Sunday, May 23, 2010
SECOND FIDDLE TO A STEEL GUITAR
This is sort of a strange movie. It combines character actor Arnold Stang, two of The Bowery Boys, Huntz Hall and Leo Gorcey, with a line-up of top Country Music Stars of the mid 1960's.
The plot, what little of it there is, consists only to provide a reason that all of these stars are gathered together for a concert. It seems Arnold Stang loves country music, but his wife, Pamela Hayes (think Abby Dalton), is a snooty upper class Nashvillian who thinks Country Music is beneath her. She is putting on a Grand Opera Concert to raise money for charity and also to impress the upper crust of society, hoping they will find her to be one of them (she lets it slip that she was once a "farm girl").
The Grand Opera Company that was to play her benefit is stuck in New York City. It seems that they didn't have enough money to pay for their meal at a pizza joint and they're having to wash dishes to pay off this debt. Arnold's wife doesn't know what to do, but Arnold comes to the rescue, promising to get a host of Country Stars to perform a different type of opera. Exactly how Arnold is able to do this is never fully explained, but it has something to do with him being friends with Faron Young.
Huntz Hall and Leo Gorcey were hired by Arnold's wife to help set up for the concert and they stay on as stagehands. This enables the movie to have them do some comic bits before and during the show. I have a lot of fondness for Hall and Gorcey, having been entertained by them many times over the years. However, in Second Fiddle To A Steel Guitar, I have to say that they were the weakest part of the the movie. They both seemed to be trying a little too hard to be a couple of stooges and their comic bits seemed way over the top and forced. What a shame, especially considering that this was Gorcey's last movie appearance.
The line up of Country Stars appearing: Little Jimmy Dickens, Carl and Pearl Butler, Lefty Frizzell, Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys, Dottie West, George Hamilton IV, Pete Drake, Sonny James, Minnie Pearl, Billy Walker, Connie Smith, Homer and Jethro, Johnny Wright, Kitty Wells, Del Reeves, Faron Young, and Webb Pierce.
All the Country Stars perform two songs, with the exception of Dottie West, Connie Smith, and Pete Drake, who only perform one song each. Merle Kilgore emcees the show, mostly off-stage. I'm willing to bet that Merle wasn't in attendance while they were shooting most of the song performances, since he only appears on-stage during the last quarter of the movie. Also, Huntz Hall and Leo Gorcey's scenes all appear to have be shot in a different location, since they too never make an on-stage appearance.
Of course the show is a smash and Arnold's wife is going to go out for a bow. She wants Arnold to be there with her, but she says she first has to go change. She reappears dressed "country style" and when she is on stage she talks to Faron Young, almost like he's her husband, and Arnold is nowhere to been seen. I'm guessing his filming schedule was over and he was long gone.
Second Fiddle to A Steel Guitar was the only movie that Victor Duncan directed; the only movie that Seymour D. Rothman ever wrote, and the only movie that Pamela Hayes ever appeared in. Odd in the case of Ms. Hayes, considering she was good in her role. Not very odd for Rothman considering the badly written brief script (which could have had something to do with Huntz and Gorcey being so bad). And certainly not odd for Duncan considering the terrible direction. The movie appears to have been shot using only one camera. Most of the time the camera holds back for wide shots only. When they do decide to move in for a closer shot, over and over again, they shoot the wrong person singing or shoot someone's face when they should be shooting their guitar playing. A movie with just all wide shots isn't very appealing, but considering what happened anytime they tried a close-up, maybe only wide shots would have been a better choice.
When you watch Second Fiddle To A Steel Guitar, you will probably have your own favorites. The performances I enjoyed most were: Carl and Pearl Butler, they were a strange looking pair, but enormously talented; Pete Drake and His Talking Steel Guitar (remember this was pre-Frampton and Joe Walsh); Homer and Jethro, the original Weird Al's; Johnny Wright, who appeared to really enjoy performing and appears a second time backing up his wife, Kitty Wells; Del Reeves, who for his second song mimics Walter Brennan and Johnny Cash; and someone I had forgotten how good he was, Faron Young.