Stinker Lets Loose!

Stinker made his way from the swamps of GA, just a-layin’ that hammer down...

A movie I’ve often thought about over the years that I must have dreamt—I mean, no way in hell could this possibly exist!—is a film about a chimp in estrus and a dim-witted, cussing mountain boy who join forces with an out-of-shape Georgia road adventurer named Stinker so that they can “fun truck” their way up to Washington, D.C. It had an incredible theme song: “Stinker lets loose! Stinker lets loose! Goin’ pedal to the metal with a monkey in the middle, it’s true…”

Dear Lord! Could this possibly have existed?

Actually, yes. This film very much did exist. It was released in 1977 and played for a few weeks in theaters (mostly in the South) and in a few drive-ins (also mostly in the South).

The movie is called Stinker Lets Loose!

The movie is very bad. It will certainly never enter the lofty canon of the Criterion Collection, but I still remember it fondly. It was the first movie I ever saw in a theater—this would be in Virginia Beach—and I was five. Yes, five. I was with my parents, but still…

The movie would never—not for all the money in this ol’ world—be made today. And yet I loved it then and I love it still. What can I say? I have a soft spot for movies that are very much “of their time,” especially if that time took place in the 1970s. It’s very hard to find a copy of this film beyond bootleg versions that were duped off VHS tapes that were recorded off cable (long after midnight) in the mid ’80s to early ’90s.

James Taylor Johnston, the author of this novelization (see below), died in 1987. Like the movie, it’s difficult to glean any information about him or this book—although it wasn’t for lack of trying.

The character of Stinker is described in the book as “just the man this country needs in these difficult times.” I tend to doubt that this was the case in 1977 and I most definitely doubt that this is the case now. Until the next re-release, let me just say the following:

10-4, good buddy! Keep the bugs off your glass and the trouble off your glass! Keep your lips a-smirkin’ and the girls a-jerkin’! For sure, for sure! Catch you at the next Surf N Turf!…

— Mike Sacks, best-selling author and humorist, from his introduction to the 2017 reprint of Stinker Lets Loose! The Novelization

 

Nobody lets loose quite like Stinker. With CB-totin’ pals Boner and Jumbo along for the crazy ride—plus mountain boy Buck, Rascal the chimp, and the sweetest hippy chippy from Mississippi you ever saw—the rowdy gang hits the highways and byways of Bicentennial America and outwits scores of treacherous villains, Smokey bears, and even . . . the Big Man! Will Stinker truly let loose? Will the six pack of Schlitz ever make it to Jimmy Carter? Or will the Smokeys bring him down?

 

In the mid 1970s I worked on three low-budget drive-in movies. The first (and easily most successful) was a hillbilly racecar movie entitled Moonrunners that was the basis for The Dukes Of Hazzard. The second was a screwball science-fiction comedy so full of plot holes and continuity errors that it was deemed unreleasable. Eventually the distributor edited in a few sex scenes and it was released as Flesh Gordon during the porn-chic era. 

The last movie I worked on was a trucker-buddy CB-radio film: Stinker Lets Loose! It starred a first-time actor named James McCoolroy who seemed to have been hired on the basis of his ability to grow chest hair. [The actor who played Stinker was actually John Hellmann, not James McCoolroy—eds.] The director was a Spanish alcoholic who insisted the script be rewritten to include his recently acquired pet chimpanzee. [The director was actually a teetotaling WASP cheapskate named Grey Whittle—eds.] And the whole thing was sponsored by Schlitz beer. I swear the entire cast and crew spent the whole six weeks of filming absolutely shit-face plastered on Schlitz. I remember one night the piss drunk director offering $1,000 to anyone who could out box his monkey. The film was an unmitigated disaster. Some of the footage was sold to other better trucker movies. A scene where several truckers smash up a town with their big rigs in an attempt to rescue Stinker from a corrupt sheriff ended up in the movie Convoy. Another scene where a truck was crashed through a billboard was used in White Line Fever

—James Taylor Johnston, author of Stinker Lets Loose! The Novelization

The 2017 reprint of James Taylor Johnston’s original novelization.

The 2017 reprint of James Taylor Johnston’s original novelization.

An International Transtar Eagle was used as Jumbo’s rig in the filming of  Stinker Lets Loose!

An International Transtar Eagle was used as Jumbo’s rig in the filming of Stinker Lets Loose!

“Miss Becky,” the 1977 Trans Am featured in Stinker Lets Loose!, ended up in a junkyard in Gaffney, SC. Now lovingly restored, Miss Becky is again the belle of the ball, winning trophies at antique car shows all over the South! Right on!

This unassuming stretch of Georgia state highway 15 is where the “crack up” scene in  Stinker Lets Loose!  was filmed.

This unassuming stretch of Georgia state highway 15 is where the “crack up” scene in Stinker Lets Loose! was filmed.

C.J. McKnight official headshot at time of  Stinker Lets Loose!  release.

C.J. McKnight official headshot at time of Stinker Lets Loose! release.