I kind of miss films about working-class people fighting corruption and injustice, there was something keenly American about the communist principles of blue-collar people unionizing and fighting for so many of the things we take for granted as American workers. I won’t bother to create a list of those things, I’ll presume you’re aware of the wage-slavery corporation owners leveled on folks in good ole USA (I use this term directly because there never was a good ole USA-the days our ancestors spent risking their lives to disease, injury, and madness while fat cats got richer is the stuff of legend and that brings us round to our current discussion). By 1975 we were just starting our independent trucker journey that would really get its liftoff in a few years with orangutans and country singers, but for now, we’ll be satisfied with Jan Michael Vincent as a young feller back from Vietnam hooking up with his tiny, adorable wife and leaping straight into leasing to own a massive semi. It’s another American dream to run your own business but, of course, that prospect is generally held well out of reach of most of us who don’t have well-off relatives to co-sign for us, or can’t pass the biases of banks. Where are our bootstraps dammit?
Enough of my lecturing you, here we have the potential for lots of trucker fun, but this trucker film is a little more like Walking Tall, and is much less about avoiding the “smokies” (a term not yet in common use, in fact, the CB Radio is barely featured in this film, and NONE of the usual trucker lingo makes an appearance) and much more about our hero’s connecting with his father’s old workmates only to find out that the business is largely a corrupt mess with Slim Pickens, a good-ole boy gone bad, acting as go between for the high hogs above him. We’re treated to a few fist fights featuring none other than Karate Kid’s Sensei Kreese basically playing a proto-version of said character. On the up side, I had forgotten how already in the middle of the decade, mixed race partnerships were generally not even blinked at, though the evil bosses sure do spit some nasty epithets so we know where they stand. They might as well just sport the black cowboy hats and squint like Lee Van Cleef – which actually L.Q. Jones does a fair job of.
Opening sequences of this film involve a lot of beers, sunsets over the truck, and some great dirty harmonica blues. Soon enough we’re treated to Hummer’s (J.M. Vincent’s character is Carrol Jo Hummer (a surprising name)) rig rolling through wide angle shots of monument valley covered in snow. Actually, a fairly attractive sequence.
We get treated to a bad smokie, who is in the pocket of the evil corporation and sadly there didn’t seem to be much of a chance for the clean-nosed Hummer to operate legally. Just when you think his hard fighting crew of trucker heroes have brought down the baddies, attempts are made on their lives. His tiny wife ends up taking the brunt of a tire iron and she’s rendered barren (family planning was a big feature of this film, there’s even a doctor’s room poster we pan back from stating it loud and clear).
True to life, our heroes never reach the real creeps of the whole industry but we’re left believing the fight will go on, only with many more people on his side like old movie b-actor Dick Miller! If you got Miller on your side, you’re definitely going places.
In the end this trucker film has a uniquely naive feel to it, as it lacks a lot of the classic trucker themes and window dressing we’ve been taught through the 80s. I mean, there’s no monkey . . . and no arm wrestling . . . no country sheriff throwing his hat on the ground in disgust, and of course, no cute radio chit chat with lots of “C’mon back” and “10-4”. So in the end if you like your trucker movies a bit more homogenous you might find this earlier entry a bit lacking. Also with a name like White Line Fever, I was sure we were going to be introduced to the evils of “trucker speed” but despite the one moment of actual white line fever all that happens is he gets woken up by a friendly trucker and they go to a stop nearby.
but if you like to be a completist, like I do : it’s free on Prime!