Movie: White Lightnin’ Road (1964)

A slightly deflated blow-up sex doll of Marilyn Monroe covered in a thick layer of Vasoline.  A mentally-challenged toddler in a platinum-blonde fright wig, mouth agape at all times.

These are but a couple of the images that came to mind watching Arline Hunter in 1964’s White Lightnin’ Road.  This picture is the deep-fried Twinkie of white trash courtesy of Powerhouse/Indicator’s set From Hollywood to Heaven: The Lost and Saved films of the Ormond Family.  It’s repulsive, caters to the lowest of the lowest common denominator, is very bad for you and yet you kind of want it all the same.

This movie is like a visual realization of Dirt Track Date by Southern Culture on the Skids, if that had been a concept album.  It’s only missing that group’s knowing wink that what they’re doing is camp.  Road, surprisingly, plays everything straight.

Ter’l Bennett plays, Joe, the star of the dirt track racing scene somewhere deep in rural Georgia.  I have to say, the gears in brain lock up whenever I see or type that actor’s first name.  I’m not even sure why it does, but it breaks for a few seconds. Really, what would “Ter’l” be a contraction for? Turtle?

Hunter is forever pursuing Bennett like she’s a trashier, dumber version of Daisy Mae from the old Lil’ Abner comic strip.  She is then pursued with almost as much vigor by a fellow racer played by Earl ‘Snake’ Richards.  This real-life musician plays Snake Richardson, which may be the least amount of effort I have seen used to create a pseudonym.

This may seem cruel, but please indulge me as I express more of my feelings about Hunter as she appears in this film.  In most of her close-ups, I was uncertain as to which I felt most: repulsion, fear or pity.  Her continually dazed expression, wandering eyes, and slack mouth do not suggest somebody who has made sound life decisions up to this point.  When she’s trying to be seductive, she looks like she is going to fall over at any time.  When she’s in the stands at a race, everybody around her is clearly looking in one direction while her eyes float around aimlessly like somebody on some serious drugs.

Speaking of the races, what should have been the most exciting moments in this feature are instead dull and interminable.  I’m going to assume director Ron Ormond didn’t have much racing footage, as we see way too much of the announcers and the crowd watching the race.  There’s even close-ups of individuals, like a guy who is always eating.  I guess fat people are inherently funny to some.

So I was shocked there was a genuinely funny moment in the film.  This is where Hunter gets into a catfight with another woman and the audience at the track seems to be watching this instead of the race.  I don’t know if this was intentional, or poor editing, but I chuckled and I am going to give Ormond the benefit of the doubt.

Ormond also plays a character in this, the leader of a minor-league crime syndicate.  Richardson is in his pocket as part of some sort of stolen auto parts ring I could never quite understand.  Bennett, who has been running moonshine, is likely to displace Richardson in Ormond’s gang as much as he is outperforming him on the track.

It appears the financial backing of Ormond is going to move him up into the world of professional racing, though all we get to see him do is drive three laps at an empty Atlanta International Raceway.  What shocked me about this footage is it is good enough to make me think it came from a different, better movie.  If Ormond was capable of this, why did he seem to unlearn skills like this for later films?

The movie also introduces the world to what will be a recurring element of his oeuvre, his son Tim.  I have seen Tim in many of the pictures on the religious half of this box set and I often wanted to reach into the screen and punch his perpetually-smug, self-satisfied face.  When we first see him in Ride, he’s running out into the road to flag down Bennett’s car.  I was rooting for his brakes to fail.

As far as filmmaking goes, this is all kinds of broken.  The continuity is all shot to hell.  The pieces of library music chosen to accompany many scenes are incongruous, such as a shot that looks like a poor man’s Vanishing Point, but the music on the soundtrack is one of those weird bits that keeps popping up in industrial films and advertising of the era.  Think of a 50’s short about something like “the supermarket of tomorrow” and you’ll probably recall something like it.

White Lightnin’ Road is the kind of movie that has a literal shotgun wedding in it.  Everything about this is cheap and tawdry.  What I find ironic is the demographic most likely to have enjoyed it at the time should be offended by how they are portrayed here.

Dir: Ron Ormond

Starring Arline Hunter, a guy named Ter’l and another guy named Earl

Watched as part of Powerhouse/Indicator’s blu-ray box set