Hicksploitation Movie Night # 10 !
"All She Wants Is A Break, All They Want Is Her Body"
Released the same year as Robert Altman's NASHVILLE this bicentennial year New World cautionary tale of the rocky and brutal road to country music stardom combines drama along with exploitation elements (even working a women in prison sequence) to create a great little gem of 70's drive-in entertainment. Anchored throughout by an outstanding performance by Monica Gayle (best known as "Patch" from Jack Hill's SWITCHBLADE SISTERS from 1975), it also draws a bit from Loretta Lynn's autobiography Coal Miners Daughter which was published that same year (it was even re-released as COUNTRY MUSIC DAUGHTER after the success of the 1980 screen version of Lynn's story).
16 year old Jamie Barker (Gayle) dreams of becoming a big time country singer and escaping her small southern town. After being violently raped by an inbred looking neighbor who catches her skinny dipping and later having her father beat her with a belt for listening to a transistor radio while in church she runs away from home. Hitchhiking to Nashville, she's picked up by gruff but kindly truck driver Leo V. Gordon (who protects her against his lecherous partner). Arriving in Music City USA she quickly discovers that the only way to kick start her singing career is to succumb to the sexual advances and pawing hands of various smarmy record producers & music insiders. Taking refuge at the local YWCA she meets fellow wanna-be singer Alice (a cute as heck Marcie Barkin) and the pair pay a futile visit to con-artist/music publisher C.Y. Ordell (the great Jesse White).
Finding herself short of money Jamie takes a job at a massage parlor ("I'm only the receptionist !") where she's caught up in sting operation and sent to a women's prison work farm. At the farm she has the fend off the advances of the predatory matron in the shower and upon release hooks up with seemingly nice guy session musician Kelly (Roger Davis from DARK SHADOWS). Kelly in turns introduces her to country superstar Jeb Hubbard (Glenn Corbett - who a few years earlier played Pat Garrett in John Wayne's CHISUM) who signs her to an exclusive contract and begins molding her into a superstar. However things being to spiral out of control as the now christened "Melody Mason" has to deal with an increasingly schizoid Jeb, having to go to bed with slimy records producers (who wear truly hideous 70's wardrobes), life on the road & all the pitfalls of stardom.
Being a New World production NASHVILLE GIRL does play up the exploitation elements as there seems to be a script coda that every 20 minutes or so Gayle has to shed her clothes and the prison sequence feels shoehorned in, but at its core there's a solid little drama beating away here. There's a few attempts at a bit of humor that don't juxtapose too well with some of the more sordid plot elements such as Jamie's seemingly constant degradation with literally every man she comes across being unscrupulous and/or a sexual predator. In fact the only two wholly sincere people she meets happen to be women - one being the aforementioned Alice and later Frisky (Shirley Jo Finny) with whom she meets up with in prison.
The strength of this type of movie either rises or falls flat on its face with its leading character and Monica Gayle is truly a wonder here, slowly changing from sweet corn fed innocence to hard bitten cynicism. Slender, fair skinned with a very natural "prettiness", she had been knocking around in the low budget movies since the early 60's along the way appearing in Gary Graver's SANDRA : THE MAKING OF A WOMEN (1969), the Larry Buchanan oddity STRAWBERRIES NEED RAIN from 1970 and probably her piece de resistance came in 1975 with the Jack Hill classic girl gang war opus SWITCHBLADE SISTERS. She drifted to TV in the late 70's with a stint on GENERAL HOSPITAL and then just dropped out of sight.
Except for a cover of Bob Wills Faded Love the soundtrack features all original songs by Rory Bourke, Johnny Wilson and Gene Dobbin. Their excellent representatives of 70's country music and Gayle does an outstanding job of (what I presume is) lip syncing to them - even doing a better job then country singer Johnny Rodriguez in his short cameo. In spite of its budget the film has some well staged studio and stage sequences and actual filming locations in Nashville help with the atmosphere. A film that's fallen under the radar for way too long, it was released by Scorpion on DVD and on a newly released blu-ray.
All the above screen captures above are from the Scorpion DVD release.