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If one thing could be said about the 1970s, it's that it was a great decade for movies about truck drivers: White Line Fever (1975), Breaker! Breaker! (1977), Every Which Way but Loose (1978), Convoy (1978) and of course Hal Needham's Smokey and the Bandit (1977). These fun popcorn flicks were not only perfect drive-in fare for audiences, but they also heavily influenced pop culture from clothing--plaid Western shirts, tight bootleg jeans and cowboy boots--to zippy trucker CB radio lingo. These films weren't necessarily accurate portrayals of life on the road as a big rig trucker, but rather a vehicle--pun intended--for high-speed chases, daring stunts and sexy women. After the huge success of Needham's Smokey and the Bandit, producer Jon Slan embarked on his first major motion picture, High Ballin' (1978), capitalizing on the popularity of the trucker subgenre.
Fresh off his role as Cledus "Snowman" Snow in Smokey and the Bandit, musician/actor Jerry Reed stars as Iron Duke Boykin, an independent trucker whose livelihood is threatened by King Carroll (Chris Wiggins), a powerful trucker boss whose bullying and intimidation forces the small, independently owned truckers out of business. With the help of his friend, the motorcycle-driving Rane (Peter Fonda), Duke fights King Carroll and his gang to save his business.
In the decade following his iconic role as Wyatt in Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider (1969), Fonda made a string of action adventure and sci-fi films that have since earned coveted cult status, including Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974), Race with the Devil (1975), Futureworld (1976) and Outlaw Blues (1977). Fonda, son of famed Hollywood actor Henry Fonda and brother of actress Jane Fonda, started his acting career in television in the early 1960s, later making his film debut in 1963's Tammy and the Doctor opposite Sandra Dee. Fonda worked steadily in film and television throughout the decade, and in 1970 was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Easy Rider - an honor he shared with co-writers Hopper and Terry Southern.
High Ballin' was the fourth feature-length film for country singer-turned-actor Jerry Reed. After appearing in W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975), Gator (1976) and Smokey and the Bandit, all starring his close friend Burt Reynolds, Reed proved to be the perfect trucker film sidekick. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Reed was a Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and one of the most popular figures in the "outlaw country" genre. Reed continued on with his acting career over the next two decades, often prioritizing it over his musical aspirations, appearing in both Smokey and the Bandit sequels as well as numerous television programs, including the short-lived series Concrete Cowboys (1979-1981).
The film was shot on location in Canada, primarily in Milton, Ontario, as well as various locales throughout the Toronto area. For the big convoy scene--a staple in any trucker film--producer Jon Slan hired two dozen local trucks and drivers, also using them in various truck stop scenes as backdrops.
Other than its two stars Fonda and Reed, High Ballin' features primarily a Canadian cast and crew, including actor and director Helen Shaver (Pickup), Chris Wiggins (King Caroll) and David Ferry (Harvey). High Ballin' was the third feature-length film for director Peter Carver, who also made the cult films Rituals (1977) and Highpoint (1982). High Ballin' also features impressive stunt work, arguably the highlight of the film, including the film debut of the "flaming cannon roll" stunt, led by Gary Davis, best known for his stunt double work for daredevil Evel Knievel.
Director: Peter Carver
Producers: Stanley Chase, William Hayward, and Jon Slan
Screenplay: Paul F. Edwards, Richard Robinson, and Stephen Schneck
Cinematography: René Verzier
Editing: Eric Wrate
Art Direction: Claude Bonnière
Original Music: Paul Hoffert
Cast: Peter Fonda (Rane), Jerry Reed (Duke), Helen Shaver (Pickup), Chris Wiggins (King Caroll), Chris Langevin (Tanker), David Ferry (Harvey), Harvey Atkin (Buzz).
C-97m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
The Canadian Champion, December 28, 1977
By Jill Blake