Review: Thunder and Lightning

[Originally published in Movietone News 58-59, August 1978]

Corey Allen is best remembered as the Nick Ray actor whose sleeve got hung up on a car door handle during the chickie run in Rebel without a Cause. Last year he directed a Roger Corman programmer about moonshiners and badder cats in the B-movie South where cheerful corruption is about as plentiful and as conspicuous as sweat on a fat red neck. It was called Thunder and Lightning and, to the best of my knowledge, it never saw service in the greater Seattle area until this summer, when it was laid on as second feature to another 20th Century–Fox release with revving engines in it, The Driver. I trust no one will be overprimed with anticipation if I suggest that Thunder and Lightning is probably the most slaphappily endearing low comedy since Russ Meyer’s The Seven Minutes; on the other hand, other self-flattering slummers like me who can handle that sort of endorsement are advised to file the title away and take note of it if and when it fills out another double bill in the future.

Not that Allen is up to Maestro Meyer’s level of either leering double-entendre or hypercharged cinematic firepower. But he surely does keep this movie in motion, he has a robust sense of outrageous improbability and (low, always low) comic counterpoint, and his setups consistently exhibit an aggressive conviction that action should be developed as integrally as possible. This last holds true whether Allen is letting a situation grow within a single shot or giving editor Anthony Redman wittily precise bits and pieces to shape into energetic and often surprising montages. The plot is a dimwitted thing about an independent shinerunner (David Carradine) who delights in busting up the operations of his bigger—indeed, Mafia-connected—competitors while romancing the daughter (Kate Jackson) of their local kingpin, on the surface a soft-drink bottler named Hunnicutt (Roger C. Carmel) whose legit product is self-servingly labeled Honey Dew. Allen treats the scenario and its grotesquely improbable complications with insouciance rather than contempt (as a ferinstance, Carradine must succumb to a rudimentary social consciousness in determining to prevent the distribution of a truckload of rotgut seasoned with battery acid). What takes a little getting used to is his encouraging the entire cast to play their roles about as broadly as the propwash from a swamp buggy, but once one accepts this as a deliberate device and not a desperate concession to thespian incompetence (though in Jackson’s case the latter reading may be the correct one), this gives rise to an enjoyable preposterousness a good deal more satisfying than, say, the queasy blending of guignol grotesquerie and sympathy-craving sentimentalizing in Burt Reynolds’ Gator. It remains to be seen—and I hope we get a chance to see—what Corey Allen can do with more substantial material; meanwhile, credit Roger Corman with giving a first chance to one more promising director.

RTJ

© 1978 Richard T. Jameson

THUNDER AND LIGHTNING
Direction: Corey Allen. Screenplay: William Hjortsberg. Cinematography: James Pergola. Editing: Anthony Redman. Production: Roger Corman.
The players: David Carradine, Kate Jackson, Roger C. Carmel, George Murdock, Charles Napier, Ed Barth, Sterling Holloway.

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.


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