6.6/10
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37 user 11 critic

Ode to Billy Joe (1976)

PG | | Drama | 4 June 1976 (USA)
Billy Jo struggles with his sexuality after a drunken encounter.

Director:

Max Baer Jr. (as Max Baer)

Writers:

Bobbie Gentry (song), Herman Raucher
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Cast

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

At last, we're given the answers to the questions raised by the haunting 1967 Bobbie Gentry song of the same title. Eighteen- year-old Billy Joe McAllister is in love with Bobbie Lee, but her father refuses to allow her to receive gentlemen callers before she's sixteen. In the Mississippi Delta, in a time before the boondocks had seen television and indoor plumbing, a young man's fancy turns constantly to thoughts of love. Billy Joe is no different in this regard and his persistence is making it difficult for Bobbie Lee to maintain her virtue (the dog-earred issues of "Torrid Romance" don't help either). Perhaps an indictment of the artificial conventions of society, the film demonstrates the tragic consequences of a young couple's first awkward grapplings with love and sex. As Bobbie Lee says shortly after Billy Joe's lifeless body is dragged from the Tallahatchie River, "What do I know of love... I'm only a child." Yet, there seems little doubt that what she feels for the dead boy ... Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

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

Genres:

Drama

Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Screenwriter Herman Raucher was paid $250,000 by the Dell Publishing Company to author a tie-in paperback novel, which was ultimately deemed a colossal financial disaster. See more »

Goofs

When Billy Joe and Bobbie Lee are talking on the bridge and they see the pastor in his car watching them, Billy Joe turns the opposite direction to walk away across the bridge. When the pastor approaches in his car, he and Bobbie have a conversation about the dance that night that lasts a minute or two. When the pastor drives on and he stops to give Billy Joe a ride, it looks as though Billy Joe had only walked a few yards during the entire time Bobbie and the pastor were having their conversation. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Billy Joe McAllister: HEY! I've been holding up this here bridge for over an hour so it wouldn't fall on you!
Bobbie Lee Hartley: Right neighborly of you, Mr. McAllister.
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Connections

Referenced in Where'd You Go, Bernadette (2019) See more »

Soundtracks

There'll Be Time
Lyrics by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
Music by Michel Legrand
See more »

User Reviews

"Nothing Ever Comes To No Good Up On Choctaw Ridge"
20 January 2000 | by stryker-5See 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.


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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

4 June 1976 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Ode to Billy Joe See more »

Filming Locations:

Greenwood, Mississippi, USA See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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