Release Date(s)1976 (November 11, 2014)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: D+
Gator is the 1976 sequel to the moderately successful White Lightning (1973), which told the story of Gator McKlusky (Burt Reynolds), a good old boy from Arkansas who, after serving time in prison, goes undercover for the FBI and attempts to avenge the death of his brother. Directed by Burt Reynolds (his first directorial effort), Gator follows up on the character several years later.
Having served more time in prison, Gator is released and must once again go undercover for the Feds, this time to gather evidence on local racketeer Bama McCall (Jerry Reed), a former childhood friend of Gator’s, for income tax evasion. Watched by federal agent Greenfield (Jack Weston), and with the assistance of a beautiful TV newscaster (Lauren Hutton), Gator infiltrates McCall’s operation and attempts to bring it down.
White Lightning was a film that I didn’t care much for, mainly because I felt it took itself too seriously. (See my review of the Blu-ray here.) While some find Gator to be superior, both films feel to me as if they’re on the same level. The main difference is that Gator feels more clunky and not quite as ironed out as its predecessor but, on the other hand, has better characters to connect with this time around. Reynolds’ character is given better motivation for his actions here and the supporting characters are less one-dimensional. Even Reed’s villain seems to have a little more going on upstairs than your usual movie bad guy. However, the story doesn’t flow very well, mainly because of a lack of a solid tone. The film isn’t not sure whether it wants to be lighthearted or dark and brooding. There’s even an attempt in the middle of the film to have a love story, which feels just forced and out of place.
Reynolds’ direction and his group of actors are helped by another Charles Bernstein’s score, as well as the return of stunt coordinator Hal Needham. While there isn’t much to say about Reynolds’ direction, he’s certainly loyal to his friends and colleagues. Reynolds even brings TV personality Mike Douglas and a former college professor in for small parts. While the stunt work is impressive, Gator lacks a real drive, often stopping for pointless character dynamics that have little to no payoff. It all makes for a very uneven film.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray presentation of Gator features a strong and detailed transfer, with a few slight drawbacks. It should be noted that the film has a mostly soft look, with shots that are sometimes out of focus. I won’t mark that against the presentation though, as it’s inherent in the original photography. The print itself is clean, with light grain and some very nice detail on display. Colors are also quite strong, particularly browns and greens. Skin tones look natural. Blacks aren’t always completely solid, but brightness and contrast levels are satisfactory. There are no signs of digital enhancement to be found. The soundtrack is a single English 2.0 DTS-HD stemmed from the original mono. There isn’t much in the way of dynamics or LFE, but the dialogue is clean and clear, as are the sound effects and score, which gives the audio plenty of heft. It’s a soundtrack that also shows its age from time to time, but is appropriate for the film at hand. Subtitles are available in English for those who might need them.
The only extra material is a featurette entitled Back to the Bayou: Part 2, which is a newly-shot – and brief – interview with Reynolds, plus the film’s original theatrical trailer.
While Gator leaves a lot to be desired, it’s an appropriate sequel, and Kino Lorber’s presentation of the film on Blu-ray does it some justice. It’s not one of the most enjoyable hicksploitation movies available, but the stunt work here is reason enough to give it a good look.
- Tim Salmons