Review: Thunder and Lightning (1977)

>> Saturday, August 13, 2011

USA/C-95m./Dir: Corey Allen/Wr: William Hjortsberg/Cast: David Carradine (Harley Thomas), Kate Jackson (Nancy Sue Hunnicutt), Roger C. Carmel (Ralph Junior Hunnicutt), George Murdock (Jake Summers), Eddie Barth (Rudi Volpone), Claude Earl Jones (Carl), Sterling Holloway (Hobe Carpenter), Patrick Cranshaw (Taylor)

“It’s 250-proof fun!” promised the posters for Thunder and Lightning, a Roger Corman-produced moonshine and car chase quickie. 250-proof? There can be no such thing. 200-proof would indicate 100% alcohol, and it is impossible to have more than 100% of anything. The illogical tag line should have served as a warning to potential ticket buyers, because neither alcohol nor fun is much in evidence in Thunder and Lightning.

A post-Kung-Fu David Carradine stars as Harley Thomas, a hillbilly moonshine runner unofficially engaged to Nancy Sue Hunnicut (Kate Jackson), the daughter of a rich soda pop manufacturer (Roger C. Carmel). In truth, however, Nancy’s father is involved in much more than producing fizzy sugar water. His Honeydew soda plant is a front for a big-time moonshine operation funded by the mob. When Nancy finds out about her father’s dirty dealings, she convinces Harley to help her track down her dad’s latest delivery--a truck full of poison-tainted moonshine. Simultaneously, the mob, upset about the same poisoned brew, sends a couple of hitmen to rub out Nancy’s father. When Harley, Nancy, her father’s thugs, the hitmen, and the state police all speed down the same highway, car crashes, gunfire, and small explosions are sure to follow.

From start to finish, Thunder and Lightning shows all the earmarks of a hastily produced knockoff intended to capitalize on the mainstream success of Smokey and the Bandit (1977). Careful attention is given to any shots that would be used to promote the film. Car and boat chases, pyrotechnics, and even alligator wrasslin’ are all well choreographed and competently shot. However, little effort seems to have been given to any part of the picture that would not directly appear in the trailer.

The script is slapdash. The story jumps haphazardly from one unnecessary complication to another, characters are given actions with little or no motivation behind them, the dialogue is embarrassing, and attempts at humor are pathetic. Instead of a musical score, the film should have been accompanied by the buzzers and horns reserved for game show losers.

The production values are also lacking. The movie appears to have been edited with a hacksaw, making some action set pieces and scene transitions difficult to follow. Worse yet, the sound mix is deplorable. The actor’s voices are often muffled and incomprehensible beneath layers of background noise and music.

Another area of disappointment is the flick’s low alcohol content. Like most white lightning movies, Thunder and Lightning is about transporting liquor rather than consuming it. As a couple of independent moonshiners, Sterling “Winnie the Pooh” Holloway and Patrick “Blue” Cranshaw hoot with orgasmic delight as they ogle their home brew, but they are rudely interrupted before they get a chance to take a taste. Only David Carradine gets to imbibe, downing but a single swig near the beginning of the film. For the remainder of the running time, booze is discussed as a commodity and used as an explosive, instead of being sipped and savored.

The shortcomings of the film can’t be blamed on the cast. David Carradine and Kate Jackson make likeable leads, and it is always a pleasure to see Roger “Harry Mudd” Carmel play a rogue. Character actors such as Eddie Barth and Charles Napier also add a little spice to the brew. However, even the most amiable actors can’t overcome the deficiencies of the script. It should also be noted that none the leads manage to produce a believable Southern accent.

Despite a title that promises the action of the 1958 drive-in phenomenon Thunder Road mixed with a tasty new batch of white lightning, Thunder and Lightning disappoints on all counts. It is a particularly weak brew.

Drinks Consumed--Moonshine (corn whiskey)

Intoxicating Effects--None. No one drinks enough to feel it.

Potent Quotables--HARLEY (taking a swig): Man! That is the best corn I’ve ever tasted.
HOBE: Yeah? Then you better savor every snootful of it. That’s the last cork between us and the temperance society.
HARLEY: Boys, we’ll have another run by the end of the week. You’ll see.

Video Availability--Thunder and Lightning DVD(20th Century Fox)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Another drive-in moonshine action flick was released two months earlier than Thunder and Lightning, the more enjoyable Moonshine County Express.


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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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