garish psychedelic 60's stylistic stops: solarization, super-impositions, wipes, shaky hand-held camera-work, and dizzying segueways all shot in gloriously bright and vibrant Pathecolor. Kudos also to the groovy score, which has sinewy drums laying down a primordial pounding beat while fuzzed-out guitars rip-riff up a crackling sonic storm. Sy Salkowitz's predictable, but compact and serviceable script scrupulously covers all the necessary audience pleasing bases: bang-up peel out and crash'em demolition derby-style racetrack action (the authentically grainy racetrack newsreel footage especially smokes), fiercely going at each other's throats bitter rivalries, good-lookin' well-endowed girls in tight sweaters, crazy swingin' kids frenetically frugging away at regular intervals, a rowdy barroom brawl, and, in the movie's roll-over-wacky hedonistic highlight, a wild, delightfully raucous and unruly let it all hang out somethin' nutty sex'n'booze'n'dancing'n'stripping all-night rockin' party sequence. Only Fabian's underwhelming stale whitebread square presence and Annette briefly belting out this hideously saccharine slushy mush love ballad detract a little from the otherwise solid and on the money fun.
Thunder Alley finds Fabian banned from NASCAR tracks after causing the
death of another driver. Stanley Adams might want to put him on his
team of racers, but the other drivers aren't for having him around.
Desperate for employment Fabian hooks up with an auto stunt show owner Jan Murray who's paying him peanuts and trying to capitalize on Fabian's bad rep. He's got to take it, but Annette Funicello who's Murray's daughter provides another reason to stick around.
The rest of the film is Fabian's struggle to get back to the NASCAR circuit while at the same time juggling both Annette and his current girl friend Diane McBain. Personally, I would have taken McBain, she has it all over Annette.
Thunder Alley is helped by location shooting at the southern NASCAR tracks and good film footage of NASCAR racing. Not helped by a rather silly story which delves into the real reason for Fabian's problems and his rather unrealistic recovery from same.
Still fans of NASCAR might go for this.
Sure there were parts of this movie - almost all of it, the more I think
that made you laugh at it and not with it. The stock stock-car scenes from
Daytona and Darlington were real. The acting was bad and the plot was
sophomoric. If Fabian was really having those blackouts all of the time, then he should have been locked up for continuing to drive while having them. But maybe I'm putting too much thought into this. As someone who has covered NASCAR for newspapers, the off-the-track plot stuff was more than lame. Annette did a good job; I got a kick out of the announcer; and Diane McBain is always easy on the eyes, even if she doesn't take it easy on the eye shadow.
Thunder Alley. Crash! Bam! Pow! What else can you ask for? Wipe-outs,
crashes, brawls, drama, romance, soap opera suds, kissing, funky
sixties dances. It just too groovy and far-out man!
The story is lame. "Bad Boy" racing stud Fabien meets "Good Girl" Annette, loses girl, she meets another "Badder Boy", finds true love at the end and everyone lives happily ever after.
In between the love-making and break-ups, you have some really "exciting" race car drama. Lots of stock-film of drag races. Lots of crowd shots, lots of wipe-outs and crashes, some between racer conflicts, some shapely girls doing the go-go.
What else do you need. So, sit back, open-up a six pack (of soda!), munch on some pop-corn, chips, dip, and enjoy....Thunder Alley!
What impresses me about this picture is just how slick it is. The auto racing genre is a tough, gritty one. And American International Pictures was a small, scuffling outfit. Yet "Thunder Alley" looks slick. It isn't quite up to major studio production standards, but "Alley" give the impression of being machine tooled junk. Well, not exactly junk. It's a machine-tooled, formulaic genre exercise, with most of the grit and idiosyncrasy removed. Arkoff, Nicholson, Topper, and Rush apparently had this genre down to a science, so here they are content to present a "safe" genre exercise and leave it at that. Annette Funicello is good. (She really was an underrated actress, and it's a shame she didn't have a longer and more active career.) A Funicello-Avalon pairing would have been more fun, but Fabian Forte is effective as the male lead. (He had genuine talent as an actor, perhaps more talent than he had as a singer.) Monroe Askins' cinematography is professional, yet, as indicated earlier, not quite up to major studio standards. (This actually works in the film's favor, since the photography gives it a bit of the grit that it so sorely needs.) And Daniel Haller's art direction does give the film a bit of flare. All in all, "Alley" is an entertaining action flick. But if you're looking for grit, you'll have to settle for slickness instead.
THUNDER ALLEY is a 1967 stock car racing drama set in the south and
starring onetime teen idols Fabian and Annette Funicello along with
Warren Berlinger and Diane McBain. What struck me as I watched it is
how similar it is to an Elvis Presley movie. In fact, two of the cast,
Berlinger and McBain, had appeared with Elvis a year earlier in
SPINOUT, which also had a racing theme. If you put Deborah Walley (also
from SPINOUT) in Annette's role of stunt driver (a role better suited
to the spunkier Walley anyway) and put Elvis in Fabian's role and gave
the character a few songs, you would have had a near perfect Elvis
vehicle. And if they'd allowed THUNDER ALLEY's Richard Rush to direct
it (instead of one of the old studio workhorses like Norman Taurog who
pounded out nine Elvis vehicles in the 1960s) and kept the edge to it,
including a hot bedroom scene Fabian has with a very sexy Diane McBain,
it might possibly have taken Elvis in a new direction away from all the
SPEEDWAY, TICKLE ME and DOUBLE TROUBLE-type films he was doing at the
time. Oh well, we can dream, can't we?
(Not that an Elvis-Annette pairing would have been a bad thing either, mind you.)
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