This is a bit of a wonderful confluence of things B-Movie Enema likes an awful lot. Moonshine County Express was a New World Pictures release, so that brings Roger Corman to us. Next, Claudia Jennings is in this and it’s generally accepted as one of her finest roles in her all too brief career. Finally, it’s the long awaited return of website girlfriend Candice Rialson.
That trio, and, frankly, those two lovely ladies alone, would be something worth celebrating. However, there are other facets to this movie that is quite notable. First, this stars the recently departed John Saxon. He passed away in July of 2020 and was laid to rest in Seattle in the same cemetery as Bruce and Brandon Lee. He had decades of film roles that included being in Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee, starring in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, and, of course, playing the werewolf in My Mom’s a Werewolf. He was a bad ass.
The next name to mention is William Conrad. Conrad is mostly known as the Fatman in Jake and the Fatman which was an 80s crime drama show that ran from 1987 to 1992. Now it might not need to be mentioned, but Conrad was a large man. He’s actually ribbed quite often for how large he got in the later part of his years. That’s kind of mean, but he maybe leaned into that a little bit too – particularly with Jake and the Fatman. He often worked as a narrator too. His TV narration credits include Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Fugitive, The Making of Star Wars (a video I constantly rented when I was younger), and many more.
There are two other ladies in this movie worth bringing to the discussion too. The first is Maureen McCormick who is best known as Marcia Brady on The Brady Bunch. While she was in a handful of movies and lots of TV shows, it’s hard to beat being the hot oldest daughter of Carol Brady. Finally, there is Susan Howard. Howard was almost exclusively a television actress. She appeared in only four or five movies, but, on TV, she ended up getting guest spots on pretty much every single popular show of the 60s and 70s. Naturally, the role I know her best for is the role of Mara, a Klingon, in the pretty good Star Trek third season episode “Day of the Dove” in which an entity fed on hatred and pitted the Enterprise crew against a bunch of Klingons until they realize what’s up, begin laughing, yucking it up, and slapping each other on the back as pals to make the entity leave them alone.
Alright, so in Moonshine County Express, we have Dot (Howard) and her two sisters Betty (Jennings) and Sissy (McCormick) who refuse to sell their inherited whiskey from their recently murdered moonshining father. So they have to avoid the local kingpin (Conrad) and get the help from hunky runner and racer J.B. Johnson (Saxon) to get the shine sold and to its destination before William Conrad can put his full weight – of his goons – on them.
Let’s dive in!
In a movie called “Moonshine County Express”, how does it start? Well, the only way it can – with banjo music as hicks work around their illegal distillery out in some backwoods Deliverance town. I feel like a scene like this with these hilljacks in their Canadian tuxedos and, in some cases, their undershirts, will only lead to an eventual scenario when one of them is locked in an outhouse while someone pulls a prank on them for it to ultimately lead to them falling into their own shit. They are working their hillbilly balls off to make more moonshine because they need to get an order ready for good ol’ J.B. Johnson (Saxon) who is going to be there soon to pick up a shipment.
And so we do meet J.B. as he is runnin’ laps around a dirt track with his brand new sportscar. The onlookers are quite impressed with this new wheels because it’s super fast, and ready for competition. However, everyone’s a little curious where he scrounged up the money for this sweet ride of his. They suspect he’s runnin’ moonshine again, but he says that’s out of that game. Ya see… Runnin’ the ‘shine is libel to get you killed.
There has been exactly one scene with John Saxon and what he’s bringing to the movie is nothing but pure thunder and lightning. Saxon has long been revered by people who watch horror or Italian movies or Italian horror movies. You know the type… They go online and talk about the new Blu Rays they bought at the Vinegar Syndrome halfway to Black Friday sale or, well, the Black Friday sale. These types of people read and write blogs about movies like Moonshine County Express and so on. But here’s the deal, yeah, WE like John Saxon, but I’m not too sure the rest of the world has the same appreciation for him. We’d be lucky for some normal jerk to even know this is the dad from A Nightmare on Elm Street.
What I’m gettin’ at is that Saxon was dreadfully underrated. He had all the looks and talent to be a major player in movies for his entire career. When he needed to be kind of smarmy, as in Enter the Dragon, he was. When he needed to be overconfident and say everything with a dripping southern drawl, as in this movie, he could. He could even be a sleazeball like in Mitchell (by the way, Mitchell is coming at you in week #10 of B-Movie Enema: The Series Season 2 this fall). Here, he’s also going to be a bit of a hero when it’s all said and done.
So, the camp we saw at the beginning was run by an old grizzled geezer who overlooked this moonshining operation. Despite having armed guards in the event a rival or the fuzz show up, they are armed to the teeth. Guess what happens! A rival starts firing and kills the old man. This immediately gets the attention of Betty (Jennings) who knows something has gone wrong.
But that’s not all, her sisters, Dot (Howard) and Sissy (McCormick) also come outside to investigate. Dot has Sissy stay behind, which does not appear to sit well with the smoking hotness that is the eldest Brady daughter.
The firefight at the moonshine stills is an absolute massacre. Pretty much everyone is shot dead before the girls can get there to fight back. The bad guys steal the booze and blow up the stills. In addition, Sissy decided to pick up a giant ass gun and go off to protect their Daddy. That… I like that spunk in Maureen McCormick.
After they bury their Pappy, they give the preacher their last of the family whisky. Then the sheriff suggest they don’t go back into the moonshine business. Dot says they aren’t going to submit to rival racketeer Starkey (Conrad), so they are going to get back into business and fend for themselves and really stick it to them. On their way home, J.B. pulls up alongside the girls’ pickup truck and starts hitting on Dot. When Dot doesn’t immediately respond to his charms, he tells Sissy that she’s looking prettier and prettier every day. This tickles Sissy in her lady bits. Dot likes that even less. He then asks about their Dad. This upsets her but agrees to go to a dance with him this upcoming Saturday.
The girls go to hear their dad’s will. It turns out there is a small fortune waiting for them, but they have to dig for it. Meanwhile, J.B. goes to check in with Starkey, who he does apparently accept jobs from time to time. He stops by another place to see Mayella. And we get to see this blog’s girlfriend. The most happenin’ chick of the 70s. The one, the only… Candice Rialson.
May here is the front desk girl for a hotel in town that also serves as Starkey’s office. Starkey is getting a hot towel job from a masseuse. The old preacher tells him that the girls have decided to stay and take up their daddy’s trade. The preacher says that he thought Starkey said they would be rid of the girls once their dad was out of the way. Starkey doesn’t care too much for what he said about the attack and apparent murder.
Starkey basically has the preacher go back to the girls, be kind to them, and be their friend as he generally used to be when they were young. Once the preacher is dispatched, J.B. stops by to get his car for that morning’s moonshine run. J.B. is essentially just a hired hand for how well he can drive, something he shows off as he gets chased by cops as he makes his run. He doesn’t seem to be a full-time employee with Starkey, just a hired driver.
Either way, William Conrad is a real presence in this movie. His reaction to the preacher blurting out that Starkey got rid of Pap Hammer is aggressive. You get the sense this guy would kill a preacher if he must.
The girls ultimately find the underground stash of Pap’s underground booze. The stash is a whole bunch of actual prohibition grade bootleg booze. It’s worth a shitload of money. It turns out that during the prohibition, Starkey’s dad turned Pap in and before he got thrown in the klink, he stashed a bunch of this stuff away for the girls to use as their eventual inheritance.
But, in order to actually sell and run this stuff, they need about the best damn driver they can find. Betty reminds Dot that J.B. is that very driver, and he’s head over heels silly for her. Dot does not like this idea one bit. The underground stash also has a secret tunnel that leads out to a part of the woods that no one knew about. They didn’t even know where they were when they came out of the tunnel. So it looks like they have some really valuable stash, a place to hide it, and a secret tunnel that leads to a place no one knows about.
Speaking of J.B., he’s on the side of the road with car problems. I guess Starkey is a fuckin’ cheapskate with bad cars for his runners. Anyway, the sheriff wants to investigate the car. The sheriff knows better because even though J.B. says he works for a company to make deliveries, there’s only one guy who would hire J.B. for the types of jobs he’s best suited for – moonshiners.
Speaking of Starkey, he stops by with his primary goon who led the raid that killed Pap, Sweetwater (Morgan Woodward who had, like, 250 credits in TV and film), to see the girls. It’s clear they kind of want to come out to the girls’ place, and seem nice, but ultimately plan to squeeze the girls out of the shine business. Dot says that maybe Sweetwater fucked up and missed some of their pappy’s whisky. This gets Starkey a little suspicious whether or not his goon did his job right.
J.B. stops by on his run to see ol’ Uncle Bill. Uncle Bill is a massive drunk. He says hat his brother was recently killed and it seems all pretty hush hush. He says J.B. cannot tell Dot no matter what he does. This is concerning to J.B. because, as he said earlier, the moonshine business is really dangerous and likely to get someone killed.
The girls start going around the county and selling their hooch. All the shops and bars like what they are getting from these three sexy girls. Dot has a VERY good sales pitch. You see, one shop owner, played by Len Lesser (Uncle Leo from Seinfeld), is a hard sell. She says she will sell him the booze cheaper than Starkey and take less of a cut than Starkey from the sales Uncle Leo here has. She wants to offload 50 gallons, but he wants to start slow with 10. She gets him to agree to 25 because after he sells all her booze, she will come by, split a bottle with him and get a little cozy one night.
Uh… I’d be okay with that. You think she could also bring her sisters along for this little party?
I do have to say that I would one million times more want to buy booze from these three sisters than I would from the Fatman. Look, William Conrad is awesome. He’s great in this movie. In fact, everything about this movie is fantastic. But seriously, William Conrad is scary. Dot is a real good salesperson. She could probably sell me a winter coat in the middle of an Indiana summer.
Maybe it’s the part of me that really likes ladies and stuff, but I can’t help but to root for the Hammer sisters.
Saturday night comes and J.B. goes to the dance that he wanted to go with Dot to, but he’s there with Mayella. He sees Dot, dumps Mayella for us to not see what the hell happens to her for the rest of the night, and has a couple dances with Dot. She asks him about getting a better car than her old truck. She realizes she needs to be able to run the good shit in a car that will be hard to catch and reliable. J.B. gives her some suggestions and has a beer with her.
Meanwhile, business is falling off for Starkey. He doesn’t exactly know what the reason is at first. He then gets a taste of what’s floating around town that’s tanking his business. Now, he realizes that the girls have a stash of the good shit that his dad and Pap Hammer used to make back in the Prohibition days. He claims this is his own property.
J.B. brings Dot home and as they plan to have a nightcap, they are attacked by shooters filling the place full of holes. The shooters kill the Hammer girls’ dog. Sweetwater proclaims victory saying they won’t sticking their nose out of the hills for sometime.
Back at Starkey’s place, after he learns of Sweetwater’s deeds to scare the girls away, we see that he’s having a little fun of his own in what had to be the best day of filming William Conrad ever had.
The sheriff tells Dot that if this was indeed a warning, they should pay it some mind. She gives him some grief about running in drunks but when people get shot and killed, he’s not too hot on doing much of anything. Dot asks J.B. to help them fight Starkey, but he won’t do it. He thinks this is only going to get him killed. She thinks he’s a loser and a flake, and he… well, he doesn’t exactly deny it.
Dot decides it’s time to do this for themselves. They go looking for a mechanic who can help them set up a car for them. After interrupting a poker game between some of the locals and Sweetwater, they get a chance to buy a fast Mustang from one of the guys before he makes himself scarce knowing that hell is about to come down hard as the Hammer girls take on Starkey’s crew.
The girls hire Uncle Bill. While he cleans himself up, Starkey calls to talk to Dot. He offers to buy them out of their stuff and send them somewhere else to start over. At first, he offers them Atlanta. No, they don’t like that. Florida? No, there are snakes down there. So they take a second, Dot gives the phone to Betty, and she tells him to shove his offer up his asshole.
Pissed, Starkey sends Sweetwater out to start leaning on customers. His first stop is Uncle Leo’s place. When he declines to buy anymore booze for a while, Sweetwater leaves a bomb and blows up the shop, killing him. His next stop is the mechanic’s shop. The mechanic lets it slip that he’s putting the finishing touches on the Mustang he is fixing up for Dot. Sweetwater pulls the jack out and crushes him.
On the way to get the car, the girls see that the shop is exploded and that guy is all kinds of dead. When they get to the garage, they see the mechanic dude is also squished up something good. The shit is clearly real now, but maybe the worst offense is when she stops by to talk to J.B. She wants to tell him what kind of company he keeps. She finds that Mayella is there and definitely keeping him company.
The next morning, J.B. brings Dot the Mustang promised to her. He tells her that he’s finally picking a side. She shows him the stash. Her plans are to sell the stuff to Starkey’s own buyers to squeeze them out. He thinks she might need a driver to do her runs. She plans to do it herself. So, he has to teach her how to drive and get away from any cops or roadrunners.
Well, a roadrunner becomes their problem as Sweetwater has a quick little muscle car of his own to try to run them off the road and kill them. Sweetwater eventually runs them off a dirt road into a river. He watches the car sink, and, of course, he believes his job is done. So he leaves way before checking out whether or not anyone got out of the car anywhere in the river.
J.B. tells Dot he is going to town, getting a truck and they have to move the merchandise tonight. They need to get out of there as soon as possible because Starkey is going to come at them yet again and keep coming back until she and her sisters are out of the way – permanently. This leads to the two of them fighting over how J.B. is all about the teenage pussy and she hates men and always tries to be better and stronger than men.
Back at the girls’ house, Uncle Bill discovers there is indeed a secret stash when he spies on Betty coming up from the stash. By the way, Uncle Bill is there to to help clean up the place that got shot up. Uncle Bill was Pap’s brother. He sells the girls out and leads Sweetwater and crew back to the Hammer place to find the stash. That’s pretty shitty, Uncle Bill.
Uncle Bill takes advantage of Sissy’s naivete to have her open the door. Sweetwater rushes her and they question her about where her sisters are. Dot and Betty see that Sweetwater and gang are poking around the underground stash. They load up the booze and plan to blow up the still and tunnel with Sissy inside. However, while Betty starts blowing bad guys away, Dot saves Sissy and gets her out through the secret tunnel just before the dynamite explodes.
J.B. eventually shows up after being held and questioned by the sheriff. He gets the girls out of there and he calls Starkey to tell him that he’s going to talk to the sheriff and give them everything. This should get the girls some safety, and it only fills Starkey with more anxiety because Sweetwater swore J.B. was dead. Anyway, so Starkey calls Sweetwater to make their next move and… Say, waitaminute. I think I said something earlier about William Conrad’s best day filming ever. I was wrong.
Alright, so here we are… The final gambit. J.B. is going to use his race car to make it look like he’s running stuff. Dot is riding with J.B. despite his protests. Meanwhile, Betty and Sissy are going to be in the moving truck. J.B. gets shot in his right hand by Sweetwater. It causes him to not be able to shift. Dot has to take over driving duties.
There’s a clever thing that happens in this chase. Earlier, when they got dumped into the river, she was following J.B.’s order to go down a particular fork in the road. This time she takes the other fork and times it just right to cause Sweetwater and the drunk preacher to go flying off the road and over a cliff to their deaths.
Alright, so Sweetwater may be dispatched, but there’s still Starkey to deal with. J.B. expected the sheriff to be there, but he’s not. The final goon with Starkey is set to kill J.B. and Dot, but just then, the fuzz show up and the sheriff tells the couple that they will keep down the road, go into the next county and leave for good and he’ll tear up any charges he has set up for them.
Starkey tries a quid pro quo with the sheriff to make him a “big man” in the county. Well, the sheriff feels he already is a big man. They found Uncle Bill in the swamp with bullets that match the gun found in Starkey’s car. They arrest Starkey, and J.B. and Dot discuss what kind of man she might be able to settle down and marry – which is probably going to be a guy kind of like John Saxon.
This is a wonderful little romp from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. It’s full of kick ass car chases. John Saxon is great. the trio of Susan Howard, Claudia Jennings, and Maureen McCormick are fantastic. William Conrad is scary as all get out. This is a great watch. There’s something else about this movie that I cannot shake too…
I’m pretty sure this is the blueprint for The Dukes of Hazzard. The main difference only being that the main characters are gender swapped. The bootlegging family are girls in this movie, not guys. The pretty extra member of the team is not Daisy Dukes, but John Saxon. William Conrad is basically already Boss Hogg. The main attraction is a suped up car that can run the booze from county to county.
It’s a perfect blueprint for The Dukes of Hazzard.
I’m not necessarily saying that The Dukes of Hazzard is a total rip-off of Moonshine County Express, but it’s pretty damn close to a clone. The Dukes of Hazzard started in January of 1979. This movie came out in 1977. ‘Nuff said.
I also find this to be an actually quite tame New World Pictures release. There is no nudity in this movie at all. In fact, it was rated PG with one of the main stars being Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings. That’s fantastic. On top of that, if released today, I think it could still get a PG-13 rating. What makes that an even better accomplishment is that not once did I find myself saying that I felt this movie needed any of the girls, from Claudia Jennings to Candice Rialson, to show their bits and bobs. This is upper echelon type of film for this site. I encourage people to check this out however you can.
Next week, we’re going to the carnival to see Jodie Foster playing an exotic dancer and Gary Busey play a carnival clown. This might be great or it might be terrifying, but it will be an entire article about the 1980 drama Carny! To stay up to date on when new articles drop, be sure to follow B-Movie Enema on Facebook and Twitter.
BUT WAIT! That’s not all! Tomorrow, September 11, 2021, Season 2 of B-Movie Enema: The Series premieres on the B-Movie Enema YouTube channel! Join us for the first episode, The Centerfold Girls and be sure to subscribe to get your 16 new episodes and see most of the first season episodes there (the others not present are here on this site).
For now, check out the trailer for Season 2:
2 thoughts on “Moonshine County Express (1977)”
William Conrad was also known for his starring role in the 70s detective series “Cannon.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
Oh yeah for sure. He’s a great actor.