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A fun vehicle for one of the 1970s' biggest stars.
Burt Reynolds plays "Gator" McKlusky, a good ol' boy convict who gets word that his younger brother Donny has died. Not only did Donny die, but he was deliberately drowned by a crooked sheriff, J.C. Connors (Ned Beatty). "Gator" decides to cooperate with the Feds in order to get himself out of jail so he can seek revenge. His official mission will be to get the goods on not just Connors, but the moonshiners with whom he does business.
In general, "White Lightning" is no great shakes, but it's certainly a pleasant and watchable enough rural action flick. If it does one thing well, it's that it showcases the charms of its star in fine fashion. Burt is engaging, and the strong supporting cast is a big asset. Beatty actually underplays the role of the antagonist, never turning him into the kind of cartoon character we might otherwise see in movies of this type. Jennifer Billingsley adds substantial sex appeal as Lou, the gal who turns Gators' head. First rate character actors and actresses such as Bo Hopkins, Matt Clark, Louise Latham, Diane Ladd, R.G. Armstrong, Dabbs Greer, John Steadman, and Iris Korn all contribute heavily. Buffs should note that Ladds' daughter Laura Dern appears in a couple of shots; it was her film debut.
The flavourful score by Charles Bernstein is most enjoyable, and the filmmakers get great use out of various Arkansas locations. Joseph Sargent ("Colossus: The Forbin Project", "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three") does a fine job with the first unit direction, but it's really Hal Needhams' deft handling of the action sequences that bring "White Lightning" to life at just the right times. William W. Norton wrote the screenplay, creating a convincing milieu where traditional Southerners mistrust the current young generation of hippies and protesters. There are some poignant interludes with Gator & Lou, and at a home for unwed mothers.
Fine entertainment for devotees of old drive-in movies.
Seven out of 10.
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