Burt Reynolds had been gnawing around the boundaries of genuine stardom for more than a decade, starring in short-lived television shows and top-lining "B" movies. He ingratiated himself to the American public by showcasing his wit and comedic abilities by appearing on chat shows. In 1972, he struck gold when director John Boorman cast him opposite Jon Voight as the two male leads in the sensational film adaptation of James Dickey's "Deliverance". Finally, he could be classified as a major movie star. Soon, Reynolds was cranking out major films even while his uncanny ability to publicize himself resulted in such stunts as his famed provocative centerfold pose in Cosmopolitan magazine. On screen, Reynolds sensed that he could cultivate an especially enthusiastic audience if he catered to rural movie-goers. He was proven right with the release of "White Lightning", a highly enjoyable 1973 action/comedy that perfectly showcased Reynolds' favored image as a handsome, unflappable hero with a Bondian knack for tossing off quips while facing death and also engaging in good ol' boy towel-snapping humor. Playing bootlegger Gator McClusky, Reynolds drew major crowds, very much pleasing United Artists, which enjoyed hefty profits from the modestly-budgeted production. Reynolds learned, however, that his audience wouldn't necessarily follow him if he deviated from that image. When he went against the grain in films like "The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing", "At Long Last Love" and "Lucky Lady", the movies bombed. When he stuck to the basics, he had hits with "Shamus", "The Longest Yard" and "W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings". The legendary Variety headline that read "Hix Nix Stix Pix" was no longer true. The American heartland loved Burt Reynolds, especially when he played characters that rural audiences could embrace.
In 1976, Reynolds fulfilled another career milestone by directing his first feature film, a sequel to "White Lightning" titled "Gator". Like the first movie, it was shot entirely on location in Georgia and picked up on the adventures of everyone's favorite moonshiner. When we first see Gator in the sequel, he his getting out of jail only to be targeted by the feds to be used as a pawn in a multi-state crackdown on an epidemic of political corruption that threatens the career of the self-serving, ambitious governor (played very well by famed chat show host Mike Douglas in his big screen debut.) Gator is living in a shack located deep in an inhospitable swamp with his elderly father and precocious 9 year-old daughter when the feds launch a major raid to arrest him on moonshining charges. In reality, they want to use the warrant as leverage to convince him to go undercover for them inside the crime ring. Gator wants no part of it and leads the feds on a merry chase around the bayou in which he is pursued by speed boats and helicopters before finally relenting. The lead federal agent in charge is Irving Greenfield (Jack Weston), an overweight, hyper-nervous Jewish guy from Manhattan who has the unenviable task of ensuring that Gator follows orders. A good portion of the film's laugh quotient comes from Irving's less-than-convincing attempts to "blend in" with small town southern locals. The crime ring is run by Bama McCall (Jerry Reed), an outwardly charming and charismatic fellow who, in reality, uses brutally violent methods to ensure loyalty and intimidate local businessmen to pay protection money. He and Gator are old acquaintances and he doesn't hesitate to give Gator a good-paying job as an enforcer for his mob. Things become more intriguing when Gator sets eyes on Aggie Maybank (Lauren Hutton), an attractive local TV anchor with liberal political beliefs that find her squaring off against Bama in order to protect the poor merchants he is exploiting. "Gator" proceeds on a predictable path but its predictability doesn't detract from its merits, which are considerable. Reynolds is a joy to watch and it's small wonder he leaped to the top ranks of cinematic leading men. His cocky, self-assured persona served him well on the big screen and "Gator" is custom-made to please his core audience. He also proved to be a very able director, handling the action scenes and those of unexpected tragic twists with equal skill. He also gets very good performances from his eclectic cast, with Weston engaging in his usual penchant for scene-stealing. Reed also shines in a rare villainous role and ex-model Hutton proves she has admirable acting chops, as well. The action scenes are impressive thanks to the oversight of the legendary Hal Needham, who would forge a long-time collaborative relationship with Reynolds.
Dutton Vocalion has released three3 more
impressive titles in their SACD range. The Black Motion Picture Experience /
Music for Soulful Lovers (CDSML 8531) is as a twofer release featuring The
Cecil Holmes Soulful Sounds. There’s a perfect symmetry about this particular
CD. Both albums were released on the famous Buddah label back in 1973 and both
were released in Stereo and Quadrophonic pressings. Vocalion’s new CD marks the
debut of both albums in both formats. Both titles were originally released back
in the height of the Blaxploitation boom. The first of the Holmes albums
consists of a great selection of major Blaxploitation themes including Super
fly (1972), Shaft (1971) and Across 110th street (1972), but there’s
also a great deal more than the usual, often repeated titles. Slaughter (1972)
is a nice addition to the track listing, considering a soundtrack album was
never released. Holmes also diverts somewhat curiously with tracks such as Also
Sprach Zarathustra from 2001 (1968) and the Love Theme from Lady sings the
Blues (1972). However, there’s a very nice funky edge to these tracks which never
make them seem out of place and therefore fit in rather seamlessly.
Music for Soulful Lovers works as a perfect accompaniment
to The Black Motion Picture Experience. Again, the album consists of many popular
songs from the period, so expect more vocal tracks. But of course, the vocals
are deep, evocative and very, very smooth. Aside from some very nicely produced covers of songs by Barry White,
Stevie Wonder and The Stylistics, the album also contained three original
compositions, all of which are silky and slick. In fact, it’s Holmes himself
who provides the Barry White-influenced vocals ontwo of these tracks – and hey,
it actually works extremely well!
Vocalion’s mastering by Michael J. Dutton
(from the original master tapes) is pin sharp and contains the punchy clarity
that we have come to expect. Great notes and super use of the irreplaceable
artwork make this a damn near perfect retro experience. (Disc total 73.17)
Vocalion have returned to familiar territory
with their release of Henry Mancini’s twofer CD The Return of the Pink Panther
/ Symphonic Soul (CDSML 8535). Released in 1975, both albums were also launched
in Stereo and Quadrophonic versions. So it’s nice to see Vocalion’s CD make a
welcome debut on the hybrid SACD format. As far as Mancini pairings go, this
selection works extremely well. The choice of Return of the Pink Panther is
undoubtedly a smart move as it is arguably the best of the Panther soundtracks.
Recorded at London’s CTS studios, there’s a nice range of styles spread across
this memorable score. Released on the cusp of the disco era, there’s naturally
a great deal of funky guitar riffs (provided by session musician Alan Parker)
as well as some beautiful pieces such as ‘Dreamy’ which saw Mancini himself
take to the piano. The highlight piece is arguably The Return of the Pink
Panther (parts 1 & 2) which accompanied the theft of the Pink Panther
diamond. It’s a great piece of composition which incorporates both the Pink
Panther theme, a slow (but increasing dramatic) tension builder and a full on
frenzy of brass and strings for its climax.
Supporting Mancini’s soundtrack release is
his studio album, Symphonic Soul. The album was recorded in L.A. and manages to
merge the funky mid 70s sound with Mancini’s lush orchestrations. Mancini
brought a few of his own new compositions to the album including the wonderful
title track. He also took this opportunity to introduce a new souped-up version
of his memorable Peter Gunn theme. There’s also some well-established period
pieces to be found among the track listing including a great variation of The
Average White Band’s funk anthem ‘Pick up the pieces’ and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly’.
Vocalion’s mastering by Michael J. Dutton
(from the original master tapes) is reflective of the label’s usual high
standards whilst a detailed 8 page booklet rounds off the packaging perfectly. (Disc