White Lightning, go White Lightning
Before Burt was The Bandit, he was “Gator” McKlusky, who is serving time in an Arkansas prison for running moonshine. After he learns his younger brother Donny was killed in Bogan County, Gator strikes a deal with the warden to go undercover for the federal government. His mission is to expose Bogan County’s Sheriff, J.C. Connors (Ned Beatty) for taking kickbacks from a moonshine ring, but Gator is really looking for revenge. Gator knows his brother was not killed, but murdered, and Sheriff Connors is suspect number one.
Steven Speilberg worked on White Lightning for three months before deciding to leave to do his own film, Sugarland Express. No biggie. We got Joesph Sargent to replace him. Sargent is way less famous, but he was coming off directing the most underrated film to come out of the ’70s, The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three.
White Lightning is a little muddled at times as it tries to juggle three genres: action, comedy, and thriller all at the same time. But in the end, you have a pretty decent ride with plenty of real car stunts that seemed to only exist in films before shaky cameras and a bajillion edits took over.
I’m partial to watching ordinary cars supped up to do extraordinary things, so naturally, I loved seeing Burt give this 1971 Ford Custom 500’s suspension a real workout!
If you watched the clip, you got a small taste of White Lightning’s two big highlights. One is the professional driving of Hal Needham, whose stunts include landing the Ford on a moving barge. He nearly killed himself as he barely made it during the first and only take, so that is what you see in the film.
The 2nd is Ned Beatty’s performance. He is really the unsung hero. He plays the antagonist perfectly as you end up hating him for all the right reasons.
White Lightning made a ton of dough at the box office in 1973 and a sequel, Gator was made but it isn’t nearly as good. It leans heavily into the comedy and Ned Beatty is sorely missed. But it is still a fun watch with some major stunt work happening. TCM puts them on during the overnights sometimes, so I recommend setting your PVR. Both are [MarsApproved].