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Gator is a 1976 American action comedy film and a sequel to White Lightning starring Burt Reynolds in his directorial debut.[3]

Directed byBurt Reynolds
Produced byJules V. Levy
Arthur Gardner
Written byWilliam W. Norton
StarringBurt Reynolds
Jack Weston
Lauren Hutton
Jerry Reed
Music byCharles Bernstein
CinematographyWilliam A. Fraker
Edited byHarold F. Kress
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$11,000,000

"I waited 20 years to do it and I enjoyed it more than anything I've ever done in this business," Reynolds said after filming. "And I happen to think it's what I do best."[4]



Following the events of White Lightning, Gator McKlusky has just been released from prison and is living in the Okefenokee Swamp with his father and daughter. In New York, a federal agent named Irving Greenfield is conferring with the governor of Georgia about problems in the fictional county of Dunston, which has been taken over by a corrupt racketeer named Bama McCall. Knowing that Gator is an old friend of McCall's, Greenfield proposes picking him up and coercing him into working with the agents to gather tax-evasion evidence against McCall. To persuade the governor, Greenfield reminds him that an election is coming up, and having "cleaned up" Dunston County would look good on his political resume. The governor is convinced and gives Greenfield "whatever he needs."

In the Okefenokee, Greenfield, accompanied by the local sheriff and other agents in boats and a helicopter, attempt to pick Gator up but wind up being led on a high speed chase through the swamp during which most of their vehicles are destroyed. Finally, Gator is cornered and, under threat of prison for himself and a foster home for his daughter, agrees to cooperate with the agents.

Gator and Greenfield travel to Dunston County, whereupon Gator meets up with McCall at a political rally and is immediately given a job as a bag man, or "collector" in McCall's protection racket. He also takes notice of an attractive female TV newscaster named Aggie Maybank, who is trying to gain notoriety and has a sense that "something is up" in the county, and a semi-crazy "cat lady" named Emmeline Cavanaugh, who is protesting local politics. After treating Gator to a taste of the high life and a fancy dinner, McCall discreetly calls a member of the police force and asks him to check on Gator to find out what, if anything, he is up to.

Later, Gator witnesses firsthand McCall's racket operation, which consists of business owners being forced to either pay monthly protection fees, or run the risk of being beaten, killed, or having their businesses destroyed by McCall. Local police and fire officials, also "on the take," neglect to offer any help for the citizenry who are victims of McCall's methods. Gator winds up feeling compassion for the businesspeople and doesn't agree with McCall's strong-arm tactics. He also discovers that McCall and his friends are using drugs to seduce underage girls in a local brothel. Eventually, McCall receives a phone call back from the police officer who was checking up on Gator.

Greenfield, meanwhile, is also trying to fit into the local community by hanging out in a local bar and trying to make conversation, but his New York ways make him obvious as an outsider. The corrupt police officer, having found out that Gator and Greenfield are working against McCall, passes the word along to McCall's henchmen, who attack and beat Greenfield as he leaves the bar, landing him in the hospital.

Still determined to get a story, Aggie Maybank finds out that Greenfield is in the hospital and, attempting to visit him, runs into Gator in the hallway. She tries to interview him about what she's heard, but he refuses to talk to her even though he is clearly attracted to her.

Gator then meets with McCall, tells him he doesn't like what he's seen and that he "wants out." McCall, apparently hoping to get his old friend out of town without trouble, responds by giving Gator a drink laced with a sedative and telling him he will wake up in his car, which will be at the county line pointed toward home. Gator passes out and wakes up in his car, but instead of leaving, he determines to go back to make sure McCall is brought to justice.

Gator meets up with Aggie Maybank, who informs him that Emmeline Cavanaugh, the "cat lady," had recently been fired from a job at the courthouse. They meet Emmeline, who readily agrees to help out because she "detests dishonesty." She informs them that there are tax records, which would prove the corruption of not only McCall, but the mayor as well. Under cover of darkness, the three sneak into the courthouse (using Emmeline's stolen keys, and with her two cats in tow) and into a basement room where they start gathering evidence. A security guard hears the noises and triggers an alarm, which results in police descending upon the building. They manage to escape with the bound volumes of records, and get away in a patrol car which was inadvertently left with the keys inside. After picking up Greenfield at the hospital, they make their way to a beach house belonging to relatives of Aggie's.

The foursome spends most of the night going over the records. Eventually Gator and Aggie decide to slip out for a romantic interlude on the beach. When they return, Greenfield sends them off to find a phone with which to call his boss and get more help into town. Within moments, Bama McCall, who has been informed by the police about the stolen records and has surmised where the group might be hiding, arrives at the beach house. He kills Greenfield with a sawed-off shotgun and sets the house (and all the tax records) on fire. McCall's henchman attempts to haul Emmeline out of the house, but she escapes and runs back inside to rescue one of her cats, and also dies in the fire.

Upon returning and seeing the burning house, Gator and Aggie make their way to a motel on the outskirts of town, where Gator calls McCall on the phone and, after telling him that "not all" of the records were destroyed in the fire, demands $2000 and a plane ticket home in exchange for the records. He tells him where he is, and to bring the money and ticket to him and "Don't bring that nasty ol' gun." McCall agrees to the deal. Gator, anticipating that McCall is not going to honor the deal, booby-traps the motel room, and waits outside in hiding. McCall arrives with one of his henchmen, and sends the man to the motel room to kill Gator, but the henchman dies in the resulting explosion. Gator then confronts Bama, now defenseless without his bodyguard or his shotgun. A wild chase around the motel parking lot ensues, eventually leading to a lengthy fistfight on the beach, during which Gator finally subdues Bama (apparently breaking his neck).

A day or two later, Aggie's story about the events has aired on the "CBS Evening News" and Gator arrives at Aggie's home to find her in a celebratory mood. She tells him that due to the recognition she received for her reporting about the Dunston County events, she's been offered an interview in with a news organization in New York. Gator tells her he loves her, but they both realize that their vastly different lifestyles would make it impossible for them to be together for the long term; they reluctantly decide to go their separate ways.


Reynolds honored his favorite professor from college, Watson B. Duncan III, with a cameo role in the film – casting him as the Governor's press secretary.


Reynolds says they sent him the script for the film and he refused to do it saying "it's a terrible script. Then, they asked me if I wanted to direct? And I said 'It's a wonderful script'."[5]

Reynolds said he asked advice from Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Aldrich and Mel Brooks about how to direct. He says Bogdanovich told him "only cut on a move", Aldrich said to "listen to everyone then make up your own mind" and Brooks said to fire someone on the first day.[5]

"I think I'm an actor's director," said Reynolds. "I love actors. And I don't mean that to sound like a stupid thing coming from an actor. I realize how terribly personal acting is, how difficult it is. And I also realize and know some actors need to be coerced, some have to be kissed, some have to be driven, some have to be spoiled, some have to be yelled at, and you can't treat them all the same."[5]

Filmed on Banks Lake, Lakeland, Ga.


The film currently holds a Rotten Tomatoes approval rating of 0%, with six critical ratings.[6]

Roger Ebert gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4 and called it "yet another Good Ol' Movie ... If only it had a Good Ol' Plot worth a damn, it might have even been a halfway tolerable ol' movie."[7] Richard Eder of The New York Times wrote, "It is not a terrible picture, and it has some good things in it. But it proceeds like a sleepwalker, perpetually waking and wondering what it is doing, and falling asleep and doing it some more."[8] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety declared, "There's nothing wrong with an unabashed popcorn picture, but there's no reason for 'Gator' to be as uneven, contrived, untidy as it is ... The United Artists release never takes itself seriously, veering as it does through many incompatible dramatic and violent moods for nearly two hours."[9] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 2 stars out of 4 and wrote, "Unfortunately, the makers of the sequel forgot to include the very elements that made 'White Lightning' a hit: a good story and a fine romance."[10] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "'Gator' looks exactly what it is, a commercial concoction assembled for an undemanding mass market. One those terms it will probably work well enough; it is fast and splashy pulp stuff, coming as near as the movies get to Dime Adventure."[11] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post described the film as "peculiarly ambivalent and dismaying," which "derives directly from Reynolds. One can see it in his glum, detached performance as well as feel it in the aimless, miscalculated turns the story takes."[12] Richard Combs of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Elaborately gauche in all its parts as it is, however, Gator acquires a certain shaggy-dog charm overall, perhaps because of the exemplary lack of seriousness with which everyone takes it."[13]


  1. ^ "Atlanta". BoxOffice. April 5, 1976. SE-2.
  2. ^ "Gator - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  3. ^ 'Good Ole Boy' Stars in Dixie Film-Making Boom By B. DRUMMOND AYRES Jr. New York Times 1 Nov 1975: 31.
  4. ^ Two stars talk about films--and life: 'Public is most important' At the bottom line . . . By David Sterritt. The Christian Science Monitor 9 Feb 1976: 17.
  5. ^ a b c I'm a Star in Spite of My Movies': Burt Reynolds By ROBERT LINDSEY. New York Times15 Jan 1978: D11.
  6. ^ "Gator Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 29, 1976). "Gator". Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  8. ^ Eder, Richard (August 26, 1976). "Burt Reynolds Is 'Gator' In Indecisive Crime Film". The New York Times. 40.
  9. ^ Murhpy, Arthur D. (May 12, 1976). "Film Reviews: Gator". Variety. 34.
  10. ^ Siskel, Gene (July 20, 1976). "'Gator': Unsubtle sequel shows haste makes waste". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 5.
  11. ^ Champlin, Charles (July 27, 1976). "Burt Directs, Stars in 'Gator'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  12. ^ Arnold, Gary (August 12, 1976). "'Gator' and Burt Reynolds: Trudging Through the Hollywood Swamp". The Washington Post. B1, B9.
  13. ^ Combs, Richard (July 1976). "Gator". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 43 (510): 147.

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