True story. I was halfway through watching Bootleggers, a low-budget adventure story about feuding moonshiners in Prohibition-era Arkansas, when it occurred to me the picture was going down more smoothly than the usual offering from schlockmeister Charles B. Pierce: The story made sense, the acting was more or less passable, and the photography exploited real locations to fill the screen with lush colors. Then I glanced at the video sleeve and discovered Bootleggers was supposed to be a comedy. Not having laughed once during the first hour, this caught me by surprise, but by the time the movie was over, it didn’t really matter. Bootleggers is pleasant drive-in fare with better storytelling and visuals than might be expected—but it ain’t no gosh-darned comedy, to put it in the backwoods vernacular of the picture’s characters. Slim Pickens, at his a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ best, plays the patriarch of a clan of moonshiners, with Dennis Fimple and Paul Koslo (don’t worry, I’d never heard of them, either) playing his grown-up grandkids, who cook the hooch and make deliveries while Slim keeps the home fires a-burnin’.
The movie depicts various adventures as the boys avoid the law, romance local ladies, and tussle with another bootlegging clan. When the movie actually tries to be funny, it’s excruciating simply because of the cartoony music used to accentuate “comedy” bits, but when it grinds through vignettes of rambunctious redneckery without editorial commentary, it’s innocuous fun. The sheriff is stupid and sweaty, the “bad” bootleggers are dirty and sweaty, and the heroes are exuberant and sweaty. Future Charlie’s Angels beauty Jaclyn Smith shows up for a supporting role as a pistol-packin’ hairdresser, lending loveliness and sass to the proceedings, but the real star of the picture is cinematographer Tak Fujimoto (later to become a go-to guy for directors Jonathan Demme and M. Night Shyamalan). His images make Pierce’s slight story look a lot more credible than the story probably deserves to look.