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  Moonshine County Express A Whiskey Chaser
Year: 1977
Director: Gus Trikonis
Stars: John Saxon, Susan Howard, William Conrad, Morgan Woodward, Claudia Jennings, Jeff Corey, Dub Taylor, Maureen McCormick, Albert Salmi, Len Lesser, Bruce Kimball, Candice Rialson, E.J. André, Fred Foresman, Dick Esterly, Tom Heaton
Genre: Drama, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Pap Hammer (Fred Foresman) makes his money out in the middle of the Deep South's nowhere by brewing moonshine, and by all accounts his is some of the best around, which attracts the attention of his rival in the area, Jack Starkey (William Conrad). Starkey sends his right hand man, Sweetwater (Morgan Woodward) and his henchmen to seek out Hammer's still and before he can do anything about it, they have filled Pap and his helpers full of lead. He leaves three daughters behind, but also a letter to them in his will - instructions about how to track down a huge stash of illegal and very lucrative booze...

If you're wondering why The Dukes of Hazzard ever took off in the way it did on television, you simply have to point to the popularity of drive-in features like Moonshine County Express; sure, there was Smokey and the Bandit and its big budget ilk, but producers such as Roger Corman were creating lower budget exploitation efforts such as this in a far greater amount. A massive success like Smokey only came along once in a while, but Corman was more persistent, hiring recognisable but not too expensive talent in front of the camera and solid backup behind it. This was only one of those examples, but it has dropped below the radar since its initial release.

A slightly surprising state of affairs when you look at the cast, most of whom made their name on television - for the bad guys, Conrad was the famously rotund cop Cannon and Woodward had a string of guest appearances to ensure audiences of the day would know his face. As for the good guys, top-billed John Saxon had been labouring in this kind of entertainment long enough to be considered a star in his field, while the three Hammer sisters consisted of the eldest, Dottie, played by Susan Howard of Dallas, the middle one, Betty, by taken from us too soon cult starlet Claudia Jennings, and the youngest, Sissy, none other than The Brady Bunch's Maureen McCormick. This is full of actors who will provoke the "Wait, isn't that him/her from..." response.

As for the plot, screenwriters Daniel Ansley and Hubert Smith took a different take on the old bootleggers avoiding the thugs and cops tale by having those bootleggers be women. The feminist angle isn't overstated by any means, but these sisters are a decent representation of capable women, and while they begin the movie in a man-hating stance they mellow thanks to the charm of Saxon's J.B. Johnson, a racing car driver who runs the alcohol for the rivals but is made to see the error of his ways by Dottie's good sense. In return, Dottie sees that not all men are worthless when J.B. agrees to help her out; it's a pity she had to break down in tears before they saw eye to eye, but this is a minor slip.

You might think this scenario was ripe for comedy, but director Gus Trikonis keeps things largely dramatic throughout, indicating that the laughs are thin on the ground, but you should be taking this seriously. Nowhere is that more obvious than when Sweetwater and his heavies show up at the Hammer shack and proceed to shoot a few million holes in it - they even kill the pet dog, just to show what utter scoundrels they are to attack a trio of females who would have ignored them otherwise. With that in mind, the Hammer girls opt to take action, and if there's a problem it's that at times the villains are treated like figures of fun even when we've seen they resort to murder to get their own way. There's no doubt that the three sisters are the real deal, of course, and with a few car chases in the backwoods roads thrown in what you have may not be brilliant, but does pass the time agreeably. Music by Fred Werner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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