Tuesday, March 14, 2006


I always try to pay close attention when watching the movies that I review here, and with DVDs and our Tivo-like Digital Video Recorder, it's very easy to pause if I get interrupted or back up if I get distracted and miss something. However, with this movie, I got interrupted and distracted and never really had to pause to keep up with the film, and I think I can even give it a totally fair review even though only about two-thirds of it really registered on me. That's because it's not so much a theatrical feature as it is a variety show with elements of a sitcom sprinkled in. It comes off as a low-budget quickie made to cash in on the folk music fad that was big in America in the early 60's, just before the Beatles changed the face of popular culture. Though this was released in theaters, it feels much more like a TV show, both in terms of content and style. Even the actors are mostly known for their TV appearances. The minimal plot involves a spat between TV director Peter Breck (Nick on "The Big Valley") and his ex-girlfriend, network executive Ruta Lee (who has over 100 TV series guest appearances listed at IMDb). He winds up in a college town in Missouri, discovers a traveling "hootenanny" show, and gets the performers on a national TV special. Of course, he also gets back together with Lee, but honestly, after the set-up of that narrative in the first 15 minutes of the film, no one seems too concerned about the plot. Most of the movie is intended as a showcase for the musicians, and though there are some big names here like Johnny Cash (who does a silly, sanitized version of "Frankie and Johnny") and the Brothers Four (who sing a novelty number called "Frogg"), the more interesting performances come from less famous acts. The black duo Joe & Eddie do a rousing gospelish number, "There's a Meeting Here Tonight," and Judy Henske (who is still making music today) does a couple of compelling songs. Most notably, she combines folk, gospel, and a little bit of a beatnik vibe in a very intense version of "Wade in the Water." I used the rewind function of my DVR to go back and re-watch this song twice, once to make sure that I really saw what I saw, and the second time to enjoy the strange, almost creepy number. The catchiest tune is the title song, written and sung by Sheb Wooley, of "Purple People Eater" fame. Teen starlet Pamela Austin plays the hootenanny hostess, and cute Joby Baker (whom I remember as a DJ on the short-lived TV sitcom "Good Morning, World") is Breck's buddy who helps to reunite him with Lee at the end. Fun to have seen once, though certainly not a keeper (unless you've got a Joby Baker rarities collection going). [TCM]

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