Reviewing Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds last fall, I did my fair share of slobbering over the movie but didn't go into much detail when it came to the soundtrack. An avid movie buff, Tarantino sampled a long list of scores from previous movies -- including a heavy dose of Ennio Morricone and spaghetti westerns -- that ranged from critically acclaimed French movies to lesser thought of average flicks. What was so surprising was that almost all these scores that were made for other movies worked so well in Tarantino's WWII story.
Not intentionally seeking these movies out, I've caught up with many of them and more than a few times have thought 'why does this music sound familiar?' while watching. Give the man credit, he knows how to put a sountrack together. The latest track I can cross off the list is from 1973's White Lightning with a soundtrack from composer Charles Bernstein. Listen HERE to the main theme that Tarantino used in 'Inglorious Basterds.'
Bernstein's main theme sets the tone just seconds into White Lightning in a great scene that plays along with the credits. Two men are rowing a boat out in the swamp with a second boat tied behind them. In that second boat, two teenagers are gagged and cuffed to an anchor lying on the floor. One of the men in the lead boat pulls a shotgun up and blasts a hole in the second boat, sending the two boys to their painful deaths. At a work camp/prison upstate, one prisoner, Gator McCluskey (Burt Reynolds) receives news that his brother is dead and no one knows how it happened.
A longtime whiskey runner, Gator is no fool and can figure out what happened -- of course he doesn't know that his younger brother was one of the two in the boat. He cuts a deal with the government to work as an informant and try to bring the Bogan County sheriff, J.C. Connors (Ned Beatty), down for years of corruption and overstepping his bounds of the office. Gator signs on with another moonshine runner, Roy Boone (Bo Hopkins), and starts to work for the big supplier in the county, Big Bear (R.G. Armstrong). It's not long before Connors figures out Washington has a snoop in town, but can Gator get enough information on him to take him down before he gets whacked?
Moonshine in the deep South has been handled all sorts of ways in popular culture, as comedy in TV shows like The Andy Griffith Show and seriously like in Thunder Road with Robert Mitchum. White Lightning falls somewhere in between with comedic and dramatic moments. Gator takes the job as an informant only as a means to exact some revenge, but he doesn't seem to be in any rush to take that revenge. He does some moonshining, some driving, romances Boone's girl Lou (Jennifer Billingsley) and generally enjoys himself now that he's out of prison.
A few exciting car chases make the movie worthwhile including some crazy stunts, one that almost ended disastrously when a car tried to jump a pier onto a barge floating down the river. These chases are basically the Dukes of Hazard before that show was around, so imagine fast cars gunning it across country backroads with cops hot on their tail. Not a paved road in sight as sand, dirt and dust gets kicked up all over the South. Reynolds, Hopkins and Beatty all look to have done a fair share of their own stunt driving which is always nice to see instead of an obviously inserted stuntman.
This 'rednecks and cars' movie was released a year after the huge success of Deliverance so Reynolds was becoming a huge star at the time. I'd never say he was a great actor, but he's a great movie star. His parts always had a lot of presence, and Reynolds was a more than capable comedic action star. A part that required him to be a smart-ass who's always ready with a punch or a one-liner was ideal for him, and this fits in that category. The rest of the cast is one of those typically 70s casts that just makes me happy. Hopkins and Armstrong are joined by Matt Clark as Dude Watson, Gator's source and mechanic. All great supporting actors that were never huge stars but nonetheless make a movie better just by being there. And Beatty as the villain, who would have thought a little, balding, pudgy guy could be so intimidating, but he pulls it off.
A harmless enough movie that's a good way to spend a couple hours. Fast cars, sometimes faster women, boozing and corrupt cops. That sounds like an entertaining movie to me. I liked it enough to watch the sequel that came out three years later, named appropriately enough 'Gator.' If interested in checking this one out, Hulu has it available to watch, click HERE.
White Lightning <----trailer (1973) ** 1/2 /****