21 May 2009 | HarlowMGM
Takes the Hillbillies Out of the City - and the Humor out of the Hillbillies
If you love the original television series of the 1960's, be forewarned about it's "reunion" movie THE RETURN OF THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, from 1981. This movie is really bad and Hillbillies devotees will probably hate it most of all.
This TV movie has a very thin story - the government wants Granny's "white lightning" recipe as a potential solution to the energy crisis. Jane Hathaway, now working for the government, tries to track down a sample which brings her back into contact with the Clampetts. This movie scarcely resembles the classic satire of yore and tries to put the Clampetts into a DUKES OF HAZARD type storyline complete with multiple Daisy Dukes in bit parts, one of them played by the then unknown Heather Locklear.
Nancy Kulp comes off best reprising Miss Jane but here she has pulled back on her lampoon of an unwanted spinster, ironic given the script is more of a cartoon than the original series ever was. Buddy Ebsen's Jed Clampett has sadly dulled with time. Donna Douglas reprises her iconic Elly May Clampett, now the owner of her own zoo in Los Angeles, but the script gives her little to do despite her second billing to Ebsen. Ray Young plays Jethro (Max Baer turned down the project, reportedly feeling he was too old for the role but maybe the bad script and the fact that Jethro, like Elly, has a very secondary role in this had something to do with it, too).
Paul Hennings' script is so bad is hard to believe he is the same great talent who created the show and wrote most of the show's greatest episodes. Henning later blamed the fact that the writer's strike of 1981 left him unable to revise the teleplay but this story frankly seems unsalvagable. The director is by Robert Leeds, director of most of the final episodes of the old series (and recently divorced from Douglas at the time.) Strangely, Shad Heller, who had a minor role in six of the later episodes, is brought back to reprise his character in a rather large role while Shug Fisher, who appeared much more prominently in the series during the same era as Shorty Kellums has a mere cameo as a new character.
The script most controversial twist is "introducing" (as the opening credits notes) Granny's Maw. The great comedienne Imogene Coca has the unenviable task of trying to make something funny about of a lame cartoon that plays like a senile version of Granny. Granny's Maw even has some scthick lifted from the old show as a "mountain doctor" but this new script is so lame even the irreplaceable Irene Ryan probably couldn't have done much with the material either. One happy bit of casting is Ms. Coca's husband, King Donovan, in a small part. Buffs of the series might have placed him from his three performances in classic Hillbillies episodes as the no-account Beverly Hills resident also named J. D. Clampett who accidentally is credited with Jed's fortune.
Most reunion shows do leave one with a bittersweet feeling but THE RETURN OF THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES is plumb pitiful. Buddy Ebsen, Donna Douglas, and Nancy Kulp deserved better.