Grady and Bobby Lee Hagg (played by Kiel Martin and Jame Mitchum) are just some good ol’ boys, never meaning no harm, but they’ve still been in trouble with the law since they day they were born. They live in rural Georgia, on a farm owned by their Uncle Jesse (Arthur Hunnicutt). Uncle Jesse’s an expert on two things: the Bible and how to brew the best whiskey. Uncle Jesse is moonshiner with integrity. No one knows his formula and he won’t sell his moonshine to just anyone. He doesn’t want anything to do with the New York mob and their efforts to move in on the moonshine racket.
Uncle Jesse’s main rival is Jake Rainey (George Ellis), the corpulent county commissioner who used to be Jesse’s business partner but who now is in league with the Mafia. Jake and the Hagg boys have a rivalry that is sometimes friendly but still dangerous. Helping Jake control the county is a formerly honest lawman named Rosco P. Coltrane (Bruce Atkins).
The Hagg boys are on probation so they can’t leave the county and they can’t carry guns. Instead, they hunt with bow and arrow. They drive a fast car that they’ve named Traveller (after General Lee’s horse). Grady dreams of going to Nashville with Beth Anne Eubanks (Chris Forbes) and becoming a country music star. Bobby is a laid back race car driver who is having an affair with Jake Rainey’s wife.
The film follows the Hagg boys as they transport moonshine, outrun the police, and occasionally get into bar fights. The movie was shot on location on Georgia, features several car chases, and it’s narrated by country singer Waylon Jennings.
Moonrunners was filmed in 1973 but not released until 1975. It didn’t get much attention when it was released but it did go on to inspire a television series called The Dukes of Hazzard. Even considering the show’s popular success and current cult status, Moonrunners is still a largely unknown film. (It’s so obscure that Warner Bros. was reportedly shocked to discover that they were required to pay several million in royalties to the film’s producers before they could move ahead with their own film adaptation of The Dukes of Hazzard.) However, Moonrunners is superior to The Dukes of Hazzard in every way.
Of course, being better than The Dukes of Hazzard may seem like a low bar to clear but Moonrunners is still one of the better moonshiner films out there. The car chases are genuinely exciting and well-filmed and the cast feels authentic. Arthur Hunnicutt and George Ellis both seem like they naturally belong next to a still while James Mitchum and Kiel Martin are well-paired as Grady and Bobby Lee. Mitchum, in particular, channels the laconic charisma of his father, Robert. Not surprisingly, Moonracers is far rougher and has more of an edge than The Dukes of Hazzard. The TV show may have been for kids but the movie is not.
It’s a B-movie, of course. The soundtrack, which is full of outlaw country, is sometimes obtrusive. I burst out laughing at the film’s most dramatic moment because Waylon Jennings suddenly started singing a song called “Whiskey Man.” The DVD release appears to have been copied straight from a VHS tape so the images were often grainy. It’s not a perfect movie but I still enjoyed Moonrunners for what it was, a celebration of fast cars, pretty girls, and rebellious attitudes. Your collection of car chase films is incomplete without it!