Mill Creek Drive-In Classics: Polk County Pot Plane, aka In Hot Pursuit (1977)

Well, after the good ol’ boy rabble rousin’ of Country Blue, how can I pass up another road racin’, red neckin’ romp on the Mill Creek set?

The one and done Jim West and Jim Clarke, in their respective director’s and writer’s chairs (and are probably one and the same), and the leads of Don Watson and Bobby Watson (real life brothers, natch), as our ne’er-do-well anti-Beau and Luke Duke heroes (the bearded longhairs Oosh and Doosh; no, really), smoke up ol’ Hazzard County — with the comedy dispensed for action (but the goofy stock library music cues, in places, are more comedy than action) as we hang from helicopters, demolish motor homes, and drive through houses transported-by-flat beds.

Oosh and Doosh, those dang “Watson boys” — since we’re off the small TV screens of Hazzard and on the big ol’ white screens of the Deep South mosquito emporiums — run pot and coke through the Georgia backwoods for corrupt politicians in the pocket the local Mafia. Of course, the brothers Watson get caught on that backwood, peach tree airfield where all that Cuban and Columbia gold flies in.

Hell, yeah, their employers break them out of prison because Oosh and Doosh are drug-runnin’ cash cows for the criminal cause. But their arrest — and eventual helicopter breakout — cost their bosses a lot of money. Now they’re on the hook to pay it all back. Yep! It’s time for the “biggest heist” of their ersatz pharmaceutical careers: Remember how the Bandit transported Coors from Texarkana to Atlanta? Well, those Watson boys are transporting an 18-wheeler filled with weed (disguised as a bags of potatoes). But the 18-Wheeler was trashed in a dust-up with the cops: now they’re in even deeper to their bosses: it’s time to rob an armored car — an unintentionally kill one of the guards. Once the big chase between the Watson boys’ Camero and a DEA agent’s pursuit Dodge Challenger comes to its eventual conclusion, there is only one thing left to do: the Watson boys steal their bosses’ home safe filled with money, hop the plane, and head for South America.

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Yeah, we know this is all pre-The Dukes of Hazzard and Smokey and the Bandit inspired it all — and this ain’t no Gone In 60 Seconds or even Double Nickles or even Flash and the Firecat — but this sure looks like it was made a lot earlier than 1976 or 1977. But it’s not: it was made post-1975, as we will soon learn.

Sure, the acting is awful, the action (while there’s occasional, momentary flashes of excitement) is inept, the script is beyond flawed-with-no-real-plot (it feels like it was “plotted” as the production plodded along), and the cinematography is a wee-bit muddy. But first-time filmmaker Jim West (we can’t find any background on his film-making past) works the cameras pretty decently. He keeps everything visually engaging with interesting shots and all of the required oners, doubles, reversals, and close-ups are there. West is certainly no Hal Needham, but he’s also not a Larry Buchanan or Bill Rebane, either (compare In Hot Pursuit against their respective films Down on Us and The Alpha Incident and you’ll see what we mean).

Yeah, ol’ Burt, who started it all with the likes of White Lightning and Gator, only to reignite the Hicksploitation genre for the ’80s with Smokey and the Bandit . . . well, the southern drive-in circuit was hungry for those modern-day, good ol’ boy westerns featuring redline revvin’ cars smugglin’ drugs lieu of horses and cattle rustlin’. As I rewatch In Hot Pursuit all these VHS years later, I’m reflecting back on Ulli Lommel’s (BrainWaves, Blank Generation) two-years later Cocaine Cowboys when I watch this. And those Watson brothers sure be do give me a hankerin’ to watch the Young Brothers, Richard and David, flyin’ their pot plane in Stuart Raffill’s High Risk.

Eh, you know what: I love this inept, stupid movie because everyone involved are on the cosine of the Z-List in their professions, but they’re given it their all to make a B-List drive-in flick. In a bonus round: Quentin Tarantino likes this one: he screened it as part of his annual “Grindhouse Film Festival,” so there you go.

And go you shall, to You Tube. Oh, Car Chase Wonderland, what would we do without you to satiate our red neckin’ car chase jonesin’? Ah, but just in case, we have a back-up You Tube copy, here. Meanwhile, the fine folks at the online magazine Condition Critical preserved a copy of the ’80s VHS sleeves, here. So, as you can see, this lone film by Jim West has its fans.

And this tale has a twist. . . .

Polk County Pot Plane is based on a real life incident chronicled on the Tallapoosa Memories Facebook page (the post also offers photos and articles about the 1975 events). The way the Georgia memories of smuggler Marty Raulins reads . . . well, it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than the fictional tale Jim West cooked up.

The story goes: Jim West was involved in all of the real life pot shenanigans of the federal government-confiscated DC-4 and buying the land where the airstrip was located . . . and the opening scene of the film of the plane being flown off the airstrip, and the third-act’s scenes of the heavy-equipment clearing of the airstrip . . . well, that’s the same government confiscated plane, and Jim’s clearing the airstrip to move the plane of its mountain perch. Turns out (and as a radio broadcast in the film tells us), the government made the bust and seized the plane . . . then had “no idea” how to get it off the mountain nor wanted to “pay for the cost” of moving it. So they auctioned the land and the plane to the highest bidder: Jim West won — then made his movie about Georgia’s infamous Polk County Pot Plane of 1975.

Courtesy of Wikimapia.org, who truncated the true story that led to the film:

Drug smugglers flying a Douglas DC-4 (N67038) landed at a 1000 foot airstrip which had been bulldozed out of the forest only hours beforehand. The DC-4, designed for runways of 3000 feet or longer, managed to stop in less than 500. Numerous bales of marijuana were unloaded from the aircraft, which was then abandoned. As one might expect, a large four engine piston aircraft roaring about the countryside at low level in the dead of night attracted considerable attention from the locals, and law enforcement in particular. Numerous suspects were quickly apprehended in the following days. Charges were dropped against many, including the owner of the DC-4, as it could not be conclusively proven that he was the pilot at the time it landed in Polk County.

The DC-4 had been seized by authorities as evidence. Various schemes for disposing of the aircraft were proposed. One involved using helicopters to airlift the ship out of the woods to the nearest proper airport. Another was to turn the site into a local tourist attraction. At length though, the aircraft was auctioned off to the highest bidder on the courthouse steps. The new owner lengthened the airstrip out to roughly 3500 feet and flew the aircraft out shortly thereafter [which is our filmmaker: Jim West!].”

You can also read another take of the tale in the August 2019 digital pages of the Rome News-Tribune by Kevin Myrick. The New York Times has also digitized their August 1975 coverage of the bust, “Plane on Mountaintop Perplexes Sheriff.” Do you want a commemorative tee-shirt? Polk Today, through the Poke History Society Museum, has ’em!

Just, wow. This one of the best backstories to a movie, ever. It even out-metas H. B. “Toby” Halicki’s Gone in 60 Seconds trilogy, with his movie-within-movie-within-movie shenanigans of The Junkman and Deadline Auto Theft! A producer needs to read up on this and do a meta-movie about the making of Polk County Pot Plane! I’d pay to see that movie. (And give me a role, will ya’? Even an under-five will do. I sure do need an acting gig.)

Be sure to check out our rundown of hicksploitation and redneck cinema delights from the ’70s and ’80s with our “Top 70 Good Ol’ Boys Film List.”

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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