On the final night of his life, Dec. 31, 1952, country music legend Hank Williams imagines himself giving a New Year's Eve performance in a small bar, with his comments to the audience reflecting upon his life.
At the end of 1952, with the best years of Hank Williams's career behind him, he hires a local kid to drive him through the Appalachian countryside for a pair of New Years shows in West Virginia and Ohio.
Fred Dalton Thompson
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This is an exceptional musical biography of one of the greatest singer-songwriters-entertainers of the 20th century. Single handedly this country boy from the backwoods of Alabama changed American country music and in the process crossed over and changed popular music as well. His influence is still felt today from the legacy of Ray Charles to the driving force of Hank Williams Jr. Surprisingly the lead role in the movie is done quite well by George Hamilton, usually seen as just another pretty face in those days. It is amazing that fourteen-year-old Hank Jr. does such a fantastic job dubbing his dad's music for Hamilton. In some ways his rendition of Hank Sr.'s most poetic song, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," is better than the original. He almost captures all the pain and loneliness of his dad's magnificent voice.
Though there are many liberties taken with Hank Sr.'s life story, the film keeps the spirit of the man and the legend alive and burning brightly. One reason for the biographical changes besides poetic license to make the film more dramatic was the forced reliance on the no-talent Miss Audrey, Hank Sr.'s ex, as adviser for the movie and mentor for Hank Jr. who sang for his father. This led to all kinds of omissions and changes such as no mention of Hank Sr.'s new bride to whom he was married just before his untimely passing.
The latest findings on Hank Sr.'s death, that he died from mixing alcohol and pain killers of the early 50's variety, does not conflict all that much with the ending of the movie. He did die in the backseat of his Cadillac while being chauffeured to a New Year's show in Canton, Ohio.
Undoubtedly he died New Year's Eve 1952 but was not pronounced dead until New Year's Day 1953. Hank therefore has the unenviable distinction of having died in two different calendar years. I was nine years old at the time and I remember that my family (poor country folks from the hills of Arkansas) took it as if it were a death in the family. That is how much of an icon he had become during his few short years of stardom.
So even though the facts of Hank's life may be wrong from time to time in the movie, his spirit is captured making this a great tribute to the man and his music.
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