Ode to Billy Joe (1976)

PG | 106 mins | Drama | 3 June 1976

Director:

Max Baer

Writer:

Herman Raucher

Producers:

Max Baer, Roger Camras

Cinematographer:

Michel Hugo

Production Designer:

Philip Jefferies
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HISTORY

       The bands featured in the Jamboree sequence include the Leakey County Strings, Luther and Calvin and the River Reds, the Chickasaw Woodchucks, Gurney Parks and the Mudcats, and the Tallahatchie Tub-Thumpers. All were local to the Mississippi River Delta region, as reported in the 8 Sep 1975 HR.
       According to "Film Assignments" in the 12 Jun 1975 DV, Don Bolger and Don Harigay were originally hired as boom man and assistant props, respectively. However, the roles onscreen were credited to Cal Marks and Richard Cowitt, respectively.
       The 12 Jun 1975 HR announced the completion of a $3.5 million deal between producer-director Max Baer, and Warner Bros. Pictures for a film based on singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry’s hit song, “Ode To Billie Joe.” Baer offered Gentry and her publisher, Larry Shane Music, a large percentage of the film’s receipts, and paid screenwriter Herman Raucher $250,000 and a share of the profits to write the screenplay. Raucher was chosen on the strength of his script for Summer of ’42 (1971, see entry). Baer intended to cast a pair of unknown actors for the lead roles of “Bobbie Lee Hartley” and “Billy Joe McAllister.” Gentry declined to appear in the film. Ode to Billy Joe marked the motion picture debut for stage actor Terence Goodman (“James Hartley”), who bore a striking resemblance to Baer, according to the 28 Jun 1976 HR.
       A news item in the 2 Jul 1975 Var stated that locations for Ode to Billy Joe would include Gentry’s hometown of Greenwood, MS, along ... More Less

       The bands featured in the Jamboree sequence include the Leakey County Strings, Luther and Calvin and the River Reds, the Chickasaw Woodchucks, Gurney Parks and the Mudcats, and the Tallahatchie Tub-Thumpers. All were local to the Mississippi River Delta region, as reported in the 8 Sep 1975 HR.
       According to "Film Assignments" in the 12 Jun 1975 DV, Don Bolger and Don Harigay were originally hired as boom man and assistant props, respectively. However, the roles onscreen were credited to Cal Marks and Richard Cowitt, respectively.
       The 12 Jun 1975 HR announced the completion of a $3.5 million deal between producer-director Max Baer, and Warner Bros. Pictures for a film based on singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry’s hit song, “Ode To Billie Joe.” Baer offered Gentry and her publisher, Larry Shane Music, a large percentage of the film’s receipts, and paid screenwriter Herman Raucher $250,000 and a share of the profits to write the screenplay. Raucher was chosen on the strength of his script for Summer of ’42 (1971, see entry). Baer intended to cast a pair of unknown actors for the lead roles of “Bobbie Lee Hartley” and “Billy Joe McAllister.” Gentry declined to appear in the film. Ode to Billy Joe marked the motion picture debut for stage actor Terence Goodman (“James Hartley”), who bore a striking resemblance to Baer, according to the 28 Jun 1976 HR.
       A news item in the 2 Jul 1975 Var stated that locations for Ode to Billy Joe would include Gentry’s hometown of Greenwood, MS, along with the neighboring communities of Itta Bena and Vaiden. As reported in the 25 Aug 1975 Box, the Tallahatchie Bridge, made famous by the song, collapsed into the Tallahatchie River some years prior, and was replaced by a more modern structure. An older bridge, near Itta Bena on the Chickasaw Ridge, was selected as a location for the film. While the article described the plot as “based on a sad incident in Ms. Gentry’s young years,” Baer gave the 4 Aug 1976 LAT his opinion that “Billy Joe” was inspired by a tragic adolescent romance between the singer and an African American.
       The 4 Aug 1975 HR and the 6 Aug 1975 Var reported that principal photography began on 4 Aug 1975.
       According to production notes in the AMPAS library, Ode to Billy Joe premiered 2 Jun 1976 at the Paramount Theatre in Jackson, MS, as a benefit for the Mississippi Film Foundation. It was attended by Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Gandy, among numerous other dignitaries. Mississippi Governor Cliff Finch declared 3 Jun 1976 “Billy Joe Day” in celebration of the film’s official opening in 550 theaters throughout the American South, and of Gentry’s induction as the first woman in the Mississippi Hall of Fame. Gandy officiated at the placement of a bronze tablet on the Tallahatchie Bridge near Rising Sun, MS. The three-day celebration was attended by stars Robbie Benson and Glynnis O’Connor, and by producer Roger Camras.
       As reported in the 14 Jun 1976 Box, a related event was held outside the Burbank Studios in Burbank, CA, on 3 June 1976, where Burbank Mayor Leland Ayers dedicated a sixteen-foot-long replica of the Tallahatchie Bridge, constructed twenty-five feet above Olive Avenue. Also in attendance were Max Baer, and the Burbank High School Jazz Ensemble, which performed a rendition of “Ode To Billy Joe.” The three-dimensional structure extended from a billboard bearing the image of the Tallahatchie Bridge.
       The 14 Jun 1976 DV announced a three-day “write-a-song competition” with Baer, Gentry, composer Michel Legrand and record producer Larry Marks as judges. It was held on 18 – 20 Jun 1976 in the West Los Angeles community of Century City, whose concrete, steel and glass buildings had been decorated to resemble rural Mississippi. The winning song would be recorded by the author and released on Warner Bros. Records.
       Ode to Billy Joe debuted in Los Angeles, CA, on 29 Jun 1976 at the Avco Center Cinema in an event honoring the Thalians Presidents Club. Baer and Gentry also attended.
       The film opened to mostly positive reviews, receiving good notices from the 29 Jun 1976 LAT, the 20 Sep 1976 Time, the 29 Jun 1976 LAHExam, the 31 May 1976 Box and the 3 Jun 1976 DV. The 17 Sep 1976 DV announced that the film was awarded the Premio Pasinetti at the 1976 Venice Film Festival. The prize, sponsored by the National Film Journalists Union, is awarded to the new releases “of the highest human value.”
       A news item in the 28 Jun 1976 HR reported Capitol Records’ re-release of Gentry’s “Ode To Billy Joe” that was prompted by interest generated from the film. This was the fourth release of the single since its debut on 10 Jun 1967.
       The 11 Jan 1976 LAT announced Herman Raucher’s novelization of his screenplay, to be published as a paperback for Dell Publishing.
      End credits include the written acknowledgements: "Filmed on Location in Leflore and Tallahatchie Counties, Mississippi where this story took place."; "Special Thanks To: Mississippi Highway Patrol, Mississippi Boat & Water Commission—Water Safety Patrol, Itta Bena & Greenwood Mississippi."
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
25 Aug 1975.
---
Box Office
31 May 1976.
---
Box Office
14 Jun 1976.
---
Daily Variety
12 Jun 1975.
---
Daily Variety
3 Jun 1976
p. 2, 10.
Daily Variety
14 Jun 1976.
---
Daily Variety
17 Sep 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jun 1975
p. 1, 10.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Aug 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Sep 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jun 1976
p. 3, 19.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jun 1976.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
29 Jun 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
29 Jun 1976
p. 1, 8.
Los Angeles Times
4 Aug 1976.
---
New York Times
19 Aug 1976
p. 48.
Time
20 Sep 1976.
---
Variety
9 Jun 1976
p. 23.
Variety
2 Jul 1975.
---
Variety
6 Aug 1975.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Max Baer Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Unit prod mgr
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
Screen story and scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit dir of photog
2d unit dir of photog
Operative cam
Key grip
Asst cam
Still photog
Chapman crane op
Processing by
Best boy
Best boy
Generator op
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Scenic artist
Prop master
Asst prop master
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Orig mus
Mus coord
"Ode to Billy Joe" mus arr
Mus ed
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Dubbing mixer
Dial ed
Sd boom man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Titles and opticals
MAKEUP
Hair stylist
Make-up artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Loc mgr
Scr supv
Prod secy
Asst to the prod
Asst to the assoc prod
Asst to the assoc prod
Asst to the assoc prod
Asst to the assoc prod
Craft service
Transportation
Transportation
Transportation
Transportation
Loc prod secy
Honeywagon driver
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the song written and sung by Bobbie Gentry.
AUTHOR
SONGS
"There'll Be Time," lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, music by Michel Legrand
"Ode To Billy Joe," written and performed by Bobbie Gentry.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Bobbie Gentry's Ode to Billy Joe
Release Date:
3 June 1976
Premiere Information:
Premiered 2 June 1976, Jackson, MS
Los Angeles opening: 29 June 1976
New York opening: week of 19 August 1976
Production Date:
began 4 August 1975
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc.
Copyright Date:
3 June 1976
Copyright Number:
LP46546
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Photography equipment by Panavision®; Prints by Technicolor®
Duration(in mins):
106
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1953 Mississippi, Billy Joe McAllister flirts with Bobbie Lee Hartley as she crosses the Tallahatchie Bridge. Bobbie Lee reminds him that her father, Glenn, still thinks of her as a child, even though she is fifteen years old and has been wearing a brassiere for two years. A friend since childhood, Billy Joe teases her about “Benjamin,” the imaginary friend in whom Bobbie Lee has always confided, and offers himself as a replacement. Bobbie Lee says nothing but is delighted by Billy Joe’s attention. That evening, Brother Taylor, the local Baptist preacher, has dinner with the Hartleys, and Bobbie Lee is asked by her parents to play a hymn on the piano. Later, Billy Joe is at a saloon where exotic dancer Belinda Wiggs is giving a performance, but he becomes uncomfortable and leaves. Meanwhile, Bobbie Lee is in her bedroom reading aloud from Torrid Romance. The next morning, Bobbie Lee and her mother, Anna, pack eggs for market while Glenn loads cans of milk onto his pickup truck. Anna empathizes with her daughter’s sexual curiosity and, although she knows her advice is inadequate, reminds Bobbie Lee that “when the sap rises, a girl has to count to ten.” While driving their wares to market, Glenn and Bobbie Lee are trapped on the bridge by a pickup truck containing three drunken boys from Alabama. Glenn’s inability to pass or shift into reverse results in a shoving match between the ... +


In 1953 Mississippi, Billy Joe McAllister flirts with Bobbie Lee Hartley as she crosses the Tallahatchie Bridge. Bobbie Lee reminds him that her father, Glenn, still thinks of her as a child, even though she is fifteen years old and has been wearing a brassiere for two years. A friend since childhood, Billy Joe teases her about “Benjamin,” the imaginary friend in whom Bobbie Lee has always confided, and offers himself as a replacement. Bobbie Lee says nothing but is delighted by Billy Joe’s attention. That evening, Brother Taylor, the local Baptist preacher, has dinner with the Hartleys, and Bobbie Lee is asked by her parents to play a hymn on the piano. Later, Billy Joe is at a saloon where exotic dancer Belinda Wiggs is giving a performance, but he becomes uncomfortable and leaves. Meanwhile, Bobbie Lee is in her bedroom reading aloud from Torrid Romance. The next morning, Bobbie Lee and her mother, Anna, pack eggs for market while Glenn loads cans of milk onto his pickup truck. Anna empathizes with her daughter’s sexual curiosity and, although she knows her advice is inadequate, reminds Bobbie Lee that “when the sap rises, a girl has to count to ten.” While driving their wares to market, Glenn and Bobbie Lee are trapped on the bridge by a pickup truck containing three drunken boys from Alabama. Glenn’s inability to pass or shift into reverse results in a shoving match between the two trucks, which leaves Glenn’s vehicle balanced precariously on the edge of the bridge. Bobbie Lee runs to Dewey Barksdale’s sawmill to get help from James, her older brother, who works there. As she returns to the bridge with James and sawmill workers Tom Hargitay and Billy Joe, they are hindered by the Alabama boys, who veer continuously across the narrow road. Glenn is rescued, but his truck is badly damaged, which infuriates James. Sunday morning, outside the church, congregants compliment Brother Taylor on his sermon denouncing premarital sex, while Billy Joe tells Bobbie Lee of his intention to call on her that evening. She warns him of her father’s strictness, but Billy Joe is undaunted. Toward evening, Bobbie Lee complains to Glenn about the family’s need for electricity and indoor plumbing, before introducing the subject of “gentleman callers.” When he asks her age, she answers, “32B,” referring to her bra size. Glenn promises to allow callers in two years, when she is “34”. Bobbie Lee is exasperated and goes outside for a walk. While complaining aloud about the backward ways of her community, Bobbie Lee encounters Billy Joe. They walk to the side of a pond where they share their first kiss, before falling in. At the sawmill the next day, the teasing that Billy Joe endures from James and Tom reinforces his desire to move to another town. Meanwhile, a mother-daughter discussion of womanhood is interrupted when Glenn surprises his family with a new toilet. The following afternoon, Billy Joe forces his way onto the school bus and makes public his intentions toward Bobbie Lee. She pretends to be embarrassed, but after they get off the bus, Bobbie Lee hints that her father may become more open-minded once the toilet is installed. That Saturday night, Barksdale’s sawmill hosts a musical event called the Okolona River Bottom Jamboree. While people dance inside, a group of prostitutes create a makeshift brothel in an adjacent structure. After getting Billy Joe intoxicated on beer, Tom brings him to the brothel. In the parking lot, James discovers the truck belonging to the Alabama boys, and a brawl ensues, resulting in a broken jaw for one of the boys. Tuesday morning, Trooper Ned and Trooper Bosh appear at the sawmill, along with Billy Joe’s father, Dan McAllister, who is looking for his missing son. Later, Bobbie Lee finds Billy Joe by the pond. He has been hiding in the woods for the last three days, ashamed of a sin he committed at the Jamboree. When they both admit to loving each other, he asks her to meet him on the bridge at dusk to consummate their relationship. After dinner, Bobbie Lee finds the rag doll she named “Benjamin” and brings it with her to the bridge. When she arrives, Brother Taylor is fishing nearby, and Billy Joe, who is extremely tense, accidentally drops Benjamin into the river. Once the preacher has left, they head to a wooded area, but Billy Joe is unable to perform. He bursts into tears and admits to having intercourse with a man, and must therefore be a homosexual. Bobbie Lee refuses to believe it and wants to resume their lovemaking, but he declines and sends her home. She tries to encourage him with the news that her father will allow gentleman callers. Billy Joe promises that he will do better next time. The next morning, the sheriff and his troopers pull Billy Joe’s body from the river. At the funeral service, Brother Taylor professes that at least one among the congregation knows the reason for Billy Joe’s suicide. Sometime later, while Bobbie Lee collects eggs in the chicken coup, James informs her that the McAllisters sold their house and have moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi. James believes that his sister is pregnant by Billy Joe, as does almost everyone else in town, and is concerned that her reputation is ruined while Billy Joe becomes a folk hero. The neighbors have stopped speaking to Bobbie Lee’s mother, and Glenn’s deaconship with the church has been terminated after twenty years. James recommends that his sister seek an abortion, but Bobbie Lee says nothing in her own defense. One morning at dawn, Bobbie Lee leaves the farm with her suitcase and encounters Dewey Barksdale on the bridge. When she explains that she is leaving on the next bus, he tells her to stay and defend herself, aware that she is not pregnant. Barksdale admits that he was the man who seduced Billy Joe, and was on his way to tell her family. Bobbie Lee asks Dewey to keep his secret, believing that the truth would ruin his life and Billy Joe’s reputation. She is less concerned about herself, admitting that the scandal makes her feel like the heroine in a story from Torrid Romance. Barksdale requests the honor of driving Bobbie Lee to the depot. A year later, James is married, Glenn has died, Anna is in mourning, and Bobbie Lee throws flowers off the Tallahatchie Bridge. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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