Harper Valley PTA (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She gets her revenge.

Based on the hit 1968 song the story centers on Stella Johnson (Barbara Eden) whose liberated single life style and provocative way of dressing is considered ‘scandalous’ by the prudish members of her local school board. They give a letter  to her daughter Dee (Susan Swift) to be send home for Stella to read, which informs her that if she doesn’t ‘clean up her act’ they’ll have her daughter expelled. Stella then goes to the school board meeting and exposes all of their dirty secrets and then continues the harassment by playing dirty pranks on them one-by-one.

The song, which was written by Tom T. Hall and sung by Jeannie C. Riley, was a cute novelty ditty that encompassed the social rebellion of the late ‘60s through the scope of small town southern life. The film though ruins the song’s appeal by overplaying its theme and losing touch with its core issue.

The song had a very heavy country tinge to it making it seem that the setting should’ve been the Deep South, but for some reason the film takes place in Ohio instead. It also has the time period as being the present day, late ‘70s, which makes some of the lines in the song, which Stella reiterates pretty much word-for-word when she tells the board members off, seem dated and out-of-touch. Stuff like sock-it-to and ‘Peyton Place’ referred to hit TV-shows that by the late ‘70s had already been off the air for years, so the film should’ve either updated the script to make it more topical to the times, or had the time period be in the ‘60s, which like with the southern locale would’ve given the film a far stronger atmosphere.

Having Stella tell off the board members like in the song seemed sufficient, but having her continue her efforts by pulling elaborate pranks on them made it come off like overkill and in some cases borderline cruel and even criminal. The fact that other people in attendance at the board meeting clap and cheer when Stella humiliates the PTA board makes it seem that these people are on their way out and don’t have much of a hold over anything, so watching Stella continue to humiliate them further is not emotionally satisfying. They’re also so easily taken advantage of that the pranks cease to be either entertaining or funny.

The only segment that is genuinely fun is the one where a sex ed. film gets shown to the high school students. The film seems to be an actual product from the early ‘60s and features rather graphic animated illustrations. We unfortunately only get treated to a couple of minutes of it even though it was the funniest thing in the movie without ever actually trying to be.

Eden looks gorgeous and probably even hotter than she did in ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ minus the harem outfit. If you watch this for basic eye candy then you’ll be satisfied, but she speaks initially with a southern accent that she ends up losing by the second half.

John Fiedler gives good support by appearing fully nude in one segment despite not having the physique for it, so I commend his bravery. Audrey Christie shows equal regard by exposing herself with her head completely shaved, but overall the only character that I really liked was Susan Swift’s who seems the most relatable and like with the song her character should’ve been the central one and not Eden’s.

The threadbare premise gets stretched out far longer than it should. The story and the many pranks have a very redundant and mechanical quality to them that quickly becomes old. I’m not sure whose idea it was to try to turn the song into a movie, but it was one that should’ve been shot down quickly and never seen the light-of-day.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: June 2, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard C. Bennett

Studio: April Fools Productions

Available: DVD

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