>> Tuesday, March 13, 2007
USA/C-101m./Dir: Joseph Sargent/Wr: William W. Norton/Cast: Burt Reynolds (Gator McKlusky), Ned Beatty (Sheriff J.C. Connors), Jennifer Billingsley (Lou), Bo Hopkins (Roy Boone), Matt Clark (Dude Watson), R.G. Armstrong (Big Bear)
Four years before Burt Reynolds transported beer across state lines in Smokey and the Bandit (1977), he hauled moonshine in White Lightning. As the improbably named good ol’ boy, Gator McKlusky, Burt begins this solid actioner in a prison work camp doing time for runnin’ jug liquor and other minor offenses. When he hears of the murder of his baby brother at the hands of crooked county sheriff, J.C. Connors (Ned Beatty), Gator agrees to help the feds build a case against the corrupt lawman in exchange for his walking papers. Being that Connors is filthy with payoffs from the moonshine racket, the feds think Gator is just the man for the job, but bribery and tax evasion charges may not be the kind of justice that Gator has in mind for the no-good sheriff.
White Lightning is a countrified version of the neo-noir films that sprung up in the Seventies, such as director Joseph Sargent’s much better The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). It’s a tight, well-made flick in the typical, realistic Seventies style, with a few first-rate car chases. The acting is also topnotch, Reynolds included. After all, this is the pre-mustache Burt, back when he actually gave a damn about his performance. Of course, as good as he is, Burt can’t hold a candle to Ned Beatty’s wonderfully slimy turn as a bigoted, dishonest sheriff who refuses to change with the times. Beatty is the primary reason to watch White Lightning, because for all its merits, the picture is instantly forgettable.
Like Robert Mitchum’s cult moonshine movie, Thunder Road (1958), White Lightning contains a lot of drivin’ but not much drinkin’. Still, the film deserves a “Booze Movie” mention based on its subject matter alone. All in all, White Lightning is a well-concocted cocktail, but it’s not quite tasty enough to be ordered for a second round.
Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech
Potent Quotables--GATOR: I’m gonna get so goddamned drunk I ain’t gonna know what’s happenin’ when you take me out there on that lake to drown me.
BIG BEAR: You’re gonna have more fun than we are, ain’t ya?
GATOR: Bet your big butt I am.
Video Availability--Unfortunately, White Lightning is only available on DVD in the full frame, pan and scan format (MGM).
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Reynolds reprised the role of Gator McKlusky in the silly sequel, Gator (1976)