|Directed by||Burt Reynolds|
|Produced by||Jules V. Levy
|Written by||William W. Norton|
|Music by||Charles Bernstein|
|Cinematography||William A. Fraker|
|Edited by||Harold F. Kress|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
Gator McKlusky (Burt Reynolds) had been just released from prison following the events of White Lightning and is living in the Okefenokee Swamp with his father and daughter. Federal agents know that he is still making moonshine with his father (John Steadman) and Suzie (Lori Futch) and use this information to coerce him into assisting them to catch a corrupt politician.
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Following the events of White Lightning, Gator McKlusky (Burt Reynolds) 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 (Jack Weston) is conferring with the governor of Georgia (Mike Douglas) about problems in the county of Dunston, which has been taken over by a corrupt racketeer named Bama McCall (Jerry Reed). 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 (Lauren Hutton), 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 (Alice Ghostley), 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.
- Burt Reynolds as Gator McKlusky
- Jack Weston as Irving Greenfield
- Lauren Hutton as Aggie Maybank
- Jerry Reed as Bama McCall
- Alice Ghostley as Emmeline Cavanaugh
- Dub Taylor as Mayor Caffrey
- Mike Douglas as The Governor
- Burton Gilliam as Smiley
- William Engesser as Bones
- John Steadman as Ned McKlusky
- Lori Futch as Suzie McKlusky
- Stephanie Burchfield as Young Girl
- Dudley Remus as Deputy Pogie, Dunston PD
- Alex Hawkins as Police Chief
- Don Ferguson as Bartender
- Ned Beatty as Sheriff J.C. Connors (uncredited)
In popular culture
Sterling Archer, in Archer is a fan of Gator, as well as White Lightning. In Season 3, Episode 4 ("The Man from Jupiter") Archer attempts to convince Burt Reynolds (played by himself), to create a sequel to Gator. He describes it as the "final film in the McKlusky trilogy."