Ode to Billy Joe (film)

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Ode to Billy Joe
BillieJoeMovie.jpg
Directed by Max Baer, Jr.
Produced by Max Baer, Jr.
Screenplay by Herman Raucher
Based on Ode to Billie Joe by Bobbie Gentry
Starring Robby Benson
Glynnis O'Connor
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography Michel Hugo
Edited by Frank Morriss
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
June 4, 1976
Running time
105 min
Country United States
Language English
Budget US $1.1 million

Ode to Billy Joe is a 1976 film with a screenplay by Herman Raucher, inspired by the 1967 hit song by Bobbie Gentry, titled "Ode to Billie Joe".[1]

The film was directed and produced by Max Baer, Jr. and stars Robby Benson and Glynnis O'Connor. Made for $1.1 million, it grossed $27 million at the box office, plus earnings in excess of $2.65 million in the foreign market, $4.75 million from television, and $2.5 million from video.[citation needed]

Gentry's song recounts the day when Billie Joe McAllister committed suicide by jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge on Choctaw Ridge, Mississippi. When Gentry and Raucher got together to work on the screenplay, she explained she had no idea why the real person who inspired the character of Billie Joe had killed himself[citation needed]. Raucher thus had a free hand to pick one.

Plot[edit]

Set in 1953, the film explores the budding relationship between teenagers Billy Joe McAllister (Benson) and Bobbie Lee Hartley (O'Connor) (who corresponds to the unnamed narrator of the original song), despite resistance from Hartley's family, who contend she is too young to date. One night at a jamboree, McAllister gets drunk and seems nauseated and confused when entering a makeshift brothel behind the gathering. It turns out that in his inebriated state, he had sex with another man, later revealed to be his sawmill boss, Dewey Barksdale (James Best).

After his intimate encounter with Barksdale, Billy Joe disappears for several days. He then returns, and Bobbie Lee finally submits to her passions at a secluded spot near the bridge, and she encourages him to make love to her. Billy Joe, however, is unable to consummate their relationship due to his guilt. He tells Bobbie Lee that he has been with a man, bids her an enigmatic goodbye, and subsequently kills himself by jumping off the bridge spanning the Tallahatchie River. The local preacher, who had seen Billy Joe and Bobbie Lee together, and other townsfolk spread the false story that Billy Joe had impregnated Bobbie Lee out of wedlock and had committed suicide for that reason. For the sake of the family, Bobbie Lee's brother insists that she either quietly pursue an abortion or, if she insists upon having the baby, leave town.

Knowing that no one will ever believe that she and Billy Joe had not had sex and that she was never pregnant, Bobbie Lee decides to leave home. Very early one morning, with suitcase in hand, she walks to town to get a bus. On the way she meets Barksdale on the bridge, where he tells her that he is headed to her house to confess to her father and clear her name. She advises him against doing so, noting that revealing the truth would forever tarnish Billy Joe's reputation. He initially holds fast to his desire to confess, but Bobbie Lee calmly stresses that the news would further devastate Billy Joe's family and leave Barksdale himself subject to criminal prosecution. She also assures him that she does not mind her fate and then adds, "Oh, I'll be back before long; I'm only 15. What do I know of the world?" Finally agreeing with the girl's logic, he offers Bobbie Lee a ride to the bus station, which she graciously accepts. The film ends with the two of them walking off the bridge together.

Cast[edit]

  • Robby Benson as Billy Joe McAllister
  • Glynnis O'Connor as Bobbie Lee Hartley
  • Joan Hotchkis as Anna 'Mama' Hartley
  • Sandy McPeak as Glenn 'Papa' Hartley
  • James Best as Dewey Barksdale
  • Terence Goodman as James Hartley
  • Becky Bowen as Becky Thompson
  • Simpson Hemphill as Brother Taylor
  • Ed Shelnut as Coleman Stroud
  • Eddie Talr as Tom Hargitay
  • William Hallberg as Dan McAllister

Production[edit]

The June 12, 1975 issue of the Hollywood Reporter announced the completion of a $3.5 million deal between Max Baer, Jr. and Warner Bros. Pictures for a film based on Bobbie Gentry’s hit song, “Ode To Billie Joe.” Baer offered Gentry and her publisher a large percentage of the film’s receipts, and paid Herman Raucher $250,000 and a share of the profits to write the screenplay. Raucher was chosen to write the screenplay based on his script for Summer of '42. Baer had intended to cast unknown actors int the lead roles of “Bobbie Lee Hartley” and “Billy Joe McAllister.”

The July 2, 1975, issue of Variety announced that the locations for the film would include Gentry’s hometown of Greenwood, MS, along other local communities.[2]

Scenes at the old sawmill were filmed at Cross Lumber Company in Vaiden, Mississippi. The bridge featured in the film crossed the Yazoo River on County Road 512 near Sidon, Mississippi. It has since been demolished and replaced by a modern concrete span in 1987, with plaques at both the eastern and western ends commemorating the film.[3]

Release date[edit]

The film was premiered at the Paramount Theatre in Jackson, MS, on June 2, 1976, as a benefit for the Mississippi Film Foundation. The premiere was attended by numerous dignitaries, including Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Gandy. In honor of Gentry being the first woman to be inducted into the Mississippi Hall of Fame and the film's release in 550 theaters across the Southern United States, June 3, 1976 was declared "Billy Joe Day" by Mississippi Governor Cliff Finch. The placement of a bronze tablet on the Tallahatchie Bridge near Rising Sun, MS was officiated by Gandy. The celebration was attended by stars Robby Benson and Glynnis O’Connor and producer Roger Camras. A similar event was held in Los Angeles, CA, on the same day to commerate the opening of the film. Burbank Mayor Leland Ayers dedicated a sixteen-foot-long replica of the Tallahatchie Bridge, constructed twenty-five feet above Olive Avenue. Director Max Baer, Jr. was in attendance at the event.[2]

The film opened nationwide on June 4, 1976.[4]

Soundtrack[edit]

Ode to Billy Joe (Sound Track from Max Baer's Motion Picture)
OdeToBillyJoeCD.jpg
Soundtrack album by Various Artists
Released May 10, 1976
Length 31:37
Label Warner Bros.
Producer Marshall Leib
Singles from Ode to Billy Joe (Sound Track from Max Baer's Motion Picture)
  1. "Ode to Billy Joe - Main Title"
    Released: April 1976

Ode to Billy Joe (Sound Track from Max Baer's Motion Picture) is the soundtrack album to the 1976 film Ode to Billy Joe. It was released on May 10, 1976, by Warner Bros. Records.

The album was issued on CD for the first time in 2017 by California based label Kritzerland.

Bobbie Gentry re-recorded her iconic hit song, "Ode to Billie Joe", for the film, with the spelling of the title character's name changed to "Billy". Gentry stated that the original spelling had been a typo, this is corroborated by her original hand-written lyrics of the song.

Commercial performance[edit]

"Ode to Billy Joe - Main Title" was issued as a single in in April 1976. It peaked at No. 65 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Capitol Records, Gentry's label when the original 1967 recording was released, reissued it as a single in June 1976 to capitalize on the film's success. The original recording reached a peak position of No. 54 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. The album did not chart.

Track listing[edit]

Side one
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Ode to Billy Joe - Main Title" (performed by Bobbie Gentry)Bobbie Gentry, arr. Jimmie Haskell4:21
2."By the Pond"Michel Legrand1:15
3."On the Bridge"Legrand2:44
4."Night"Legrand3:40
5."Reflections"Legrand1:27
6."Morning Stillness"Legrand3:08
7."There'll Be Time (Love Theme)"Legrand, Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman2:13
Side two
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Magnolia Turn-Around"Thurman Box1:45
2."Rattle Snake Daddy"Hoyt Ming2:05
3."Standing Pine Breakdown"Morgan Gilmer2:42
4."Memphis Thelma"Sherrill Parks2:29
5."Ode to Billy Joe - End Title Instrumental"Gentry, arr. Haskell2:00

References[edit]

External links[edit]