24 March 2004 | django-1
classic 1960s country-western drive-in film--fine cast, weak songs
Finally got a chance to see this 1967 vehicle for country singer Leroy Van Dyke, which I missed at the drive-in 35+ years ago. In scratchy widescreen
techniscope, the film tells the story of a young man who gets out of the navy and stumbles into recognition in the country music world, even though he initially doesn't want it and wants to go into a career as an auctioneer. This of course allows Van Dyke to perform a new version of his classic hit "The Auctioneer", which sounds great, and Mr. Van Dyke is also a natural on-screen as an actor. His sister is played by the charming Kris
Nelson (Harmon), best known perhaps from the Ozzie and Harriet tv series with her then-husband Rick Nelson. She is wonderful in the role and I wish she had done more acting (someday I hope to see her 1970 film The Resurrection of Broncho Billy), although she has had a successful career as an artist for the last few decades. Tex Ritter and Faron Young also perform songs in the film, the problem is that the songs are all originals by writer-director Gene Nash, and frankly they are not very good, awkwardly written and with melodies that just aren't memorable...or easy to sing. Pros that they are, Ritter and Young and VanDyke manage to make the awkward songs sound convincing, but I'm sure they realized these tunes were duds as they were giving it their all. However, with the distance that almost 40 years gives us, the songs are of the period and we can tolerate them (it's interesting that most of them start of sounding country, but evolve through the song into bloated productions with choirs and strings)...almost. The role of a hungry record producer who is interested romantically in Kris Nelson is played by Bill Craig,who with his fine speaking voice and Bob Eubanks-esque diction sounds like an American disc jockey to me. Perhaps he was a successful country dj of the time and got into this film the way Ralph Emery got into some of the other low-budget country-western films of the 60s. In any event, Craig does a nice job and has a good amount of charisma--a shame he wasn't in more films. Bowery Boys fans will be excited to see Billy Benedict in a funny supporting role--I won't tell you when so you'll be surprised. Overall, this should appeal to the fan of films such as HILLBILLIES IN A HAUNTED HOUSE and NASHVILLE REBEL--and for once, the plot is at least equal to the musical performances, if not even given MORE weight. As of this writing, I believe Leroy Van Dyke is still touring widely across the nation, especially during county fair season, and he is still an exciting performer, one of the last of the old-school REAL country music singers. I think I'll go listen to him sing "Walk On By..."