A year after co-starring in Deliverance, Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty reunited for another movie about life in the backwoods, White Lightning.
White Lightning starts with two hippies, bound and gagged and floating in a canoe. While a banjo plays in the background, two rednecks use a shotgun to blow the canoe into pieces. They watch as the hippies drown in the swamp. It turns out that one of those hippies was the brother of legendary moonshiner and expert driver, Gator McCluskey (Reynolds). Gator is doing time but when he hears that his brother has been murdered, he immediately realizes that he was probably killed on the orders of corrupt Sheriff J. C. Connors (Ned Beatty). The Feds arrange for Gator to be released from prison, on the condition that he work undercover and bring them enough evidence that they can take Connors down.
Back home, Gator works with a fellow informant, Dude Watson (Matt Clark), teams up with local moonshiner, Roy Boone (Bo Hopkins), and has an affair with Roy’s girl, Lou (Jennifer Billingsley). Connors and his main henchman, Big Bear (R.G. Armstrong) both suspect that Gator and Dude are working for the government. Since this is a Burt Reynolds movie, it all ends with a car chase.
A classic of its kind and a huge box office success, White Lightning set the template for almost every other film that Burt Reynolds made in the 1970s and 80s. There is not much to the movie beyond Burt’s good old boy charm and Ned Beatty’s blustering villainy but if you’re in the mood for car chases and Southern scenery, White Lightning might be the movie for you. Joseph Sargent also directed the New York crime classic, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and he gives White Lightning an edginess that would be lacking from many of Burt Reynolds’s later movies.
For tomorrow’s movie a day, it’s the sequel to White Lightning (and Burt Reynolds’s directorial debut), Gator.