White Lightning (1973)
The title refers to clear-coloured moonshine, which Burt Reynolds and just about everybody else are involved in making and running in this often enjoyable and surprisingly interesting film. White Lightning is now often referred to as Burt's first of many hick flicks: films set in the rural south of the USA, and often involving uneducated characters and plenty of car chases. Smokey and the Bandit, released four years after this one, was the pinnacle of these films, and there are several foreshadowings of things to come in White Lightning, as Burt is honing his famous screen persona. A screen persona which during the 1970s and 1980s was about as bankable and recognizable as Charlie Chaplin's The Tramp was during the 1920s and 1930s. These were personas which remained largely the same over several films and characters. And this worked, because they proved to be so remarkably identifiable for most viewers - and had unusually charismatic actors to bring them into life.
Despite this, White Lightning cannot boast the same formal and stylistic confidence as Smokey. Director Joseph Sargent alternates between stern realism and simple car chasing fun. And this goes for Burt's character as well. One moment he seems deeply affected by the dire straits he's in, the next he's just enjoying it all. There's depth to his character here, and Burt shows he can handle a wider range of emotions, but his troubles are too easily brushed aside, too easily fixed by Sargent, who's always making sure the viewer only invests small portions of emotion before getting some sort of release or payoff. As such, the film turns out to be a kind of hybrid between Deliverance (particularly the opening scene) and Smokey and the Bandit, without ever being able to match either.