Famous character actor R.G. Armstrong has died. Born April 7th, 1917 in Pleasant Grove, Alabama, Mr. Armstrong was known to readers of this site for his work in such horror genre titles as CHILDREN OF THE CORN, PREDATOR, THE BEAST WITHIN (a personal favorite), EVIL SPEAK, THE WAKING aka KEEPER OF SOULS, DEVIL DOG: THE HOUND OF HELL, THE CAR, RACE WITH THE DEVIL, & a continuing role on FRIDAY THE 13th: THE SERIES. He was also known for having a role in the Spaghetti Western MY NAME IS NOBODY, and such southern fried, Dirty South (click the link to White Lightning for a definition of that term) favorites as WHITE LIGHTNING (another personal favorite…I LOVE that movie), WHITE LINE FEVER (one of the better trucker sub-genre movies out there), & DIXIE DYNAMITE. He also had a few roles on one of my favorite television shows growing up, THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.
He was 95 years old. Whether good or evil, he always played an interesting character, and he will be missed.
Well, what can I say, I’m a sucker for pretty much any movie set in the great American South (my home). Well, any movie that’s worth a damn that is. I’m particularly fond of the “Southern Gothic” sort, or what I like to call the “Dirty South” style of moviemaking. Any film that shows the other side of the idealized southern charm so often seen in so many shitty flicks. Any film that portrays moonshinin’, runnin’ from the cops, crazy backwoods antics (Southern Comfort, Deliverance), and darker southern films like Slingblade. These are movies I can really just sit down, have a beer, kick back, and enjoy.
White Lightning (one of the magnificent early works of a young Burt Reynolds) falls perfectly into that category of Dirty South. Burt Reynolds plays Gator McKlusky, an Arkansas moonshiner serving some time in the pen for running bootleg whiskey. While in jail, Gator finds out that his little brother was murdered by some small town asshole sheriff by the name of J.C. Connors (played beautifully by Ned Beatty who worked with Burt Reynolds in 1972’s Deliverance) because he was hangin’ around with some “damn dirty hippies.” Enraged, ‘ol Gator tries at first to break out of prison, but he gets caught and put on the chain gang diggin’ ditches. Exasperated, he does what no moonshiner should ever do, he makes a deal with the Feds (tantamount to sellin’ your soul to the devil for these boys).
He makes it clear to the Feds that he has no intention of takin’ down the good ‘ol boys out trying to make a living off of moonshine, but that he’s after Sheriff Connors who has been extorting money from just about everyone in town and running his police force like a gestapo unit. If anyone crosses Sheriff Connors, they find themselves at the bottom of an old swamp, weighted down with cinder blocks. Gator’s not going to be intimidated, however. He’s out for revenge. Once out of the slammer, he gets in good with a local moonshining outfit in order to work his way up and get some evidence against Sheriff Connors. Along the way there’s plenty of Hard Drinkin’, Hard Fightin’, Hard Lovin’, and Hard Drivin’, with enough car chases and moonshine to make the Duke Boys proud.
This movie was one hell of a good time to watch. The acting was actually believable (which seems to be a pretty hard thing to do, trying to convince a southerner like me). Watching some of the characters on screen reminded me a lot of the characters I grew up around in Mt. Pleasant, NC (my home town). The film also seemed to use real southern locations. One thing that’s always annoyed the piss out of me is movies set in “the south” when you can tell it’s California. The Dukes Of Hazzard, while being one of my favorite shows, suffered from this. It was supposed to be set in the mountains of Georgia, and in the first few episodes of the first season, it was, but then you can tell, from the barren, dusty hills in the background, that the rest of the show is set in California doubling for Georgia. But I digress.
This flick has it all: Fast Cars, Faster Women, Moonshining, Fighting, Shootouts, Car Chases. I’m gonna head on over to Deep Discount DVD and buy a copy (as I got a copy for review from one of the last bastions of hope, a sort of hole in the wall video store that still carries a shit-ton of old VHS flicks you’d be hard pressed to find at any of the chain video rental places). If you like this site, you’ll most definitely love WHITE LIGHTNING. Check out the trailer below, along with the poster and a clip from the movie: