A CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY OF MOONSHINE MOVIES
( Apologies to any films I haven’t mentioned/seen/have any knowledge of.)!
This cult classic (in parts of the
As a blueprint and inspiration for all that followed, however, this is fascinating viewing and is definitely worth seeking out.
1970 Bloody Mama
This was master film-maker Roger Corman’s take on the earlier ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, and stars Shelley Winters as a decidedly twisted Mother of several criminal young men(one of whom is played by Robert DeNiro). Fast moving, bloody and violent; this isn’t a Moonshine movie as such, but the car-chases all have that familiar banjo-twanging soundtrack, and it was filmed and set in the American South.
1973 White Lightening.
This is an unknown little gem. A young Burt Reynolds stars as convicted Moonshine-runner Gator McClusky, released early so as to work undercover in bringing a corrupt southern Sheriff (is there any other kind?) to justice.
This is Reynolds without a moustache and looking trim, so the film has a fairly serious tone throughout; nonetheless, Reynolds’ charm shines through and the chase sequences are lengthy and superb, with a splendid use of real locations and action that does it’s best to remain plausible (and is more gripping as a result). The characterisations are superb as well, especially the brief scene of Gator and his father, which really rings true.
Ned Beatty as the Sheriff is simply one of the most evil characters ever depicted on film, and his come-uppance at the end is nothing short of brilliant. A classic of its type.
1974 Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry
This story of a small-time bank robber on the run with his best pal and a rather kooky ‘one-night stand’ who comes along for the ride is revered by some people, but is actually rubbish. A well-directed opening 10 minutes gives way to a tedious sequence of chases involving thoroughly smug and unlikeable people(there is also a pompous Sheriff thrown in for good measure).The stunts are well performed and the chases are pacy, but the whole story is woefully thin and goes on for far too long. Susan George is appallingly mis-cast (was she the current girlfriend of the films Director, I wonder?),and Peter Fonda (although less wooden than usual) spends far too much of his time grinning pointlessly.
Only the genuinely unexpected ending lifts this film above the ordinary, and is undoubtedly the reason why so many people have fond recollections.
Gy Waldron’s prototype for the Dukes of Hazzard (with many of the same characters) this is a fascinatingly authentic slice of Southern Moonshine melodrama, but disconcertingly raw for fans of the resultant series, especially as the film ends in tragedy. The cousins are far more bohemian here than Bo and Luke, and the chases are realistc and superbly handled. Worth watching more as a curiosity than a classic movie.
A disappointing sequel to ‘White Lightening’, this suffers from having far too many changes of pace and mood; in fact, it’s positively schizophrenic! One moment you have a huge and zany ‘Bond-like’ chase sequence with jet-boats flying through the air; the next, people are gratuitously killed by thugs wielding shotguns. Some scenes are uncomfortably close to the bone (teenage prostitutes taking drugs),others are pure slapstick (the attempted robbery involving lots of cats). While the film builds to a good action Finale, for the most part it potters along without any obvious direction.
It’s biggest strength, though, is the villainous Bama McCall (Jerry Reed),who is every bit as despicable as the Ned Beatty character from White Lightening.
Another ‘quicky’ from Roger Corman, this is a breezy and inoffensively stereotypical Southern yarn, in which everything you expect to happen, sure enough, does. A solid B-Movie cast performs with gusto, and the chase sequences through woods and mountain roads are fun and furious.
It’s a little difficult to track down, but worth watching.
1977 Smokey and the Bandit.
For many people, this is an all-time classic. It certainly benefits from having a far bigger budget than any of the other movies in this genre, and is good hearty fun; but the chase sequences are not especially original, and the stunts (although glossy)not particularly innovative. It’s carried along by Burt Reynolds’ effortless charm.
1977 Thunder and Lightening
Roger Corman strikes again! But wait…what’s this?? A bigger budget? Extravagant stunt sequences? Possibly in an attempt to outdo Smokey and the Bandit, the simple Moonshining story is given a larger cash injection than expected, and the result is a series of daring and occasionally jaw-dropping car chase sequences. The highlight must surely be the hero’s car (an old Chevrolet) flying off the roof of one building, landing on the roof of another, crashing through the ceiling into a car show-room underneath, driving through the shop window, and racing off down the street pursued by a squad of police cars. Far more spectacular than anything the Bandit ever tried to do!
Unfortunately, the bits between the chases are soggy, predictable and lack any kind of spark.
1980 Smokey and the Bandit II
This barely sneaks into the list, as Moonshine doesn’t appear anywhere; but it’s so closely connected to its predecessor that it would be unfair not to mention it. The ‘illegal cargo’ in this instance is an Elephant; the comedy is far broader, and everyone concerned in the production seems to be having a great good time. Once again, the chase scenes are generally below standard; but the action Finale is something else! A huge and overblown orgy of auto-destructiveness which is shamelessly enjoyable.
1983 Smokey and the Bandit III
No Burt Reynolds in this one, bar a short cameo at the end. This is Jackie Gleason’s movie (he played the inept Sheriff in the previous two Bandit pictures), and he plays it to the hilt. This undoubtedly ups the ante as far as chases and crashes go (some of which are of an extremely high standard) but it’s hollow and empty stuff. Definitely dredging up the bottom of the Moonshine Barrel!