Saturday 26 July 2008

Dixie Dynamite (1976)

Director: Lee Frost
Stars: Warren Oates, Christopher George, Jane Anne Johnstone and Kathy McHaley

Made a year before Redneck Miller, this second half of the Chandler Cinemas hicksploitation ('hixploitation' just looks wrong) double bill has the added bonus of Warren Oates as the star. No, he's not Dixie Dynamite, thank goodness, but fortunately he's there, because he's an amazingly underrated actor. Unfortunately he gets to do precisely nothing because he's utterly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things and could have been cut from the entire film without it being affected in the slightest.

We begin on the Eldridge farm in the backwoods of Georgia, which naturally is running a profitable moonshine operation. What would folks in the deepsouth do without moonshine to keep the money rolling in? Well, we get to find out soon enough, because the IRS show up and off they go a runnin'. You can patch together the ensuing car chase in your head even before I tell you that the corrupt cops chasing Tom Eldridge are in the pocket of a fat land baron. No, this isn't Hazzard County but it isn't far off.

Let's run through the checklist. Getting stuck behind the old folks going 15 mph? Check. Swerve on the freshly laid tar? Check. Oh hey, there's a fruit stand! Guess what's going to happen to that? And yeah, the road's out, so we'll head right through the chicken coop instead. And at the end of the chase Tom gets to leave the film because the cop following him is a crack shot who takes him out with one bullet. Maybe he had to be because every time a car crashes in this film, it crashes in precisely the same slope of land that Tom Eldridge crashed in. It's like the filmmakers got stuck with an insurance requirement that said that crashes were OK as long as they were all in the same place for safety. They don't even hide the tyre tracks from the previous crashes!

Anyway, that's the end of Tom so Boss Hogg, I mean Dade McCrutchen, gets to steal the Eldridge farm away at a bargain price. Dade is the stereotypical bad guy, big and fat and topless, but rich enough to own a cute girl on a lounger who swaps sides every thirty minutes to get the right tan. He owns the town, just as surely as Brad Wesley in Road House: the cops do his bidding and even the bank manager has to kowtow because he owns 80% of the bank's capital. And of course he runs the biggest still of them all. He's played ably with appropriate sliminess by Stanley Adams, a massively experienced actor whose film and TV credits both go as far as 1954.

Worst of Dade's cronies is Deputy Frank, played by Wes Bishop who co-wrote the story with director Lee Frost, so presumably got to pick this juicy part. It's Deputy Frank who shoots Tom Eldredge, then gets all Bad Lieutenant on his daughter Patsy. Then he kills another guy in a bar fight. I mean, critically injures another guy in a bar fight, entirely accidentally. Yeah. At least the sheriff is a good guy, or one that feels bad about being bad, like the bank manager who would love to get out from under Dade's thumb.

And what all these shenanigans end up with is Tom's two delightful and naturally very scantily clad daughters left in the lurch without a home. They're Dixie Lee and Patricia Ann Eldridge, better known as Dixie and Patsy, and they go hang out with Warren Oates instead, who teaches them to ride. Oates is a Moto Cross rider (it's separated into two words in this film) by the name of Mack and in return for the free lessons they take it upon themselves to get him back in shape within four weeks before the next race comes along, with a $1,000 prize for the winner.

Now this is an uphill struggle, given that he's drunk, can't fit into his leathers and has no bike, but he has two things very much in his favour. Firstly, Dixie and Patsy are enterprising young ladies who know what they want and how to get it and don't like to take no for an answer. Secondly, he has Steve McQueen for a stunt double so you won't be too surprised to find that it turns out really well. Apparently McQueen was bored after doing nothing on screen since 1974's The Towering Inferno, so took the $200 fee and no credit just for kicks.

And with Mack off at the races, winning lots of money, Dixie and Patsy want to get down to the real plot of this film, which is to get some revenge on Dade McCrutchen and his corrupt Deputy Frank. So, they steal a couple of bikes, a gun and a truck full of explosives. Guess where the title comes in... one clue: it wasn't anything to do with the quality of the movie. I should be a little fair here though: this is a fun ride. It has no pretensions of grandeur and like most hicksploitation movies, has more than a little humour thrown in. It's a better film than Redneck Miller and it's more fun too. But I don't have any special lines written down. Sigh.

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