Also known as: McKlusky (working title)
Release Date: August 8th, 1973
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
Written by: William W. Norton
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Bo Hopkins, Jennifer Billingsley, Diane Ladd, R.G. Armstrong, Laura Dern (uncredited)
United Artists, 101 Minutes
“I was tryin’ to save these two buddies of mine from getting knocked up by a homosexual.” – Gator McKlusky
White Lightning is a decent movie but not anything exceptional. Yet it still holds a special place in history because it’s popularity would help it to kick off a new type of film genre in the 1970s. Without this, we might not have had all those other car and trucker movies. Hell, who knows what Burt Reynolds would have done had he not carved out his place in history with this sort of role.
This took that ’70s whitesploitation shtick and made it mainstream. This was a film put out by a major studio and had some semblance of a budget compared to the similar grindhouse pictures of the time.
Burt Reynolds, himself, referred to the film as “…the beginning of a whole series of films made in the South, about the South and for the South. No one cares if the picture was ever distributed north of the Mason-Dixon Line because you could make back the cost of the negative just in Memphis alone. Anything outside of that was just gravy. It was a well done film. Joe Sargent is an excellent director. He’s very, very good with actors. And it had some marvelous people in it whom nobody had seen before. Ned Beatty for example. I had to fight like hell to get Ned in the film.”
The film had a pretty good score done by Charles Bernstein, who would make that famous A Nightmare On Elm Street theme a decade later. The score here may sound familiar to fans of Quentin Tarantino, as he reused some of it for his Kill Bill films.
Reynolds was pretty good as Gator McKlusky and he would get to return as a character in the sequel Gator, three years later.
The plot sees Gator initially try to breakout of an Arkansas prison but his attempt is foiled. He then works out a deal to bring down a crooked Sheriff, who is responsible for murdering his brother. Gator wants revenge, the system wants justice and everyone loves moonshine and fast cars.
White Lightning isn’t my favorite film in the genre it helped popularize but it is still worth revisiting from time to time due to its cultural significance and because well, Burt Reynolds is cool. Although, I prefer him alongside Jerry Reed.