Tag Archives: Herman Raucher

Ode to Billy Joe (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is Billy Joe?

Based on the hit 1967 single sung by Bobbie Gentry this film attempts to reenact what occurred in the ballad as well as explain the song’s mystery elements with a screenplay co-written by Gentry herself. The story centers on Bobbie Lee (Glynnis O’Connor) a 15 year-old girl living on a farm and longing to satisfy her newfound sexual awakenings. She becomes attracted to a local boy named Billy Joe McAllister (Robby Benson) and he to her, but her conservative father (Sandy McPeak) won’t allow her to bring over ‘gentleman callers’ until she is 16, so she runs off into the woods with him only to learn that he harbors a dark secret that if it became known to the public could ruin his life.

While the film did quite well by grossing $27 million at the box office on only a $1.1 million budget I felt it was a mistake to turn the classic song into a movie. Sometimes things are more interesting when the mystery angle is left unanswered, and having it explained especially with the lame way that it gets down here, tarnishes the song’s mystique.

For years Gentry said that the point of the song was never about why Billy Joe jumped off the bridge or what he threw off of it, but instead the relationship of the song’s narrator with her family and how completely oblivious they were to her feelings, which the movie doesn’t recreate. In the song the father is portrayed as being ambivalent and distant towards his daughter and yet in the film for some ill-advised reason he is kindly and connected, which isn’t as interesting.

Hiring Herman Raucher to co-write the screenplay was a mistake as well. He had great success with Summer of ’42, but pretty much tries to turn this into the same glossy romance as that. He even brings along the same composer Michel Legrand whose orchestral score is completely out-of-place with the story’s country setting.

The script also adds some crazy side-stories that have nothing to do with the main plot or the song that it is based on. One of them includes having prostitutes shipped in from nearby Yazoo City to have sex with all men from the town, who line up one-by-one seemingly guilt free, to fuck the ladies while attending a small jamboree. Now, I was not alive during the ‘50s, but I know people who were including my parents, who insist that it was every bit as oppressive and conservative as its reputation states especially in the rural areas such as this film’s setting. I realize that prostitution is considered the ‘world’s oldest profession’ and I’m sure in some underground big city clubs of that period you could find some, but bringing them to some small town where everybody knows everybody else and having the men jumping in for quite literally ‘roll-in-the-hay’ with them (as this took place on a barnyard floor) with all of their friends watching and not worrying that this would get back to their wives or ruining their reputations, as rumors spread like wild fire in small  towns, is just too far-fetched and ridiculous to be believable.

Benson is great in the lead and James Best is strong too in a small, but crucial role, however O’Connor seems miscast. She’s attractive and has been good in other films, but she plays the part as being very outspoken and strong-willed where in the song that same character came off as more introverted and quiet. She also seemed too worldly-wise for a 15-year-old especially one that had never ventured out of her town although the bit where she sticks her head into a toilet bowl and shouts ‘hello’ may be worth a few points to some.

If you spent sleepless nights trying to figure what it was that Billy Joe threw off that Tallahatchie Bridge then you may find this film’s clichéd and corny answer to it as disappointing.  It also takes way too damn long to get there while forcing the viewer sit through many long, drawn-out scenes in-between.

In fact the only thing that the movie does get right is its on-location shooting that was done in LeFlore County, Mississippi that was the actual setting to the song. However, even this gets botched because the Tallahatchie Bridge that Gentry describes in her song, which was near the small town of Money, was destroyed in 1972 and the bridge used in the film was a different one located near the town of Sidon that also ended up getting demolished in 1987.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1976

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Max Baer Jr.

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Class of ’44 (1973)

class-of-44

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hermie goes to college.

In this sequel to Summer of ’42 Hermie (Gary Grimes) and Oscy (Jerry Houser) graduate from high school and begin attending college while their friend Benjy (Oliver Conant) joins the army and goes off to war. Hermie takes part in a wide range of college adventures including starting up a relationship with headstrong budding feminist Julie (Deborah Winters) as well as learning to cope with the untimely death of his father.

As sequels go this one is unnecessary. The story in the first one had a perfect slice-of-life plot that needed no further exploration of the characters. Everybody seems out-of-place here as we keep expecting to hear the background noise of the crashing ocean waves, which was a strong element from the first film as well as an explanation as to what ever happened to Dorothy who never gets mentioned even in passing.

The boys look too young to be attending college particularly Hermie who still resembles a pre-teen not quite out of puberty while Benjy is seen only briefly at the beginning and then essentially forgotten. The scenes dealing with the death of Hermie’s father aren’t particularly compelling because in the first film the father was never shown or mentioned, so it seems like a story arch thrown in for cheap emotional dramatics and nothing more.

Unlike the first film this script by Herman Raucher is not based on any actual events in his life and comes off more like a broad generalization of what can happen to just about any student who attends college with the particular time period of the 1940’s not carrying much weight. The plot is episodic and not story driven, but there are still several enjoyable scenes including one where Hermi and Oscy and several other boys try to cram themselves inside a phone booth as part of a fraternity initiation.

The performances are good and I enjoyed seeing Hermie grow into a mature young man as well as William Atherton as a snotty fraternity brother in a part he seemed born to play. Winters though steals it as a headstrong young lady who shows shades of insecurity at the most unexpected times.

The production values are an improvement and the story has a nice comedy/drama blend. Those that attended college may take to it better, but overall it’s a generic excursion that leaves one with a flat feeling when it’s over.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video

Summer of ’42 (1971)

summer-of-42

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Boy loses his virginity.

During the summer of 1942 Hermie (Gary Grimes) vacations on Nantucket Island with his two friends (Jerry Houser, Oliver Conant) along with their parents. He soon becomes smitten by a neighboring lady named Dorothy (Jennifer O’ Neill) whose husband has just gone off to fight in the war. One day he offers to carry her groceries as well as help her out with other chores around her home. When her husband gets killed Hermie finds that he can be of service to her in other ways too.

The script was written by Herman Raucher and based on his real-life experiences while growing up as a teen on Nantucket Island. He had originally written the script in the 1950’s, but at that time no one was interested. It wasn’t until he met with director Robert Mulligan that the project got off the ground and even then the studio was reluctant to pay him anything up front and promised only to give him a percentage of whatever the film grossed. The film though ended up becoming a huge hit and made Michel Legrand’s melodic score almost synonymous with romances everywhere.

I enjoyed the film immensely when I first saw it back when I was in college, but now many years later I have certain issues with it and much of it is due to the Dorothy character. I felt she was was too naïve as she brings this 15-year-old boy in the form of Hermie into her home, but apparently no clue that boys at that age can have raging hormones and that he could quite possibly be viewing her in a sexual way. I felt that Dorothy should’ve shown a little more awareness to the situation and created boundaries from the start and been just a little more defensive than she was. Some may argue that she may have been attracted to the teen despite his age and secretly open to him coming on to her, but if that was the case it should’ve been made clear. In either event the character is too much of an enigma and playing off more like a fantasy figure than a real person.

These same issues continue during their eventual consummation, which ends up being the film’s most well-known scene. On a purely cinematic level I loved the moment because it nicely recreates a dream-like quality of a teen boy’s fantasy particularly by having no dialogue and only the background noise of the crashing ocean waves. However, the woman has just committed an intimate act with a minor that could get her into a lot trouble if it was ever found out. The next morning as the two are lying next to each other in bed she looks over at him and I would’ve expected some expression of guilt, confusion, or even fear, but none of that is conveyed. Also, the idea that getting news that her husband has just been killed would be enough to ‘disorient’ her and get her to submit herself to a teen boy who just randomly walks in is a bit far-fetched.

In the real-life incident Raucher describes it as occurring much differently. There Dorothy was highly intoxicated and yelled out her dead husband’s name several times. He also caught up with the real Dorothy many years later and she told him that she had been ‘wracked with guilt’ over what she had done long after it had happened. All of this makes much more sense and although it would’ve ruined some of the romantic elements it still should’ve been added in as it would’ve helped both the characters and movie become more multi-dimensional and believable.

The setting is another liability. Due to budget constraints it was not filmed on Nantucket, but instead Mendocino, California and the differences are glaring. The landscape is very dry and brown, which is something that would not occur on the east coast, which routinely gets more rain than the west. The voice-over narration states that they had “9 days of rain” that summer, so the foliage should’ve been green and lush.

On a completely superficial level the film still works. The performances are excellent and there are a few really funny scenes including Hermie’s visit to a drug store where he reluctantly tries to buy some condoms as well as his subsequent visit later that night to the beach.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube