Everybody has their own favorite director/actor combinations: Welles/Cotton, Scorsese/De Niro, Burton/Depp, Ford/Wayne, Hitchcock/Stewart, etc. Although they only made two movies together, the combination of McBride/Quaid produced two of my favorite movies: "The Big Easy" and "Great Balls of Fire". Before you start writing angry comments about how dare I include this pair of names with the others previously mentioned, please don't think for a moment that I believe Jim McBride and Dennis Quaid are in the same league of those names first mentioned. However, there is no denying that I love their two collaborations and both have a place in my list of favorite movies.
Before I begin my review, a short personal story about Jerry Lee Lewis. My mother used to always attend the country shows put on here in Greenville, SC, by the local country music station, they were known as WESC Shindigs and would include a line up of different country artists. She usually had someone to go with her, but sometimes her concert companion wouldn't be able to attend and she would ask me to go with her. At one of these shows, Jerry Lee Lewis was the headliner (remember this was when the rock audience had lost interest in Jerry Lee and he had found a new audience with country fans). The first part of Jerry Lee's segment was a run through of his country hits and the audience reacted pretty much like they did with all the previous acts: seated and clapping along with the songs. In the second half of his act, Jerry Lee returned to his rock roots and started blasting away at the piano, kicking his piano bench away, playing standing up, playing the piano with the heel of his boot, etc. (if you've seen any of Jerry Lee on film, you know what I'm talking about). The auditorium turned into bedlam, people on their feet, people dancing in the aisles, people screaming, and best of all a couple of ladies even passed out!!! An unforgettable performance.
Great Balls of Fire is based on Myra Lewis' book "Great Balls of Fire: The Uncensored Story of Jerry Lee Lewis" which she co-wrote with Murray Silver. Since we're looking at Jerry Lee through the eyes of Myra, it means the movie starts with the first time she met Jerry Lee and continues through Jerry Lee's rise to stardom and subsequent fall from grace when he married her, his 13 year old cousin. Which also results in one on my favorite lines in the movie, when Myra (Winona Ryder) hears on BBC TV that it's been revealed that she's Jerry Lee's cousin, she says: "But we're second cousins, twice removed!"
I've read many times that people thought Dennis Quaid was over the top in the way that he "aped" Jerry Lee. I would beg to differ, since Jerry Lee in real life is an "over the top character", maybe Dennis didn't even go far enough.
John Doe, Mojo Nixon, and Jimmy Vaughn all play members of Jerry Lee's band in the movie, plus John Doe portrays J.W., Myra's father. Other musicians we meet along the way: Elvis (Michael St. Gerard) who just HAPPENS to drop by Sun Studios twice, once when Jerry Lee is signing his contract and once in his army uniform (I'm assuming Elvis was leaving for Germany). Big Maybelle (Valerie Wellington) at a black juke joint and in the same club we see Piano Slim (Booker T. Laury). Chuck Berry (played by an uncredited actor) is in disagreement about who is going to close a show, Chuck's agent wins the argument, but Jerry Lee pulls out all the stops, including setting his piano on fire, and then tells Chuck..."Follow That Killer!". In real life, Chuck claims that Jerry Lee didn't use the word "killer"..I'll let you fill in the word that Chuck says he was called (a side note: Jerry Lee denies Chuck's claim). We also get Steve Allen playing Steve Allen and even though Steve was a noted rock and roll hater, I think he might have dug Jerry Lee because as a fellow pianist, he recognized the talent Jerry Lee had on the piano. Although I understand Dennis Quaid did some of the piano playing you see in the movie, Jason D. Williams did most of the close up keyboard work.
A trio of non-musicians were important to the film's storyline: Sam Phillips (Trey Wilson), "Daddy O" Dewey Phillips (Joe Bob Briggs, credited here with his real name John Bloom) and Alec Baldwin as Jerry Lee's cousin Jimmy Swaggart. Which brings me to another point, I think Swaggart was included to enable the movie makers to present the struggle a lot of early rock performers had between playing sacred or secular music (Little Richard being a prime example, but even Elvis never got too far away from his church roots). It's just my opinion, but I think you would have had to grown up here in The South (I'm referring to the 50s, 60s South) to understand the pull that can happen between these two factions within some people. There's definitely a fine line between Pentecostal Religious Music and Rock Music.
One of my favorite scenes is Jerry Lee driving to the school to pick up Myra, his song "High School Confidential" is playing on his car radio and evidently everyone's radio, because the whole student body starts dancing all across the school campus....all I could think was shades of Rock n Roll High School. Which brings me to my final thought on Great Balls of Fire: If you view this movie as some type of historical document, then you'll be disappointed. However, if you watch the movie looking for the spirit that was early rock and roll, I think you'll be mighty pleased.
Before I get into the review of Border Radio (BR), I want to relate my John Doe Story. A year or so back my wife and myself were out walking around the French Quarter in New Orleans. We were coming back up Decatur Street, when I saw a guy that looked liked John Doe. I remarked to my wife that I thought that was who it was and I guess he noticed this, since as we came up closer to him, he got that panicked looked that some people get when they think they're about to be accosted by a fan. I guess he breathed a sigh of relief, since I'm not the type of person to bug someone famous or even semi-famous. And yes it was John Doe, it seems X was playing a gig at The House of Blues that night.
I buy and sell videos all the time on EBAY and have had BR on VHS tape several times, just never got around to watching it. I assumed (and you know what they say about the word assume!) that this was a movie about a border radio station (ala Wolfman Jack), which seemed interesting, but the amount of movies that come through my possession are too many for me to watch more than a few; and my video checker has just enough time to check the first few minutes to be sure that they play correctly.
When browsing through Netflix, I saw that BR was on DVD (and a Criterion DVD to boot), so decided it was the time to finally check it out. Of course, BR doesn't have anything to do with a border radio station (remember what I said about assuming!!). Instead, BR is about a punk band that has broken up and Jeff (Chris D of The Flesheaters) has gone missing after himself, his roadie (Chris Shearer) and another band member (John Doe of X) broke into a safe in a club that didn't pay them and supposedly took some important books along with the money they stole. The other band member, Dave Alvin of The Blasters, wasn't involved in the robbery and he only appears briefly in BR. Jeff has left his wife and daughter alone and hightailed it to Mexico. The remaining band members all want to get Jeff and the cash and/or books back. That's pretty much the plot since the remainder of the movie consists of different scenes with Chris in Mexico or the other characters in the U.S. BR changes its direction back and forth from plot based to mockumentary interview style, never settling on one style to make a cohesive movie. The cast is credited with “additional dialogue and scenario”, but in an interview segment John Doe states that they would be given a scene and then told "make some stuff up and we'll shoot it", leading me to believe that the major part of the dialogue in this movie was all improvised.
I've gone back and forth on my feelings for this movie. While watching BR it was so slow that at times it was hard to stay awake, but after I watched the extras and found it was made by three film students (Allison Anders, Dean Lent, Kurt Voss) over a period of 4 years for a cost of $82,000, I thought that was a pretty remarkable feat; except then I remembered that Kevin Smith made "Clerks" for around $28,000 and shot his film in 21 days. While the long shooting period helps explain why the direction of the film changed from noir (the main character's name is Jeff Bailey and he flees to Mexico, a nod to Robert Mitchum's Jeff Bailey in "Out of The Past") to a mockumentary to a character study, it still didn't excuse the fact that this was just basically a bunch of well shot scenes that together made SOMEWHAT of a coherent film. I finally decided that it was a pretty good student film and I would just have to accept it for what it was.
Other musicians who can be seen in BR are Green On Red playing in the background in one club scene and Billy Wisdom and the Hee Shees seen playing in a studio setting. Two other musicians of note, both excellent in their roles, are Texacala Jones, lead singer of Tex and The Horseheads as the baby sitter and Iris Berry doing a great turn in the interview segments as a hanger-on/groupie fan.
Just as Rock n Roll and Country Music were exploited by the movie companies, in Hootenanny Hoot (HH), Folk Music gets the same treatment: Very brief plot that surrounds the musical performances.
HH begins with Peter Breck (The Big Valley) trying to shoot a TV show, we quickly find out that his ex-wife, Ruta Lee, is the producer and she has other ideas on how the show should be shot. In a huff, Peter quits and says he's going to drive to the coast - somehow we next see him in Missouri!
In Missouri he happens on a preview of a Hootenanny that is going to be given later that night at a local college.....Start cueing musical performances, as we get our first two acts - The Gateway Trio singing "Puttin' On The Style" and George Hamilton IV singing his hit "Abilene". Peter walks around like some big city asshole smoking his pipe and checking out all of the rubes and is amazed at how the crowd is digging these acts. Overall, he seems to be mainly interested in checking out a co-ed played by Pam Austin, which is a little creepy since he appears to be at least fifteen years older than her.
Peter follows Pam to the college and catches a rehearsal with Johnny Cash singing "Frankie's Man Johnny". Johnny looks much healthier here than he did four years later in Road To Nashville. In this scene Pam Austin is wearing an outfit, and since the movie is in black and white, it gives her the appearance of being nude (maybe this is why Peter keeps following her!). Peter wants to know exactly what a "hootenanny" is and he's told it's Folk and Country Music and Dancing. There are several dance numbers in HH, but I'm old enough to actually have attended a Hootenanny back in 1962 or 1963 and I don't remember any dancing, just a flat bed truck with straw on the floor and people singing such songs as "If I Had A Hammer".
Peter calls his agent, played by Joby Baker, and wants him to come and check things out in Missouri. Peter tells Joby that there's money to be made with these country and folk singers because people in the middle of the country (what we now call Blue States) are crazy for this type of music. He thinks he can sell it to TV and put on a weekly Hootenanny. This was an odd part of the movie, since in a movie exploiting music, we have a plot point about exploiting music.
Joby attends the Hootenanny that night with Peter and the movie has performances by Joe and Eddie singing "There's A Meeting Here Tonight", Cathie Taylor singing a humorous number "The Frozen Logger", The Brothers Four singing "Frogg" and Sheb Wooley singing the title song. Surprisingly, The Brothers Four each get to have a line of dialogue as Peter tries to convince them, along with the other acts, to break their Hootenanny contracts and do his TV show. At the same time Joby has reported back to Ruta, who is just in a tizzy about what is going on with Peter. Also, Joby accuses Pam Austin of only being interested in Peter for the purpose of furthering her career.
We get a scene the next day beside a river, that looked suspiciously like the one I had seen in College Confidential, so I'm assuming it was on a studio back lot. At the lake, Chris Crosby (son of Bob, nephew of Bing) has one of the better songs in the movie: "Sweet Love". It probably would have been the best song in the movie, except he's followed by Judy Henkse singing "The Ballad of Little Romy". Judy is such a strong performer, she really trounces everyone with this performance and her later performance in the movie. Judy also gets a line of dialogue, maybe that was repayment for having to sing in her bathing suit!
Joby and Pam have found they have an attraction to each other, but Joby won't double cross his friend Peter who is back in New York trying to sell a Hootenanny on tour show and not having any luck. Once he's back in Missouri (the Hootenanny performers were supposed to be too busy to do a TV show, but they sure hang around the same town a long time) he finds Pam in love with Joby and Ruta is now in town also. Peter accepts the relationship between Pam and Joby, but is still cold toward Ruta.
The network agrees Peter can put on a special and if they like it, the network IBS (I'm guessing it stood for International Broadcasting System and NOT Irritable Bowel Syndrome!) will give him a permanent show. The network president also gives him an order that is my favorite line from the movie " None of that coffee house jazz with Beatniks flopping over each other", instead the show must have an Americana theme and be on a specific date. This causes problems for Peter, but luckily he finds a circus that he can co-book with and puts on the "All American Hootenanny Circus". We get Sheb Wooley singing "Building A Railroad" while some shirtless guys bang anvils, followed by The Gateway Trio on a trampoline (I"M NOT MAKING THIS UP!) singing "Foolish Questions", Judy Henkse doing a powerhouse of a song with "Wade In The Water", and The Brothers Four doing "Little Cory".
While all of this has been going on, Peter finds out that Ruta has quit her job just to be with him and that she's the one that got him the job with IBS - aah! what a nice (I'm being facetious here, in case you don't know) early 1960s message: a woman will and should do anything to get her man! (Modern women, you may now commence gagging!) The show closes with Sheb Wooley once again singing "Hootenanny Hoot" with the cast and audience joining in singing and dancing. This was the third time I had heard the song, once during the opening credits, once at the Hootenanny and this final time, leaving me with an earworm as all I can now hear over and over is that chorus of: "Hootenanny Hootenanny.. Hoot.. Hoot, Hootenanny Hootenanny..Hoot..Hoot..."
If you like to see the trailer for the movie, check out this link at TCM: Hootenanny Hoot
Below is a clip of Johnny Cash from the movie doing "Frankie's Man Johnny"
When I think of Gerry and The Pacemakers, I think of a nice group of lads with some pleasant songs. Brian Epstein presents Ferry Coss The Mersey (FCTM) just further confirms my feelings about Gerry Mardsen and his group, since in the movie they all appear to be a nice group of lads doing some pleasant songs.
Although the director, Jeremy Summers, supposedly was granted access to watch Richard Lester filming The Beatles, FCTM comes across closer in tone to Live It Up than to A Hard Day's Night. FATM starts out on a promising note as we are given some scenes of downtrodden Liverpool with a voice over by Mardsen allowing to what it was like to grow up in that area. This made it appear that FCTM was going to be in a more serious vein, similar to Catch Us If You Can.
FCTM then switches gears to Gerry Mardsen catching the ferry and meeting up with his other mates: Freddie (Fred Mardsen. his brother in real life), Chad (Les Chadwick) and Les (Les Maguire). I guess it goes without saying that they sing "Ferry Cross The Mersey" at this point in the film. The rest of FCTM revolves around the group having a situation where they can play a song OR rehearsing for the big competition. If they win the competition, they will get a manager and a recording contract. Gee, wonder who will win!
There's also a bit throughout the movie about a little beagle dog that appears from time to time, but there never was a payoff for the joke and its inclusion was lost on me. Another odd part of FCTM was at the competition, Gerry and The Pacemakers instruments mistakenly get taken to the airport. This results in the group chasing after their gear with the cops chasing the group, this long scene is filmed in the style of a silent movie ala Keystone Kops.
The majority of the songs that Gerry and The Pacemakers do (which were written for the movie by Gerry) are all top notch (there's a couple of duds). The worst performance in the movie comes at the competition when The Fourmost sing a sleep inducing number. While The Fourmost and Cilla Black get to do full songs at the competition (Cilla is a special guest at the show and not a competitor) there are several other groups (Earl Royce & the Olympics, The Blackwells, The Black Knights) whose songs are interrupted as the movie cuts back to the chase scene. This was unfortunate, since these songs were all high-spirited and I would like to have seen them in their entirety.
To the best of my knowledge, FCTM never received an official release and is rarely even broadcast on television. It can usually be obtained with a little digging through some "collectors' sites", but be forewarned all of these versions appear to have been vhs taped from tv then transferred from tape to dvd. In other words, no wide screen and a little bit of murky darkness to the transfer.
Although I had been warned before watching Hearts of Fire (HOF), I don't think I truly grasped how bad the movie was going to be. Yet, there were still a few parts of HOF that I actually enjoyed......one of them being that it was only 95 minutes in length!
Besides the bad acting, the screenplay by Joe Eszterhas (Showgirls, Jade, Basic Instinct 1 &2) is the worst part of the movie. It's full of cliches and struggles to make an "important" statement about the price of fame. The movie was originally written by Scott Richardson, but the production company felt he wasn't a seasoned enough writer for an important (?)script. Supposedly, Dylan liked the first script better and threatened to sue if he had to do Eszterhas's script. This might or might not account for Dylan's lackadaisical acting. Maybe having to do the re-written script caused Dylan to lose interest in the movie or maybe he even wanted the movie to be bad to prove his point. Either way, it's hard to imagine the original script could have been worse than what is presented here.
The movie begins with Molly McGuire (Fiona) working during the day and playing in a bar band at night. Billy Parker (Dylan), a retired music star who has walked away from fame, just HAPPENS to walk into the bar where she is performing one night. She catches a glimpse of him leaving and rushes out of the bar to meet him. He brushes her off this first night, but Dylan returns the next night and performs with Fiona on stage. He sings what is supposedly Billy Parker's biggest hit "The Usual".....(WTF, this is a song originally written by John Hiatt). It should be noted here that the words lip synch and Bob Dylan DO NOT go together.
The following night Fiona finds out that her band is going to take a steady gig at a Holiday Inn and Fiona doesn't want to do that type of job, so she quits the band. Fiona runs into the street, and who does she HAPPEN to run into....you guessed it....Dylan. Actually he was parked in an alley beside the bar. This really made it appear that Dylan was stalking Fiona, but I assume this was just a bad plot ploy. Best part of this scene is in the background: the movie theater just HAPPENS to be showing "Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid". There's a skinny dipping scene that follows, but only on Fiona's part, since Dylan jumps in the lake fully clothed (Bob must have a no "little zimmy" clause in his contract!). Dylan invites Fiona to go to England with him and play in his band at an "oldies" show that he is going to do, but she declines.
The next day Fiona gets in trouble at work and quits her job. Dylan has been trying to hold the bus hoping that Fiona would show up, but he finally boards and just as the bus HAPPENS to be leaving Fiona shows up. Dylan catches sight of her, but the bus driver refuses to stop. In my favorite moment in the movie, Dylan makes the bus driver pull over by holding a harmonica to his neck!!
In England, Fiona is disgusted that Dylan, with the help of Bones (Ian Dury), is hiring people for Dylan's band who aren't very good (Ron Wood has a cameo as a very bad bass player). Richie Havens, playing another "oldie" - Pepper Ward, tells her it doesn't matter, that the fans are just coming to see if they've gotten fat or gray. Fiona runs out into the street (hmmm....running into the street seems to be a habit of hers!) and just HAPPENS to spot her idol Rupert, who brushes her off. Fiona goes back to Dylan and agrees to appear with him if they can do new songs (obviously she now could care less if the band is any good!).
Rupert, who knows Dylan from his past stardom, sends word for Dylan to come to his estate for a visit. As a treat for Fiona, since he knows she's a big fan, Dylan takes her along. At Rupert's, Dylan and Rupert have an exchange that makes no sense, but seems to amuse them (and also amuses me!):
Dylan: When was the last time you wrote a song? Everett: 2 years Dylan: And the last time you toured? Everett: A year and a half Dylan: Got any Johnny Cash albums? Everett: A few.
This exchange sends them both into a fit of laughter. We can only assume that this is some type of private joke, since we are never shown any reason that this would be so hilarious. My guess.....Dylan wrote these lines or it was straight adlib....it just seems nonsensical enough.
The next morning Rupert just HAPPENS to hear Fiona singing one of her songs and he decides he can make Fiona into a star if she will stay in England. This infuriates Dylan and he says he is going to go back to The States, but Fiona talks him into staying. Fiona spends most of her time hanging out with Rupert and she gets to see how you can't have a private life because of fame. Fiona's star is rising thanks to Rupert and Dylan once again wants to go home. It appears he is mighty jealous of Rupert. Fiona tries to talk him into staying, but Dylan has his mind set. As she is trying to talk to him, Dylan s-l-o-w-l-y trashes his hotel room. Rupert arrives and Dylan and Rupert have a fight scene.....ok, a really bad fight scene, but still a fight scene!
Fiona continues to tour with Rupert (and somewhere along the line has sex with him). BTW, Rupert seems to know only one song, his supposed hit "Tainted Love". Rupert and Fiona eventually come to the U.S. and play in Fiona's hometown. After the concert she goes to see Dylan, who is now a big time chicken farmer (I think this was a Dylan touch) with his refrigerator stocked with nothing but eggs. He serenades her in the barn in what I think is Dylan's best part in the movie. Fiona leaves Dylan and meets Rupert who waiting for her beside the road, but she also leaves him and goes her own way.
Fiona had a very pleasant screen presence. When she sang quieter songs her voice was enjoyable; however, her louder songs really got on my nerves and I started fast forwarding anytime she would sing one of those. I think the term caterwauling could be used to describe her over the top songs, a word I didn't think I would ever get to use.
Every now and then in HOF you could get a glimpse of Dylan actually being able to act. Since I have seen him in "Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid", I know that he is capable of acting and can only assume that the director of HOF wasn't strong enough to get a performance out of him. Listen to the director's comments in the video below. It appears he was in too much awe of Dylan. Something, I seriously doubt Peckinpah was.
Dylan has referred to HOF as something he just did for "the money". I'm a big fan of Dylan, but I know he can often be full of himself and will make up his own "truths" and I definitely smell B.S. in that statement. It's just a convenient way to excuse the failure of HOF, which only played for two weeks in England and went straight to video in the U.S. Listen to Dylan's statements in the press conference (see video below) and the statements he makes about HOF and judge for yourself.
One final thing that I didn't include in discussing the plot. Rupert's #1 fan, who just happens to be blind, pulls a gun on Rupert. In a movie filled with ridiculous situations, this one topped them all for a WTF moment. I don't think anyone is going to watch HOF and have a neutral feeling when it's over. Either you're going to hate it, love seeing Dylan (who appears to always be wearing his own wardrobe), or laugh at the travesty of the whole thing!
In the TV biopic And The Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story there was a part about making the movie Chastity and how it almost bankrupted the duo. I was interested in seeing a movie that could be so bad that it would cause such financial ruin. After viewing Chastity, I can understand why the word must have gotten out fast, on its initial release, that Chastity was B-A-D!
Chastity was written and produced by Sonny Bono and most people speculate that he also directed it under the alias Alessio de Paola, since there is no record of anyone with that name ever directing another movie, plus there is no biographical information on anyone in the film industry with that name. However, in 2005 another de Paola did a remake of the same movie... so go figure!
Hey! there's no doubt Sonny loved Cher and this is evidently the reason we get a lot of camera shots just lingering on her face. But the main problem, besides the terrible slow pace of the movie, is the script. Sonny obviously took Cher's smart ass demeanor and wrote her part with that in mind. The lines she delivers that stay within her own character are fine in the movie. The trouble comes when Sonny writes lines that are trying to make a statement OR show how hip he was. The trouble was Sonny and Cher weren't really hip, they just tried to look that way. I can understand Sonny's desire for "hipness", but sometimes you just have to go with what you've got. Sonny and Cher were much lighter personalities and I think that's the reason people liked them and why they worked so well in Las Vegas and on TV.
I can only briefly cover the plot, since that's what the plot is...BRIEF. Chastity (Cher) is running away from something, which won't be revealed until near the end of the movie and then not clearly. Most of the scenes in Chastity are: Cher running on the road, Cher hitchhiking, Cher being a tough smart ass with the people that pick her up, and Cher talking to herself. The aforementioned scenes are probably a good 75 per cent of the movie.
Chastity almost kicks into gear when Cher/Chastity steals a car and drives to Mexico. There she runs into a pimp and gets him to take her to the local whorehouse. The best scene in the movie follows with Cher/Chastity tricking a shy fellow into going into a room with her. She fleeces him out of his money and at the same time convinces him that washing his hair is part of the "full" experience he has paid for.
Unfortunately, we then get Cher introduced to the Madam of The House and the movie once again starts its downward spiral. It appears that the Madam is showing Cher the bad side of the whorehouse to scare her off; but following that scene, Cher and the Madam go off shopping, then to the fun park for some carnival rides, followed by a trip to the zoo (I swear, I'm NOT making any of this up!). Cher/Chastity is looking at The Madam as a mother figure; however, The Madam is a lesbian and has other ideas in mind. There's a lesbian scene between Cher and The Madam, but for the most part we get cutaway shots to water running, pampas grass blowing in the wind, and the camera looking up through trees.
Cher runs away from the Madam and returns to the U.S. and shacks up with a fellow she had met previously in the movie. But the thought of true love is too much for her and she runs away again. The last we see of her is Cher/Chastity crying in the middle of the road. A terrible ending to a terrible movie.
It was hard at times to continue viewing Chastity and I almost gave up several times. The only things that kept me going were Cher was fairly good with the weak part she was given and, as I previously mentioned, the movie picked up some during the middle.
One final note, there are two nude scenes in the movie. The first one shows Cher/Chastity from the neck down. The second shows Cher/Chastity from the side with her hair draped over her face. Making it pretty obvious that both these scenes used body doubles.
Similar in structure to Second Fiddle To A String Guitar, Road To Nashville (RTN) is a collection of musical performances tied together with a simple plot. Doodles Weaver playing a character named Feetlebaum (a nod to his character Professor Feetlebaum from his stint in The Spike Jones Band) is sent to Nashville to sign acts for a country music movie his boss is going to produce. Doodles' boss also tells him to add Colonel to his name, because he'll get more respect down South.
Connie Smith meets Doodles at the airport at the request of Marty Robbins (also the associate producer of the movie). Connie takes Doodles to the studio to meet Marty, who it seems is always too busy singing or driving his race car to stop long enough to sign a contract. In the meantime, Connie tours Doodles around the studio meeting other country acts. This of course, sets up the musical performances.
RTN has performances by The Stonemans, Waylon Jennings, Don Winters, Bobby Sykes, comedy act Quinine Gumstump and Buck, Kitty Wells, Johnny Wright, Bill Phillips, Faron Young, Lefty Frizzell, Connie Smith, Marty Robbins, Margie Singleton, Bill Anderson, Norma Jean, Dottie West, Webb Pierce, The Stonemans, Hank Snow, The Osbourne Brothers, Porter Wagoner, The Carter Family and Johnny Cash. Surprisingly, most of the performances in RTN appear to be sung live instead of lip synched. This makes me surmise that the movie actually used a real Nashville studio for filming.
There are two oddities in the movie: Instead of Doodles, Ralph Emery starts introducing acts in the last part of the movie. It doesn't appear Ralph's part was taped at the same time as some of the acts he introduces. Ralph, who was a top Nashville DJ, was probably added to get some free publicity for the movie when it was released, the same as the DJs in Jamboree. Speaking of no reason to be in the movie...Doodles' boss is talking to him on the phone and a secretary brings him coffee. All I could think was "somebody was promised a part in the movie". She even made the lobby card, as you can see in the bottom left picture in the photo above.
My only problem with the movie is the copy that I saw was in "pan and scan". While this wasn't a problem for the solo singers, it caused problems with the group acts. For example, when The Stonemans appear Pop is sitting in a chair to the side of the group and he is cut almost completely out of the picture due to the pan and scan (see video below).
As with any of these music based movies, you will have your own favorites when viewing. Everybody was good in RTN, but I particularly liked The Stonemans (especially Donna giving the mandolin a hell of a workout), Porter Wagoner with Norma Jean, seeing Waylon Jennings pre-outlaw, and a very gaunt Johnny Cash singing "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord"
I couldn't find a trailer for Road To Nashville, but below is a video of one of The Stonemans performance from the movie. There are some more videos of different artists from the movie, if interested just search the movie title on youtube.
This is the type of movie that you would normally see after someone has died and other people get to tell their story. The story will tell how the person wasn't very nice and since they're no longer alive to disagree, they can't repudiate it. The strange thing is that Jan Berry was alive when this TV movie was made in 1978. It's interesting to read what Jan has to say about his own personality: CLICK HERE. I was surprised to find that he readily admits that he was a Type-A, Control Freak, Asshole.
Below is the story of Jan and Dean as shown in Deadman's Curve: The Jan and Dean Story (DMC). I emphasize shown since, as with any biopic, some facts are condensed for the movie and other facts are put into the movie for dramatic reasons. When I know something is obviously wrong, even for a casual fan like me, I have made a note of the real fact(s).
DMC opens with Jan (Richard Hatch) and Dean (Bruce Davison) hanging out and this is a shorthand way to let us know that they are friends. The puzzling fact that is never shown in DMC is WHY Dean would remain friends with someone who belittled and mistreated him over so many years. I've even read the biographical chapters that Dean has written on The Jan and Dean website and I cannot quite get a grasp on why they remained friends. My only guess is that Dean is the type of person that once he's your friend, he'll be your friend for life.
Up next we find Jan and Dean and another friend harmonizing in the showers after high school football practice . DMC immediately cuts to Jan recording the three of them in his garage. The friend drops out, but Dean stays on. The friend's name in the movie is Billy, I assume this was supposed to be Arnie Ginsburg (even though they do mention the name Arnie a couple of times in the movie) who originally recorded with Jan as the duo Jan and Arnie. When Dean asks Jan "what about football?", Jan says football season is over and he's going to create "the sounds of summer" ....I kid you not, that line was actually in the movie, I even backed it up several times to be sure I heard it correct. Now Jan was smart (his IQ was supposedly 181 before the accident), but I don't think he was smart enough to have thought that far ahead or to have been a prophet. This is just an example of DMC making up its own history for the sake of a good story, as I mentioned above.
Dean joins the army and Jan releases their song with ONLY his name on the label, according to the scene we see in DMC. Actually "Jennie Lee" was a song released by Jan and Arnie. Needless to say Dean's not real happy about this; but, after Dean gets out of the army, the pair hook up again and start their successful recording career.
It just happens that one time while they are touring, they get lost in a town somewhere in Texas....right in front of a radio station! The DJ at this station is Bob Smith: The Jackal (who is played by Wolfman Jack, whose real name was Bob Smith!). The actual truth is that Jan and Dean continued their college careers and recorded and performed on weekends or during college breaks. It is very doubtful that they would have been driving from California to Texas. Jan and Dean get The Jackal to play "Sidewalk Surfin'" from one of their albums and at the end of this scene, Dean gets on his skateboard and Jan pulls him with his car as they leave town with the song playing on the radio.
Jan is going to get drafted and he goes to the induction station and tells them they can't draft him "He's Jan and Dean". The Sergeant tells him "We took in Elvis and he was a lot bigger star than you are Boy!". Jan huffs out of the office and according to the movie, this is when he had his wreck on Dead Man's Curve. This scene is all fabrication and you can read the real story HERE
This is about the half-way point of the movie and the latter half is about Jan and his recovery. Jan finally gets to the point where he wants to perform again and grudgingly asks Dean to help him. Jan decides he will have to lip synch his part. The crowd catches on and tries to boo him off stage. After an emotional address to the audience, Jan sings live and the audience gives him a standing ovation. At the start of this scene look for Bruce Johnston and Mike Love (in one of his sartorial disasters) of The Beach Boys. If you look carefully at the audience you can see the real Jan Berry watching his movie self performing on stage.
DMC began with Dick Clark introducing Jan and Dean in 1966, after which the movie flashed back to 1957 carrying us from that year until the early 1970s. I have read that DMC was supposed to have been a mini-series, instead 15 years of the lives of Jan and Dean were condensed into approximately 100 minutes. Thankfully the director Richard Compton was used to working in TV and should be given credit for being able to make such a coherent story in the time frame he was given. The only real problem with DMC was that I felt it skewed more toward Jan and could have easily been called: Dead Man's Curve: The Jan Berry Story featuring Dean Torrence. I would have liked to have seen a little more about Dean, but then that would have probably required another 100 minutes!
A special Thanks to skippercollector who sent me the photo of the the rare vhs Video Gems release.