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Ode to Billy Joe (1976)

PG  |   |  Drama  |  4 June 1976 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.4/10 from 989 users  
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Billy Joe confesses his love to the lovely Bobbi Lee only to cover his growing fear that he may, in fact, be homosexual. One night, at a barn dance, he gets a little drunk and rather than ... See full summary »


(as Max Baer)


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Joan Hotchkis ...
Anna 'Mama' Hartley
Sandy McPeak ...
Glenn 'Papa' Hartley
Dewey Barksdale
Terence Goodman ...
James Hartley
Becky Bowen ...
Becky Thompson
Simpson Hemphill ...
Brother Taylor
Ed Shelnut ...
Coleman Stroud
Eddie Talr ...
Tom Hargitay
William Hallberg ...
Dan McAllister
Frannye Capelle ...
Belinda Wiggs
Rebecca Jernigan ...
Mrs. Thompson
Ann Martin ...
Mrs. Hunicutt
Will Long ...
Trooper Bosh


Billy Joe confesses his love to the lovely Bobbi Lee only to cover his growing fear that he may, in fact, be homosexual. One night, at a barn dance, he gets a little drunk and rather than going with the hired whores, gives into his desires and sexual relations with an unnamed man. The guilt causes him to run away, hide in the woods and eventually confess everything to Bobbi Lee who doesn't want to believe him only because she was enjoying the forbidden nature of their love. In the end, he cannot accept his sexuality nor can he hide behind Bobbi Lee and that's why he throws himself off the Tallahachee bridge. Written by John Vogel <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


What the song didn't tell you, the movie will.




PG | See all certifications »




Release Date:

4 June 1976 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Ponte do Desejo  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Directed by Max Baer Jr., who portrayed "Jethro Bodine" in the long running comedy The Beverly Hillbillies (1962). See more »


As Papa Hartley and the three boys are battling it out in their trucks on the bridge the camera moves from inside the Hartley truck looking out to outside looking in. As they do this you see from the inside that the windshield in front of the driver is badly cracked but as they move to the outside angle it is not cracked at all. See more »


Bobbie Lee Hartley: It's gonna be all right. We've just been waiting so long and trying so hard. Oh, it's all right Billy Joe.
Billy Joe McAllister: It ain't all right! I ain't all right!
[long pause as Billy Joe walks a few steps away from Bobbie Lee]
Billy Joe McAllister: Bobbie... I have been with a man! Did you hear me? Which is a sin against nature! A sin against God! I don't know how I could have done it, I swear! I don't know how I could be wanting you and do that.
Bobbie Lee Hartley: But you were drunk. Maybe you just imagined it.
Billy Joe McAllister: I didn't imagine nothing!
Bobbie Lee Hartley: But you were ...
See more »


Referenced in Jeopardy!: Episode #22.32 (2005) See more »


Lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
Music by Michel Legrand
See more »

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User Reviews

"Nothing Ever Comes To No Good Up On Choctaw Ridge"
20 January 2000 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

Yes, it's the film of That Song. No movie can ever hope to to justice to the enigmatic, doom-laden 1967 Bobbie Gentry hit, or come close to capturing the stifling Southern atmosphere that the song evokes so well, but as a film in its own right, this prettily-photographed tale is not at all bad. The locations are all genuine Mississippi, and cinematographer Michel Hugo has done an excellent job of evoking the exuberance of high summer.

And talking of the 1960's, remember Jethro Bodine and his sixth-grade education? Well the actor who created Jethro (and is also the son of the heavyweight boxing champion), Max Baer Jr., produced and directed this quirky little offering.

It is Mississippi in 1953, and the pretty adolescent girl Bobby Lee is having fantasies about boys. Billy Joe McAlister begins to court her, but as their mutual affection blossoms, darker currents are swirling beneath the Tallahatchee Bridge ...

A careful, almost literal rendering of the song, the film is a commendable effort which gets stronger and more assured as it goes along. If it is somewhat heavy with Deep South cliche (plenty of "ah dew declayer" and "raaaht neighbourly"), it really couldn't have been otherwise. The song itself is overloaded with similar stuff. I personally did not like Bobby Lee's poem, which struck me as to syrupy and too slow.

Bobby Benson is adequate as the haunted Billy Joe, but the film's real success is the performance of Glynnis O'Connor as Bobby Lee. She handles the range of emotions with aplomb, and virtually demands that the viewer identify with her. The final scene on the bridge confirms that Bobby Lee has grown as a person and has emerged from the tragedy stronger than the adults around her.

Bobby Lee's huffy soliloquy on the country road is very good, with its subtle edge of self-deprecating humour, and the long courting-scene which follows it is nicely-judged. The rueful interregnum after Billy Joe's disappearance is beautifully done, dominated by the delightful Michel Legrand piano score. The rag doll floating in the water is a striking symbol, both of Billy Joe and of the abandonment of childhood.

Verdict - If a film version of the Bobbie Gentry song is going to be done, this is probably the best way to do it.

21 of 23 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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Recent Posts
When/why/how was he with another man? libertino85
The whole homosexuality issue bigtwang
Ambiguity in Billy Joe ode by Bobbie Gentry bettiem
It was a baby they threw and here is why... darkmoonlady2002
Okay, a little help please... welwutevrnvrmind
coming to dvd on 2/10/09 jemglamgirl
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