Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Moonshine War (1970)

Director: Richard Quine

Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Richard Widmark, Alan Alda, Melodi Johnson, Will Geer, Joe Williams, Susanne Zenor, Lee Hazlewood, Bo Hopkins, Teri Garr

More info: IMDb

Tagline: 1932: The Moonshine War. The 18th amendment prohibited drinking. It didn't say a word about killing, double-crossing or blowing things up.

Plot: Frank Long, a Federal agent (McGoohan), comes to a sleepy Southern town looking to extort Son Martin (Alda) out of his rumored 150 barrels of top-notch moonshine. When Martin doesn't play ball, Long calls one of his gangster pals, Dr. Emmett Taulbee (Widmark), to lend some muscle only Taulbee wants it all for himself. The explosive finale leaves A LOT of people dead.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? Nah. But if a nice widescreen print surfaces I might give it another go.

I really dig period pieces like this, set during the Great Depression, along with gangster movies and just about anything remotely interesting set during the 1930s. When you add this incredible cast AND that's it's written by Elmore Leonard, it's a sure bet that I'm going to watch it. So after watching pirates cavort for couple of hours I tossed this one in hoping for one of those "hidden gems". Nope. It's just watchable entertainment with some good and indifferent performances and an explosive finale that almost makes up for the film's shortcomings.

I'm a HUGE fan of Patrick McGoohan's after having watching more than half of his great early 60s spy show DANGER MAN (AKA SECRET AGENT) and THE PRISONER. With that and a few movies I've seen him in, he's a beast of an actor. In THE MOONSHINE WAR he uses one of his "nerdy spy voices" he used in DANGER MAN but this time with a Southern drawl that's only sometimes present (that happens with Widmark, too). If McGoohan had gone with his normal voice, still keeping the wandering accent, he and the picture would have been better served.

Widmark is great as the main heavy as is Hazelwood as his enforcer, Dual Metters. The rest of the cast does a great job, too, and there's a lot of familiar faces even if you don't know their names like Will "Grandpa from THE WALTONS" Greer and Bo "THE WILD BUNCH" Hopkins.

Meet Lee Hazelwood, the guy that wrote the Nancy Sinatra classic,
"These Boots are Made for Walking." Seriously.

Alan Alda is OK but his character doesn't get much set-up which hurts because he's the one guy we're supposed to root for. He's the underdog, the local boy the corrupt government official and the gangsters want. The problem is Son Martin doesn't get much in the way of character development in the first half of the movie. The movie starts and ends with McGoohan and it's mostly his picture, then Widmark and then Alda. I didn't feel like I knew enough about Alda to get behind him.

I can't believe I've gotten this far talkin' about this picture without bringing up that one of my top top 3 favorite actresses gets naked...sort of.

Put me down for the first person who NEEDS to own this on Blu-ray!!!
The quality of this doesn't give me enough detail.

The music was hokey. I could have done without Fred Karger's score. There's something about bass harmonica that doesn't work. I dig the instrument but it seems like it's rarely used properly. It's an instrument that dances that fine line of funny cliche and being serious. I'm not terribly sure how to describe it but there it is. The score had a goofy TV quality that didn't work sometimes.

The ending, though...WOW! HOLY FUCKING SHIT! LOVED IT! After you go through the standoff that takes up the final half hour, it's earned and fucking beautiful. Watch this if you want it spoiled...

This isn't nearly as strong of a movie as I had hoped. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't going into this thinking it's the CITIZEN KANE of moonshine pictures. I guess I'm trying to say I was disappointed that, now that I've seen it, there was a lot of potential that wasn't fully realized. Is it mostly the director's fault this didn't work? Probably but considering the talent involved, I expected a little more. It's definitely worth watching if this sounds like your bag but lower your expectations a little and you'll walk away glad you checked it out.

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