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William Norton

Review: White Lightning

[Originally published in Movietone News 25, September 1973]

The most interesting aspect of White Lightning is the squandering of available authenticity. Thanks to Fouad Said’s Cinemobile systems, there’s nowhere in this country a filmmaking crew can’t go and get a movie in the can. The latest Burt Reynolds venture, set in the Deep South, shores up its careless trashmanship with equally careless but atmospherically persuasive hunks of environment and lifestyle. The constant sheen of sweat on faces, the rotting-alive quality of colors and textures, the sense of both landscapes and society as a vast morass—these are commodities ripe for the taking, and they tend to condone the most accidental of scenarios by lending a general signification to anything that happens. Add to this the South’s conspicuous availability for mythmaking and the lackadaisical narrator is home free.

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Review: Brannigan

[Originally published in Movietone News 41, May 1975]

There’s some terrific supporting material in that cast list, but everybody onscreen looks, and has excellent reason for feeling, pretty embarrassed about the whole thing. Brannigan is the sort of picture that gives John Wayne movies a bad name. Come to think of it, Brannigan is a bad name: it’s locked right in on the monolithic image of Wayne as 110-percent American tough guy with two fists and only one operational brain lobe, and whenever it takes four scriptwriters to come up with that kind of arithmetic, somebody’s in trouble.

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Review: Gator

[Originally published in Movietone News 52, October 1976]

Although I rapped it in MTN 25, the previous Gator McKlusky adventure White Lightning lingers in the memory as a middlin’-competent entry in the fast-driving, grin-and-punch genre of Southern melodrama—nothing to urge on discriminating audiences, but undeserving of particular scorn. Burt Reynolds had yet to be intelligently directed (Aldrich and Bogdanovich were just around the bend) but as long as Joseph Sargent had Ned Beatty, Bo Hopkins, Matt Clark, and Diane Ladd to fall back on, that wasn’t an insuperable liability. Unfortunately, Reynolds has joined the list of superstars who can’t resist the compulsion to direct themselves—and also the list, nearly as long, of superstars who can’t direct. Gator proposes another instance of the slaphappy ’shine-runner McKlusky enlisting—this time under pressure from the authorities—to bust up the countywide crime empire of a baaaad country boy, one Bama McCall, and the film attempts to duplicate the modest success of its predecessor partly by duplicating quite a few of its elements and strategies. The implacable glide of canoes through swamp at the opening of White Lightning, as crooked sheriff Ned Beatty prepared to drown McKlusky’s college-boy brother and a fellow protestor, is reiterated here in the convergence of revenuers’ motorboats on Gator’s familial sanctum among the mangroves, Gator’s several car chases are compressed into a single James Bond–y boat pursuit here (although automotive destructiveness rears its hood in subsequent scenes); Gator gets drunk/drugged in a steamy nighttime sequence again, and director Reynolds even recaps director Sargent’s angular strategies as a smitten female stands poised above the hero and bares her charms.

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