The Worst Country Music Film Ever Made

Wednesday, 19 June 2013 06:17 AM Written by 

Over 40 years I've seen plenty of bad movies dedicated to country, most of them low-budget dreck filmed in Nashville during the 50's and 60's with B-list stars or future A-listers like Waylon Jennings, who starred in the unwatchable 1967 Nashville Rebel.

Another dog: George Hamilton's atrocious portrayal of Hank Williams, Sr. in the vile 1964 biopic "Your Cheating Heart," a melodramatic account that gives new meaning to playing fast and loose with the truth. Susan Oliver (of Star Trek's "The Cage") plays Audrey. Badly. Someone actually put the entire film up on YouTube.

Add to that ignominious list That Tennessee Beat, Second Fiddle To A Steel Guitar and Hillbillies In A Haunted House: no coherent plot, moronic dialogue but occasionally excellent music.

One, however, stands out in my mind as the worst: Country Music Holiday (1958).

The cast featured Opry stars Ferlin Husky, Faron Young and June Carter, then a popular comic and singer, the Jordanaires and Lonzo & Oscar. Add Zsa Zsa Gabor (really!) playing a socialite, a young Patty Duke who appears without credit, Jesse White (the original "Lonely Maytag Repairman," not the legislator) as a showbiz manager and ex-middleweight champ Rocky Graziano playing "Rocky," a record company owner. Clever.

If this sounds like me indulging my penchant for satire, it's not. Two composers not known for raw rural tunes, Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote the vapid, soft-rock theme song.

Husky ("Verne Brand") and Young ("Clyde Woods") played "country" boys from Tennessee (a great oversimplification since neither was born there) competing for New York stardom, which makes no sense in itself since pop stars like Brenda Lee were Nashville-based.  A further indignity:  in the movie Zsa Zsa ends up owning half of Verne's contract. 

If the idea was to play on Elvis, who by then was in the Army, it missed by a few light years.  But in real life, some in the business saw Husky and Young as potential teen idols, views neither man shared.

Husky, a first-rate singer whose 1957 hit recording of "Gone" became the first hit Nashville Sound recordings and a country and pop hit,  ended up cast in the Alan Freed film Mr. Rock and Roll  with Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon (and Rocky Graziano!) that same year. A victim of lousy material, he didn't fit in this film, either.  See for yourself. Bleah.

June Carter actually had some drama cred. She studied acting at New York's Actors' Studio with revered teacher Lee Strasberg. You'd never know it from the awful dialogue she's given.

This crappy, misbegotten attempt to expand the audience for country never had a chance, because the movie made both country and pop look bad, a lot like the dregs of what comes out of Nashville today.   The Freed movie wasn't conceived as country.  Holiday was.

Interviewing Husky in the 1980's for a brief Country Music Magazine feature updating the veteran singer's career, I asked about the movie, which I'd only recently seen. Barely hiding his disgust, he remembered it being filmed dirt-cheap on a New York soundstage, noting the low-rent producers wouldn't allow any authentic country tunes, only the faux Elvis-Fabian-Frankie Avalon teen pop. 

Listen (if you can take it) as Husky as Verne sings the vapid "Somewhere There's Sunshine" to White and Graziano. to Husky is June. Opry comic Rod Brasfield is in the hat. And check out that raw "hillbilly" orchestration. I've heard more downhome fare from Garth Brooks and Shania Twain.

Faron, known at the time for his raw honky-tonk records, some of the best around at that time, portrayed "Clyde Woods." He starts the film in western duds and ends by aping/spoofing Elvis (horribly) on "When It Rains It Pours," the film's funkiest song. Given his notoriously foul temper (and mouth), especially when drunk, one wonders what he really thought of this.

For what it's worth the film was anything but successful and basically fell into obscurity pretty fast.

Hey, I had issues with the accuracy of Walk The Line and thought O Brother, Where Art Thou was to actual 1930's Appalachian music what KFC is to authentic southern fried chicken, no thanks to T-Bone Burnett's smug musical misdirection.

But nothing—nothing—is worse than Country Music Holiday.

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