Burt Reynolds is out for justice in WHITE LIGHTNING
“I was born ready!”
In the early 70s, then up and coming star Burt Reynolds made a string of genre classics including Deliverance, Fuzz and Shamus. White Lightning, released in 1973, is a Hixploitation gem with Burt playing Gator McKlusky an Arkansas moonshiner turned prison convict. While in the big house, Gator learns that his younger brother Donny, a civil rights activist has been murdered by slimy, corrupt police Sheriff J.C. Conners (Ned Beatty). Gator’s seething need for revenge leads him to make a deal with the government to help them take down the illegal liquor ring The Sheriff is secretly benefitting from in return for clemency. Upon his release Gator is given a supercharged muscle car that he drives back to his old stomping grounds and immediately begins creating a ruckus. His plan is to infiltrate the moonshiner organization and get hard evidence of Conner’s involvement. His contact in the underworld is his old pal Roy Boone (Bo Hopkins) an easy goin’ dude just tryin to get by. Gator also meets Roy’s girlfriend Lou (Jennifer Billingsley) a blonde haired belle who he ends up having a fling with right under Roy’s nose. Gator knocks down doors and gives the dirty rednecks (including Conners) what fer, bringing his own kind of destructive, one man justice to the assignment he’s tasked to do.
This film marked the beginning of Burt’s car chase phase and there’s lots of high octane sequences featured that action fans will love. He would go on to make his most famous entries in the carsploitation genre with Smokey and the Bandit and The Cannonball Run in the late 70s/early 80s. Burt directed the sequel to this movie entitled Gator in 1976 and while it’s another entertaining Southern fried action movie done in the same style, I consider the first film to be the best.
White Lightning was originally set up to be Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut but he left the project and Joseph Sargent who had previously made Colossus: The Forbin Project, Tribes and The Man took over. Sargent followed this film with another furious classic we love The Taking of Pelham 123. The screenplay was written by B.W. Norton who specialized in B-films and penned such cult titles as Day of the Animals, A Small Town in Texas, Big Bad Mama and I Dismember Mama among others.
This is one of Burt’s early cult classics showing him at his southern good ol boy best. His sense of humor and cool personality are two big reasons why the film is so entertaining and still holds up 41 years later. For people who aren’t familiar with his legendary status as a star during this era, White Lightning (along with Deliverance) would be a great place to start in appreciating his work.