Running Time: 90 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Directed by Jonathan Kaplan (TRUCK TURNER, BAD GIRLS, PROJECT X, BROKEDOWN PALACE, 40 episodes of ER). Written by Kaplan and Ken Friedman (JOHNNY HANDSOME, HEART LIKE A WHEEL). Starring Jan-Michael Vincent (AIRWOLF, HOOPER, THE MECHANIC, John Flynn's DEFIANCE), Kay Lenz (AMERICAN GRAFFITI, BIG WEDNESDAY, HOUSE), L.Q. Jones (THE WILD BUNCH, CASINO, BULLETPROOF), Dick Miller (BUCKET OF BLOOD, GREMLINS, EXPLORERS), Slim Pickens (DR. STRANGELOVE, POOR PRETTY EDDIE), R.G. Armstrong (PREDATOR, BULLETPROOF, CHILDREN OF THE CORN, THE FUGITIVE KIND), Sam Laws (TRUCK TURNER, WALKING TALL, THE FURY), Don Porter (YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE, THE RACKET), Leigh French (HALLOWEEN II, TALK RADIO). Music by David Nichtern (THE BIG PICTURE, THE SPIRIT OF '76). Costumes by Lambert Marks (MURDER SHE WROTE, THE MECHANIC, CATCH-22).
Tag-line: "Carrol Jo Hummer--A working man who's had enough!"
Best one-liner: "Don't sass me, you little sonofabitch!"
I had the pleasure of seeing this a few nights ago at the Anthology Film Archives' annual festival, "William Lustig Presents." Many reviews on this site, and indeed many of my favorite movies have been featured at Lustig's series– from ROLLING THUNDER to THE OUTFIT to THE STONE KILLER to DARK OF THE SUN. I urge anyone in the New York area to check out some of these flicks on the big screen- and you just might spot, wandering in and out of the screenings, that steadfast, jovial icon of gritty NYC and true soldier of cinema, Bill Lustig himself! This review shall take the form of a conversation in a squalid Alphabet City alleyway, populated by smoking piles of trash and busted-up, empty cans of Schlitz (and possibly continued from HERE):
"Psssst. Hey bud- you get a kick out those Weng Wengs I hooked you up with?"
–"Yeh, they sure did the trick. I still need to digest 'em. How'd you get your hands on 'em?"
"I got myself a French connection."
–"Oh, yeah? Well, whaddya got today?"
"Trucker movies, my friend. Rare trucker movies. Perfect for those hot summer evenings of chirping crickets and ice cold tall-boys."
–"You got TRUCKIN' BUDDY MCCOY?"
"Sadly, no. But I'll do you one better: WHITE LINE FEVER."
"We got a 'docudrama'-style opening. A trucker being interviewed for the local news. Says he's beholden to the banks and the freight companies. Says he carries a gun in case they try and take his truck. Says 'You never know until you're put to the test.' Wise words... and you'd do well to keep 'em in mind. Next up- I love these 70's movies- we got a montage and family album style opening credits sequence. We get all the exposition we need in about a minute and a haff. Soldier boy Jan-Michael Vincent (as Carrol Jo Hummer) comes home to his sweetie-pie, Kay Lenz (as the newly minted Mrs. Jerri Kane Hummer). They're just tryin' to eke out a livin'. Carrol Jo picks up a rig named the "Blue Mule" (for kickin' ass, that is) and Jerri picks up some mind-numbin' employment at the Dr. Pepper factory. It's marital bliss for the 5 or so minutes before Carrol Jo is asked to sacrifice his principles by his handlers."
–"So what happens? Does he give in?"
"Hell, no, he doesn't give in, you shitheel! And damn you for thinkin' that he would. He mounts a fierce fuckin' crusade against the powers that be, from the crooked financiers to the low-down freight-haulers to the corrupt cops and evil shit-brickin' bastards. Some would call this a fool's errand, but if everybody kowtowed and bent over for The Man, we wouldn't have any of the finest films of the 1970's."
–"How's the cast?"
"'How's the cast?' How do you think the cast is?!- the cast is fuckin' great. Jan-Michael Vincent was one of the most promising actors of the decade- THE MECHANIC, BIG WEDNESDAY, DEFIANCE, HOOPER- you name it.
He's a likable presence, and you completely believe that he's the kind of guy who'd hang offa his rig with a shotgun, blastin' away for his God-given right to haul clean, honest cargo.
Then, Kay Lenz is cute as a button, and with a lot more fire. I mean, she was BREEZY for chrissakes- that's the title character in a Clint Eastwood movie!
Kay and Jan discuss family planning.
Then we got Dick Miller, playin' a trucker named 'Birdie Corman.' Did I mention that Kaplan was a Corman/Dante crony? Dante even gets his name dropped- a shipping executive is told that he has an upcoming appointment with a 'Mr. Joe Dante.' Anywho, Miller is great. He's wearin' an open plaid shirt that's so fuckin' big, it looks like a robe. He gets some borderline action scenes, and gets to flash that terrific head-shake/bemused smile look which says 'Damn, that kid's got guts!'
And did I mention Slim Pickens? When he first appears, he's wearing a bolo tie the size'a my fist and some flower-embroidered county western duds that'd make Merle Haggard blush.
He shouts "Well, bless my ass, Carrol Jo!" and immediately tosses him a can of Schlitz from his mini-fridge in his wood-paneled prefab office."
–"This sounds like my kinda flick!"
"Shut it! I ain't done! ...So Slim works as an intermediary between The Establishment and the truckin' buddies. Carrol Jo is a sort of monkey wrench in the works. Before Slim can say "Don't sass me, you little sonofabitch!," they're on opposin' sides of this struggle. But Slim might just have a conscience under that 10-gallon hat after all..."
–"Who else is in it?"
"Don't interrupt- I'm not finished with Slim yet. He gets a great scene where he's speeding down the highway, feeding his secretary-love connection chocolates from a junky drug-store's assortment. It's this kinda stuff that's worth the ticket price alone."
–"So how about–"
"Then we got L.Q. Jones. He's higher up on the chain than Slim. He was one of Peckinpah's favorites, and goddamn there was a reason for that. Here, he's an evil country shitball with a soul patch and a comb-over who lasciviously eyeballs his female employees like there's no tomorrow- and there might be no tomorrow if Carrol Jo catches up with 'im!"
–"Well you've certainly convinced me about the cast. But why do you hold it in such high regard?"
"Alright, listen. This movie was built, brick by brick, from real workin' peoples problems, frustrations, fears, and dreams. This is not some silly Americana shit, made by studio hacks who never really worked a day in their life. This is the genuine article.
Note the obelisks of Schlitz at the left.
The lifeblood is foamy Schlitz and Wild Turkey by the gallon. It's adorned with turquoise jewelry and peppered with more reaction shots than you can shake a stick at. It's dejected women sitting in an abortion clinic, staring at a poster that says 'Love is a fourteen-letter word: Familyplanning.' It's hot asphalt and stale, flavorless gum. It's truckin' stunts and men versus forklifts. It's men and women who are sick of bangin' their heads against the wall while some blubbery fuck in a plush office is gettin' rich offa it.
Plus it's got music that's kind of the unlikely love-child of the scores from DELIVERANCE and TRUCK TURNER."
"En-joy. Make sure you got enough beers before ya start it, though."
"And none'a them prissy beers."
"You know what I'm talkin' about."
"Not even Coors. Coors might be too prissy for this movie."
–"I'll keep it in mind."
"In fact, Schlitz is probably best."
"Or Lone Star. Lone Star would be okay, too."
6. BLIND FURY (1989, Philip Noyce)
7. HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951, John Farrow)
8. HIGH SCHOOL U.S.A. (1983, Rod Amateau)
9. DR. JEKYLL AND MS. HYDE (1995, David Price)
10. MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (1997, Clint Eastwood)
11. 1990: BRONX WARRIORS (1982, Enzo G. Castellari)
12. FALLING DOWN (1993, Joel Schumacher)
13. TOURIST TRAP (1979, David Schmoeller)
14. THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1973, Richard Lester)
15. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986, John Carpenter)
16. TOP GUN (1986, Tony Scott)
17. 48 HRS. (1982, Walter Hill)
18. ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO (2003, Robert Rodriguez)
19. TALES OF THE CITY (1993, Alastair Reid)
20. WHITE LINE FEVER (1975, Jonathan Kaplan)