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UPDATE: I've seen 'The Moonshine War' only once, on late-night television with commercial breaks. After I originally posted this review, another IMDb contributor posted a review stating that I missed major plot points in the film. My review of this movie is based on the version I saw, which was edited for television. Some plot points may have been excised to make room for more commercials.
I'm very much a fan of Patrick McGoohan, and I admire his penchant for playing a widely varying range of roles, so I eagerly anticipated one of McGoohan's usual tour-de-force performances in 'The Moonshine War'. I was disappointed, not only by McGoohan but by the entire film.
Patrick McGoohan (born in the United States but raised in Ireland) uses his American accent here as a "revenooer" (federal agent) in the Ozarks during the Depression, tracking a family of moonshiners. Alan Alda, with a Li'l Abner cornpone accent, plays the eldest son in the family: not the leader, but it's clear he's going to inherit leadership after the patriarch dies.
I was keenly anticipating a battle of wits (and dirty tricks) between Alda and McGoohan. I was disappointed. Alda's hillbilly keeps outflanking and outwitting McGoohan's federal agent all through the film. McGoohan is subjected to all sorts of humiliating defeats. This movie is the closest Patrick McGoohan ever came to playing Wile E. Coyote: the guy who loses every engagement keeps coming back for more punishment ... and keeps losing again.
It doesn't help that Alda's character and his relations (who are all criminals) are all depicted sympathetically, while McGoohan's character (a low-paid agent in a dangerous job, putting his neck on the line with no back-up, to enforce the law) is depicted unsympathetically. We're meant to cheer for Alda each time he humiliates McGoohan.
The screenplay is by Elmore Leonard, based on his novel. I don't much fancy Elmore Leonard, but friends of mine who are Leonard fans have told me that this movie is a good example of his work.
Some of the local colour in this movie truly irritated me, such as the heavy-set waitress who can't pronounce "Coca-Cola" correctly: she keeps calling it "Co'Cola". After I saw this movie, I learnt (from someone who grew up in the Deep South) that the film is actually quite accurate in its details. In Georgia, where Coca-Cola's corporate headquarters are located, they really do call it "Co'Cola".
"The Moonshine War" was directed by Richard Quine, a former actor who became a (slightly better than average) director with several excellent films to his credit. Quine eventually directed Peter Sellers in the remake of "The Prisoner of Zenda" and in "The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu". Reliable reports state that Sellers bullied Quine unmercifully throughout production of both films, and Quine was permanently traumatised by the experience. This was probably a major factor in Quine's eventual suicide.
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