White Lightning An ex con teams up with federal agents to help them with breaking up a moonshine ring. WHITE LIGHTNING never strikes twice – ’cause once is enough! Burt Reynolds is Gator McKlusky, a moonshine runner who wages war against corrupt police officials in this two-fisted, four-wheeling action extravaganza. With adrenaline-pumping car chases, bone-crunching brawls and terrific acting by an all-star cast, including Diane Ladd and Laura Dern, White Lightning will give you the jolt of your life! Gator is serving time in an Arkansas prison when he learns that his brother has been murdered by ruthless Sheriff J.C. Connors (Ned Beatty). Swearing vengeance, Gator agrees to go undercover to expose Connors, going to any lengths to get the goods on the sheriff and make him pay for the crime with his life.
That Authentic Southern Setting
White Lightning Although Burt Reynolds may have been more compelling in “Deliverance” (1972), he does give a fine performance in “White Lightning”, as Gator McKlusky, a Southern good-ole-boy, out of prison to revenge his hippie brother’s murder. And that revenge plot must, of necessity, track to Bogan County Sheriff J.C. Connors (Ned Beatty), who is involved with hillbilly whiskey stills.
Nobody could have been more convincing as a paunchy Southern redneck sheriff than Ned Beatty. Reynolds and Beatty would team up in later years to make at least two more films with a similar tone: “W.W. And The Dixie Dancekings” (1975), and “Stroker Ace” (1983). In “White Lightning”, wonderful Louise Latham makes a semi-cameo appearance as Sheriff Connors’ reliable secretary.
Aside from casting and acting, “White Lightning” has other things going for it, not the least of which is a realistic portrayal of a small Southern town. The authenticity, with its various bubbas who frequent the pool halls, display their guns with pride, and race cars at the local fairgrounds, is striking. And with their big engines, the film’s muscle cars gleefully tear up the pavement with their screeching tires and agile corner turning.
Indeed, those cars are so souped-up they even burn rubber on dirt roads. Oh well, who cares if there’s a minor sound effects plot hole. A more substantive plot hole has Sheriff Connors unfamiliar with the geography of his own county. In particular, he might want to check the map again to note the existence of a large lake at the end of one particular dirt road. Still, his ignorance is our gain as a plot point that proves symmetrically effective.
Plot holes aside, this is a film of dust, dirt, car chases, whiskey stills, the sounds of screeching tires, and some dang good performances. “White Lightning” is worth viewing also for its 1970s nostalgia, and for its authentic Southern setting.