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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.
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This movie, though awkwardly casted (Richard Thomas as Hank Williams, Jr.?) is a good glimpse into the life and times of Bocephus in the early years before he was an American Icon. It is based on the autobiography of the same name (co-written by Michael Bane). The book is much better as is always the case, and contains some truly great story telling and insights. The movie on the other hand, is about what you would expect from a made-for-TV type of affair. Serviceable but far less than inspiring.
I will only touch on a couple of the problems with this movie.
1) The Fall. As most know, the main focal-point of Hank Jr's adult life was a 500 ft mountain-fall on Ajax Mountain, MT in August of 1975. The fall is intricately and graphically detailed in the book. Hank was attempting to cross a snowfield when his footing gave way. He slid mostly face-first down the mountain, finally crashing head first into a huge boulder. It was more of a slide than a fall, really. The movie just plain butchers this scene. Further, probably the most powerful part of the book describes the hours Hank spent on the mountainside waiting for rescue. His struggle against the elements and his desperate desire to live, along with his guide's (Dick Wiley) desperate scramble down the mountain for help. The movie doesn't even touch on these things.
2) The music. In the movie, Hank wraps up the recording of his landmark "Hank Williams, Jr and Friends" album with the great song "Feelin' Better". Clearly, that song would have been a great addition to an already great album, but the thing is, "HW Jr & Friends" was recorded in 1975, before the mountain fall. "Feelin' Better" was on Hank's 1977 "The New South" album - released two years after the fall. In fact, the song is about Hank's recovery and return to the road. Also, the movie ends with Hank triumphantly returning to the stage (presumably in 1977, when he returned to touring) opening up with his hit "If Heaven Ain't A Lot Like Dixie". This song was released on his 1982 album "High Notes", a full five years after his return to the stage. These are such small but relatively important details - you would have thought they could have gotten at least the music right.
3) Again, the casting. The diminutive Richard Thomas was probably one of the worst choices to play 6'4" Hank Jr. He pulls it off during the pre-fall scenes, (which comprises a majority of the movie), but the final concert scene with Thomas in fake beard, sunglasses and cowboy hat is just comical. And what's with the cheesy balloons dropped from the rafters? Again, this is a made-for TV movie, but the cheese factor was out of control. It is as if they never consulted with Hank, Jr - or even read the book - prior to filming.
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