Sidewinder’s View: “Gator” (1976)

 

From 1976, this afternoon’s movie, Gator, the sequel to the 1973 Burt Reynolds vehicle White Lightning.

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What I love about this one isn’t just its humor and it stunts– which are pretty hair-raising and, most importantly, live and dangerous, no cheesy Seventies rear-projection here– but the film’s handling of its characters and the fact that its story, which opens with a light and breezy tone, unexpectedly turns a bit dark by the finale.

Admittedly, the picture’s mix of broad humor and harsh violence was what turned me off about the movie when I first rented it on VHS in the late Eighties, but, over time, with repeat viewings, it’s become one of my favorite Burt Reynolds flicks.

Jerry Reed’s good ol’ boy crime boss starts off violent, but affable and charming, then eventually loses the affability and charm and reveals himself to be a cold-blooded killer, wiping out a pair of humorous, harmless characters you’d otherwise expect to see survive the end of the story. Filmmakers with less confidence would have taken that route, but,
as a director, Burt Reynolds really made some great creative decisions with the film.

Reed’s character is the kind of guy who stays calm and rarely loses his genial grin, even as he’s plotting to have you beaten within an inch of your life or rubbed out. Not only is Reed’s relaxed, yet laser-focused performance worthy of appreciative study, but the character, as written, is surprisingly nuanced and conflicted– undeniably lethal, but disarmingly endearing.

It’s a wonderfully understated performance and, I dare say, the best acting Jerry Reed ever committed to film.¬†Burt’s performance is pretty fantastic, too, for that matter.

The film’s score by Charles Bernstein remains one of my favorite Seventies Action scores, on equal footing with Bernstein’s score for White Lightning.

Jerry Reed’s theme song sets a nice tone for the film during its opening credits.

My only complaint with the film, and it’s mild, is the TV reporter played by Lauren Hutton. Her character doesn’t seem to serve much purpose apart from giving Reynolds a love interest and I didn’t sense a whole lot of chemistry between them. Try as he might, Gator just can’t seem to distract Hutton’s determined TV reporter from her career ambitions, which made her character feel a bit cold-blooded.

Hutton’s character felt aloof and never really changed through the story. Why should the viewer invest in the onscreen romance when one half of that romance shrugs it off from start to finish?

The love story seems gratuitous, unnecessary to everything else going on in the plot, but it’s not given too much screen time (until the last 25 minutes or so), and it’s not the reason I’m watching the movie, so I can overlook it. It wasn’t a fatal flaw for me.

Gator was one of those big studio catalog titles that languished in Pan-And-Scan DVD Limbo for an unusually long period of time, but was finally released in its proper 2.35:1 glory in 2014.

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I never had the chance to see Gator in theaters, so watching it in widescreen after years of sitting through the full-frame movie was quite the revelation.

 

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