When he left the U.S. Air Force, Carrol Jo Hummer (Jan-Michael Vincent) decided to go into the business of his father, and bought his own truck to haul cargo across the Southern states, but not before he got married to his sweetheart who had waited all the time he was in the forces, Jerri (Kay Lenz). They had their lives planned out, he was going to make their income by trucking, while she supplemented that by working at a cannery, and when they had enough money they would start a family. But it does not go according to plan when Carrol Jo's cargo is not on the level...
White Line Fever was Jonathan Kaplan's sort of Roger Corman movie that was not in fact made for Roger Corman, although he recognised his debt to his old mentor when embarking on this big studio facsimile of all those New World or A.I.P. flicks which made so much at the drive-ins and grindhouses of the world. This was a strong hint to the audiences who lapped this kind of material up: of course they'd recognise Dick Miller as one of the truckers, and notice the name on his cab was one "R. 'Birdie' Corman", and acknowledge that what we were getting here was very much in that vein. Similarly, the social conscience which crept into such works was much in evidence.
Not that this stopped the action from flowing freely, but here Kaplan and his co-writer Ken Friedman made sure this was the plight of the working man they were concerned with, specifically the working man who did not wish to break the law. What happens when Carrol Jo goes in to see old family friend and trucking operator Duane Haller (Slim Pickens) is that he gets a job for his rig straight away, but also starts seeing illegal cigarettes and slot machines being loaded up, and makes it plain he wants nothing to do with that. He gets beaten up for his trouble, thanks to a crooked highway patrolman handcuffing him to his cab and leaving him at the mercy of the thugs.
If the presence of Slim Pickens did not alert you, then those stretches of desert would make you realise this was modern Western territory, so Vincent was pretty much your lone hero in the white hat against the hordes of black hats until he starts a revolt in the face of all this corruption. Naturally this involved a scene where he and his co-driver Pops (Sam Laws) are nearly run off the road by shotgun-weilding rivals, and Carrol Jo has to climb on top of the trailer to fire off a few rounds himself thereby foiling their scheme to stop his crusade - but not for long, as those ruddy dastards have a multitude of ways to bring him down, and every one of them nasty and underhand, often leading to violence.
They even get him framed for murder at one point, which brings out the overriding theme of injustice, all of which was intended to get the audience outraged on the protagonist's behalf, which considering this manipulation was so blatant turned out very well. As indignity is heaped upon indignity for Carrol Jo and his colleagues, we also got an abortion subplot for Lenz to fret through - Kaplan showing his customary concern for the female characters - and this is resolved rather cruelly as the film began to lay on the crime against the decent fairly thick. Still, such overstatement was nothing the thriller aspects could not handle, leading to you wanting to see such baddies as L.Q. Jones (another Western item of casting) taken down at all costs, and the grand finale where Carrol Jo makes a statement that he's mad as hell and not going to take it anymore by crashing through the sign of the evil corportation was an arresting image. So a little clunky and obvious, but effective for all that. Music by David Nichtern.