3/15/09

Tomb of Forgotten Film: White Line Fever (1975)

Heya folks and welcome back to the Tomb. I’m reaching deep into the vaults to draw out an 18 wheeler classic. That’s right folks we’re talking Truck-spoitation. Before I get into tonight’s films I want to say that I have a deep love for trucker films. I’m sure it started was a lad when I loved films like Smokey and the Bandit and BJ and the Bear on TV. When I got a bit older and found out about Peckinpah, I went around his catalog and found many great films, and much to my surprise they included the trucker film that’s almost as fun as its theme song, Convoy. Recently, I caught one I’d never even heard of when I saw Breaker, Breaker with Chuck Norris. Sadly the trucks played a small part in the film, but it did pay off when a gang of trucks attacked a town. Each of these films had a different view of “the trucker life” so romanticized in the late seventies when it came to popularity alongside with Outlaw Country, Urban Cowboys, and CB‘s. I think I have finally stumbled on what will become my favorite of the genre. So get on your Trucker Hats, roll up the sleeves to your best washed out work shirt, slap a little bit of grease on yourself randomly and enjoy the smooth ride as we get….
White Line Fever (1975) starring Jan Michael Vincent, Kay Lenz, Slim Pickens, L.Q. Jones, Sam Laws, Don Porter, Dick Miller, Martin Kove. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan.

Carroll Jo Hummer (Vincent) thinks he’s going to just buy himself a rig and become an owner/operator running loads around Arizona. So with his wife, Jerri Kane (Lenz), he buys himself a 38 thousand dollar rig, and after a custom paint job, he christens it the ‘Blue Mule’. Right away Carroll Jo begins to pick up jobs, but after rebuffing work from a crooked shipper, Duane Haller (Pickens), he begins to find out about the dark side of trucking. To knock some sense into him, Haller dispatches a couple of thugs to provide a beating to Hummer while he’s handcuffed to his rig.

Carroll Jo finds himself unable to get work anywhere and takes matters into his own hands. He shows up and Duane’s office, with a shotgun in hand, and demands to see Haller’s boss Buck (Jones). Carroll Jo uses his “persuasion” techniques to get a job, but he ends up no better. The jobs he gets all turn out to be impossible missions, usually because of the interference of Buck and Duane’s thugs. Soon Carroll Jo begins to build support for his cause, and someone take it upon themselves to run down Buck. Naturally, Hummer is the prime suspect and taken off to jail where he narrowly misses being convicted. Upon his release, Carroll Jo soon learns that an evil corporation is behind all the dirty dealing in the trucking world. So what other choice do he and his fellow truckers have, but to take the fight to The Man.

The Bugg Picture 
 
Let me start right off with a few, ok, more than a few, words about the cast we have here. First off we’re talking JMV in his prime. Some nine years before he would become something of a big name with Airwolf, Vincent throws down not only a pretty fine display of acting skill but also the chops to sell the fight scenes. White Line Fever revolves 100% around his character and there is very little screen time without his presence, and surprisingly after I finished watching the film I instantly wished there was more to this character’s story. While many people may see this film as another variation of the Walking Tall or Billy Jack formula, the performances from Vincent and the other lead actors give this film much more depth than one would expect. So it would be dismissive of the film to assume it was just a mere clone.

Now onto the other leads, and it reads like a Who’s Who of genre film actors. First off you’ve got Kay Lenz as Carroll Jo’s wife, Jerri Kane. Lenz was a veteran of films such as American Graffiti where she appears as the girl Ron Howard‘s Steve dances with. Strangely enough, Howard and Lenz also co-starred in one episode of The Andy Griffith Show. She would also go on to become a frequent bit player on tons of TV shows and also providing the voice for American Maid in the animated Tick cartoon. In White Line Fever, Lenz is cute as a button and looks the prefect ‘70’s down home trucker wife. Her chemistry with Jan Michael is one of the things that give the film the authentic feeling which really sells the story.




I hate to keep going on about the cast so I’ll make a few of these short. Dick Miller, you know him, you love him, and he’s been in everything. Don’t think you know who he is, well, you do. Slim Pickens. All I need to say is Dr. Strangelove. A word about L.Q Jones. He’s got The Wild Bunch and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid on his resume, but where I knew him from was as the Vegas councilman who tries to get Joe Bob Briggs his job back in Casino. Here the very young, blonde and very mustachioed Jones was second only to Vincent for sheer entertainment to watch. But wait there’s more, how does Martin Cove hit you. That’s right the Cobra Kai sensei showing up here as one of the thugs, a thug named Clem to be exact. Even the small roles tend to have someone interesting in them. The prosecutor who goes after Carroll Jo for Duane’s death is R.G Armstrong who some may recognize from roles in The Red Headed Stranger, Lone Wolf McQuade, and his turn on Millennium.

So needless to say it was a powerhouse cast, but director Jonathan Kaplan was no slouch either. Having just come off directing the much acclaimed Isaac Hayes film, Truck Turner, he teamed up with cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp, the Director of Photography for Patton. The result is a flick which has a much in common with seventies cinema as it did John Ford. Many of the shots are stunningly realized, and the scenes involving the Rigs are filmed in such a way that it delivers the sense of power these machines have. That is one other thing about the film that Kaplan and co-writer Ken Friedman got very right. Instead of films such as Convoy or Smokey and the Bandit which mainly feature full on 18 wheels of fury, White Line Fever concentrates most of it’s time focused on the rig. As this is the story of an owner/operator making a stand against the corporation I think this makes good sense. After all, a trucker with a load on his back is just an employee.

So needless to say I really liked this one, and it goes to the top of my list of truck-sploitation flicks, and pretty high up there with cult movies overall. I’m going to try and be as realistic about my rating as I can. Personally for me this is a 5. It’s a solid film which I will want to watch time and time again, but I’m going to shave a bit off of that to account for my enthusiasm not just for the film, but for the sub-genre as well. That being said, if you only see one film about the fight of one trucker going up against the big corporation, make it White Line Fever. 
Bugg Rating

This one is kind of hard to find so check out Cinema de Bizarre if you want to pick it up.


2 comments:

  1. This one was cast out in the wake of Phil Karlson's phenomenally successful WALKING TALL (1973) which was still playing in theaters where I grew up when it's sequel came out in '75! Hard-working, honest little guy up against the corrupt, sadistic big guy movies were H-O-T in the mid-'70's and I remember standing on a lonnnnnnng-ass line for WHITE LINE FEVER. Jan Michael was big news back then and it's great to see him with a face. Another great film from Kaplan who since had roosted on the small screen for some of the best episodes of ER and such. Nice that you remembered this one!

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  2. Thanks FMB, glad you enjoyed the review!

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