The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia



Before it was rescued and rehabilitated by Reba, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” was an inexplicably huge mid-70s hit for that world-renowned vocalist Vicki Lawrence.

Vicki who?

Aw come on, you know Vicki Lawrence. She started off as a regular on “The Carol Burnett Show,” not because she was a great comedienne but because she bore a strong resemblance to Ms. Burnett. From there she went on to host a TV game show based on a board game and starred in “Mama’s Family”, the sitcom tied with “Hogan’s Heroes” for worst of all time.

A checkered career, if ever there was one. Still, “The Night the Lights Went Out” was a monster hit, all over the radio. hqdefaultA story song brimming over with sex, betrayal and murder, it seemed a natural to be made into a movie. The only problem was it was pretty convoluted, with one murder unsolved, and some other unanswered questions such as why would a guy being hanged cause the lights all over the Peach State to go out? (I mean I’ve heard that firing up the electric chair causes prison lights to flicker, but a noose? and the whole darn state?) And this sister who supposedly loved her brother so much she blew away his unfaithful wife, how come she let the guy swing for a murder he didn’t commit? Talk about your buttinski relatives. Thanks a lot, Sis, please don’t help me anymore.

Actually, the Hollywood hotshots probably never got that far. They were probably stymied just trying to figure out exactly who shot whom. (And beyond some character names, the movie has absolutely nothing to do with the song, so obviously they never did figure it out.)

One more note about the song before we get to the movie: my hobby is collecting dumb song lyrics and “The Night The Lights. . .” delivers up a doozy. A guy’s wife is running around and a “friend” of the guy is telling him how his beloved bride has seen more covers than the Beatles’ “Yesterday”. Naturally the guy is upset, and the friend tells him, “Boy, don’t you lose your head, cuz to tell you the truth, I been with her myself.” Now there you go, the perfect words to cheer a cuckolded chum.

Oops, I lied. One more note about the silly song before we get to the moronic movie it spawned. If you’re ever out searching for your cheating spouse and you find one of her boyfriend’s lying in a “puddle of blood” do not – I repeat, do not – fire off the gun you’re carrying to alert the police.maxresdefault This will only lead to questions you can’t answer and may cause lights to flicker out all over your state.

The movie gets off to a good start – Vicki Lawrence doesn’t sing the opening song. That honor goes to Tanya Tucker, who certainly knows a little about lights going kaput, as many times as she’s blacked out. And right away we know there’ll be plenty of that good old sex and violence, as Dennis Quaid and a buxom friend are naked in the bed with said friend’s jealous husband banging down the door. Quaid’s sister Kristy McNichol saves him by pulling out a .357 Magnum and telling the husband, “Back the hell off, Mister, before I blow yer punkin’ right off your red neck.” (Yes, I collect bad movie lines as well.)

Turns out Quaid is a singer-songwriter, McNichol his sister, manager, chaffeur, chestnut-out-of-the-fire-puller all in one. She looks about 14 but she drinks almost as much as her brother who gargles with Jack Daniels. Their father is dead – “blowed hisself to Jesus” is how they put it. Quaid had a minor hit some time back, and nobody’s banging down his door with offers to host a game show, so sis McNichol is trying to get him to the big time in Nashville. Meanwhile, they’re living in a tiny camper in back of the pickup, singing in places like Homer’s Highway Hightail Saloon with the aptly-named White Trash Band, but all Quaid’s really interested in is bedding blonde bimbos.

Travis is arrested for public drunkenness and assaulting a police officer. The judge sentences him – without hearing any testimony – to 300 dollars in fines or forty days picking peas at the prison farm.

McNichol has her own run-in with the law, as she is pulled by state trooper Mark (Luke Skywalker) Hamill. With his babyface and longish hair and unbuttoned uniform shirts, he does not look like any cop one would meet on the streets – especially not in the South. He looks more like a male stripper at some matron’s birthday party.

McNichol and Officer Skywalker line up a bartending job for Quaid. To McNichol, it’s a way to pay his bail and get back on the road. To Quaid, it’s an opportunity to hit on hussies. The one he has his eye on is an Olivia Newton-John lookalike, a floozy with feathered hair (and brains to match). By one of those coincidences that only happen in Hollywood, she happens to be involved with Seth, the sadistic cop who arrested Quaid.

Quaid is having such a great time chasing Seth’s girlfriend, Melody, and fighting Seth, he does not want to give up the glamour of bartending in a roadhouse for country music stardom. So McNichol gets up on stage and sings – well, I guess you could call it singing. Anyway, she says she is going to Nashville by herself. Why I have no idea.

Quaid finally beds Melody, then changes his mind and takes off after his sister for Nashville. Instead of fame and fortune however, he meets up with Smith and Wesson – in the hands of Seth. These two nimnulls end up blowing each other to Jesus, an expiring Quaid driving dramatically off into the hills to die, a tragic loss to bar belles everywhere.

After the funeral McNichol is on the road again, but she’s pulled by Officer Skywalker. He declares his love for her. (All through the movie McNichol has been 16 years old, but now without benefit of birthday she’s all of a sudden 17, an age the producers probably figured was more appropriate to run away with a police officer.)b539cf4408b0b20cc56ee1d46f5e6977

Skywalker abandons his patrol vehicle, takes off his gun belt, shirt and pants. (See, I told you he was really a male stripper.) And wearing nothing but his underwear and Smokey Bear hat (this is probably so he can plug up his ears with the straps if McNichol decides to sing on the way) they drive off into the sunset.

Falling From Grace starring and directed by John Melancholy – I mean Mellencamp.

In his first and so far (cross your fingers!) only starring role in a major motion picture, John Mellencamp tries to emulate James Dean and Marlon Brando. He wants to be perceived as a brooding loner, a misunderstood rebel. But he comes across more like a mumbling moron.JMEVD013

In “Falling From Grace” based on one of Larry (“Lonesome Dove”) McMurtry’s few stinkers, Mellencamp plays Bud Parks, a young man from Doak City, Indiana. Doak City (Doak should probably be spelled with an R instead of an A as you’ll soon see) is the kind of place where they still play Hank Senior on the radio, and the big thing for the kids to do on a Saturday night is drink whiskey, shoot pistols and strap themselves into a coffin-sized metal box that their drunken friends will then hurl from a speeding pick-up truck. It’s probably supposed to be a metaphor for the constraints of small-town life – either that or it’s a way to impress those chicks who are really into roadburn.

Bud is supposed to be a big country singer, friend of Waylon and Willie, but we never see him play an instrument or sing (except for a few off-key a cappella lines from what is arguably Buck Owens’s worst song “I Got the Hungries For Your Love (And I’m Waitin’ in Your Welfare Line”). We know he’s a country singer though because he wears a cowboy hat and has sideburns down to his clavicle. He’s back in Doak City along with wife Mariel Hemingway (who looks extremely embarrassed about being in this turkey) for his grandfather’s 80th birthdayI will strangle you if you make another turkey like this.. Grandpa sits on the porch in his sweaty old underwear and a moth-eaten old hat, flies buzzing around his head. He thinks he is a ladies man and started a rumor about his bad back to keep the women off him.

He is – no kidding – the cream of Doak City society.

Bud also has a narcoleptic brother-in-law, an illegitimate half-brother with a chip on his shoulder and a crush on wife Mariel, an obnoxious brother who is married to Bud’s high school flame PJ (Kay Lenz) who is also having an affair with Bud’s father, her father-in-law (Claude Akins).

Like sands through the hourglass. . .

Daddy Claude also tries to put the moves on Mariel while Mellencamp is out moping around on his motorcycle, but she knows even soap operas can get too convoluted and smacks him in the jaw with a cast iron frying pan. Bud is only scheduled to be in Doak City for three days, but he loves dysfunctionality so much he’s still there weeks later. He’s even ready to give up the music business. Wife Mariel wisely packs up the bags and their daughter and heads home to California. Bud doesn’t care because by now he’s joined in the family tradition and is sleeping with PJ. No explanation is given as to why he would rather stand in line for some small-town Harlot when he’s got Mariel Hemingway at home – not to mention tons of groupies. No explanation is given as to why in the heck he – or anybody – would want to stay in Doak City one second longer than they had to. None of it rings true.

(Which is not to say that the movie doesn’t have moments of honesty. When PJ asks Bud at the country club if he wants to go for a walk, Bud says, “Might as well; I can’t dance.” And anybody who’s seen the video to “Cherry Bomb” knows just how true that is.)

Claude and Bud get into a fistfight which Dad wins handily. Now he’s got a black eye, and his wife and child are gone, his videos have dropped out of heavy rotation on CMT, Willie Nelson won’t return his calls, and the bank is coming to repossess the bus. What does Bud – Mr. Clear Thinking – Parks decide to do about all this?

If you said get rip-roaring drunk and have two other morons strap him into a metal box and throw him off the back of a pickup doing 80 mph, you’re weird enough that maybe you should be living in Doak City. After a hundred and some-odd minutes of this mishmash of a movie, you’re more than ready for somebody to throw Mellencamp out of a speeding vehicle. That’s why it’s so frustrating that this scene drags on forever, whole minutes where all you see is a dim outline of Mellencamp in the box. And all you hear is his highly-amplified heartbeat – that and the snores of anybody watching this video with you who is not being paid to review it.

The good thing about cruising in a metal box is that for a while it’s cool, sparks flying everywhere; but the bad thing is you’ve got no steering wheel. Bud’s box runs off the road, hits a sign and shoots into a deep ditch, and he wakes up in the hospital. Not the mental hospital where he belongs, a regular hospital.

Wife Mariel comes to see him, probably to make sure the fool’s insurance premiums are all paid up. fgrce10hShe gives him an impassioned speech and tells him he has to decide what he wants, and you can just tell that this knucklehead is thinking: “What I want is to put some Jim Beam in that IV, and then get a couple of guys to strap me down in this hospital bed and throw me down the elevator shaft.”

There will be no shortage of volunteers.