Friday, September 09, 2016

Moonshine County Express

New World Pictures released this goodnatured PG-rated car chase picture, one of the better examples of “hicksploitation” dotting drive-ins in the wake of MACON COUNTY LINE and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. Producer Ed Carlin had an advantage — he had worked for New World in the studio’s sales department — and he and director Gus Trikonis (formerly married to Goldie Hawn) had made the successful THE SWINGING BARMAIDS and THE STUDENT BODY together. MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS, which carried the title SHINE through production, was a bigger hit than both and led to them also making THE EVIL for New World.

John Saxon (ENTER THE DRAGON), in all likelihood a little mature for the role, is nonetheless charming as J.B. Johnson, a wiseass, cop-taunting racecar driver caught in a turf war between fat, evil Jack Starkey (William Conrad, shooting during a CANNON hiatus) and the sexy Hammer sisters: Dot (PETROCELLI wife Susan Howard), Betty (busy drive-in star Claudia Jennings), and Sissy (Brady girl Maureen McCormick), from oldest to youngest. You can guess which side J.B. takes.

Ya see, Starkey wants to be the county’s number-one bootlegger, so he sends his goons to wipe out his competition: the Hammer girls’ father Pap (Fred Foresman). Wisely, the old man left behind a secret stash of the finest shine around, and with J.B. behind the wheel delivering the stuff two steps ahead of dim sheriff Larkin (Albert Salmi, Howard’s PETROCELLI co-star) and Starkey’s main gunsel Sweetwater (Morgan Woodward), the Hammers have a leg up. But Starkey doesn’t accept defeat so easily.

With Saxon burnin’ rubber and breakin’ rules and tradin’ romantic banter with Howard, MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS is good fun. Trikonis delivers plenty of action, and screenwriters Hugh Smith (whose BLACK OAK CONSPIRACY New World released the same month) and Daniel Ansley nicely imbue their characters with a bit of dimension beyond the usual B-movie stiffs, such as making the sheriff a neat freak or giving teenage Sissy a small crush on J.B. None of this is meant to be taken too seriously, but setting the blustery Conrad’s Starkey against three women carries a welcome feminist theme, while still allowing audiences to gawk at girls in tight shorts.

Speaking of, exploitation fan favorite Candice Rialson (HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD) appears in a supporting role, as do venerable character actors Dub Taylor, Len Lesser, and Jeff Corey as a corrupt preacher. Jennings, unfortunately, had only two more films in her future before dying prematurely in a Pacific Coast Highway crash two years later at the age of 30. MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS also benefits from location shooting in Nevada County, California. One year after its 1977 theatrical release, CBS scored big ratings with MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS in prime time and then ran it on THE CBS LATE MOVIE in 1979 and 1981.

1 comment:

Grant said...

Len Lesser was such a prolific character actor that this wouldn't even be his only film about moonshiners and race drivers. He played a comical hillbilly character in FIREBALL 500, one of those odd beach movie off-shoots that William Asher was making when he wasn't making actual beach movies.