Today’s movie is Songwriter (1984). This movie is romping stomping Texas sized comedy with a country music soundtrack that is hard to beat. It’s also funny as heck.
So, let’ jump right into the actors, with only two show veterans.
Melinda Dillon played Honey Carder, the loving ex-wife of Doc Jenkins (Willie Nelson). Dillion was covered in Episode 95 – A Christmas Story (1983).
Rip Torn was about the best I have ever seen him as Dino McLeish, a small-time promoter. Torn was covered in Episode 26 – Time Limit (1957).
Well, this guy, even though he’s got almost 50 credits, I’m not going to call him an actor. When he does have a role, he just plays himself or sings, or both. And boy can he sing because he is Willie Nelson playing Doc Jenkins who is pretty much Willie Nelson. Get this soundtrack if you can find it.
Kris Kristofferson played singer Blackie Buck. It is important to really stretch yourself in the roles you take. Kristofferson was born in Brownsville, Texas, the site of the 1st battle of the Mexican-American War and the last battle of the Civil War.
Kristofferson was a Golden Gloves boxer and attended college in California. He received a Rhodes scholarship and studied at Oxford University. He later joined the Army and rose to the rank of Captain, before turning down a teaching gig at West Point. He left the Army to write songs.
He got a job cleaning up in a recording studio and flying a commercial helicopter. At the studio, he gave some songs to Johnny Cash but nothing came of it. When Kristofferson landed a helicopter in Cash’s yard, his songs were taken more seriously. Cash recorded “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” written by Kristofferson and it was a big hit.
Kristofferson lost his job as a pilot for drinking and it ruined his marriage to singer Rita Coolidge. Kristofferson’s movie career began in with The Last Movie (1971) which has an interesting premise and Julie Adams. The first movie I remember him in is Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) where he played Billy and Bob Dylan was in the movie as well as providing songs. He played a biker in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) but really got a lot of attention playing a singer on the way out because of booze, hard to believe, opposite the oddly cast Barbara Streisand in A Star Is Born (1976). He also quit drinking that year. That same year Kristofferson was in The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1976) which ask the filmmatic question – Can Kris Kristofferson act with his clothes on? Kristofferson played a trucker in the horrible Convoy (1978) based on the fun song of the same name. Heaven’s Gate (1980) virtually ruined his acting career but he made it back with comedies such as Songwriter (1984) and Big Top Pee-wee (1988). He played a mean SOB in Fire Down Below (1997) battling with Steven Seagal and another SOB in Payback (1999). He was terrible in the utterly horrible Planet of the Apes (2001) but did well in the Blade series 1998, 2002, and 2004. He was also in Dolphin Tale (2011) and Dolphin Tale 2 (2014).
Kristofferson is still working at 80 and making movies.
Lesley Ann Warren played the new singing star, Gilda. Warren was born in 1946 in New York City. She started training for stardom at an early age as a ballerina. Lesley studied at the New York’s Professional Children’s School and moved to the Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg by the time she was 17.
Warren started working in theater and was on Broadway by 1963. Her top theater reviews led to her being selected to play “Cinderella” 1965 in a made for television movie. She was amazing. I still remember when it came on. Warren was left with such a sweet image that she was signed by Disney and began playing the leads in movies like The Happiest Millionaire (1967) and The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968).
Not really happy with this squeaky-clean image, Warren left Disney and for a time went by Lesley Warren. She replaced Barbara Bain on “Mission Impossible” 1970 for one year. Bain left the show just 2 episodes after her husband, Martin Landau left over a contract dispute.
Warren began working in mini-TV-movies which were all the rage at the time. She even starred in Portrait of a Stripper (1979) as her career appeared to be winding down. But when she played Norma Cassady in the musical Victor Victoria (1982) alongside James Garner, she was back in the cat bird seat. This led to a few odd roles such as Songwriter (1984) before she transitioned into a sexy older woman for films like A Night in Heaven (1983). She played Miss. Scarlet in the riotously funny Clue (1985). She also started working more in television.
This great actress is still working.
Richard C. Sarafian played the role of Rodeo Rocky. Sarafian was a part time actor but he seemed to be much better as a director. Sarafian was born in 1930 in New York City. He served in the military during the Korean Conflict. Following the war, Sarafian attended New York University.
Sarafian eventually moved to Kansas City where he was working as a reporter. He met Director Robert Altman who gave him a job and Sarafian also married Altman’s sister. I’m not sure of the sequence.
Sarafian’s film roles include Songwriter (1984), Bugsy (1991), and Bullworth (1998). Among his 62 directing credits are Man in the Wilderness (1971) which is an earlier version of The Revenant (2015) with John Huston and Richard Harris, Vanishing Point (1971) which is great counter-culture car movie that was the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007), Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973), The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973) great title, The Next Man (1976) with Sean Conery, The Bear (1984) about Bear Bryant, Roll Tide, Eye of the Tiger (1986) featured Gary Busy against a violent motorcycle gang, Street Justice (1987) same as previous, and Solar Crisis (1990) with an Alan Smithee. Sarafian died in 2013.
What is an Alan Smithee? An Alan Smithee was the best-kept secret in Hollywood for a while. When a film director cannot accept the film, they made, because of conflicts with actors or the producer, or any other reason, and they felt that they lost creative control, they could apply to the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the film director credit would be given as Alan or Allen Smithee. This process started in 1968 and officially ended in 2000. The rules stated that the director would not talk about the circumstances that caused the problem.
The movie that got this all started was Death of a Gunfighter (1969) which starred Richard Widmark, whom I feel, was a pretty mean guy. Widmark got director Robert Totten removed and replaced with Don Siegel. Although each director spent a different number of days directing, the final cut had almost equal footage from both men. Siegel stated that it was really Widmark directing when each man was in charge. Neither man wanted to take credit for the film, and thus the Smithee was created by the DGA.
Other films that wear this crown include The Birds II: Land’s End (1994) The Shrimp on the Barbie (1990) Let’s Get Harry (1986) and Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) for the Second Assistant Director.
This movie begins with a younger Doc Jenkins (Willie Nelson), Blackie Buck (Kris Kristofferson), and Honey Carder (Melinda Dillon) signing behind chicken wire as beer bottles are thrown at the band. As the tour continues, Doc and Honey are married. Money for music comes into Doc’s hand for singing and out of his hand for some scheme like selling bull semen.
As it continues, Honey starts having children and leaves the band. The two guys go on singing. Doc keeps spending all of his money on schemes until the marriage breaks up. Doc gets married again and divorced again. Finally, Doc decides that someone is making money on the songwriting and he quits the road to be a mogul, leaving only Blackie on the road. Doc partners with Rodeo Rocky (Richard C. Sarafian).
Doc is looking for a female singer to produce. Doc is trying to record music but he is beset upon by one of his ex-wives for back support. But Doc gets the word that Rodeo Rocky really owns the company and he doesn’t really have any money. At Rodeo Rocky’s office, they tell Doc that he hasn’t been living up to his contract and that the money has been cutoff. All Doc has is the building and Blackie’s contract.
On Blackie’s tour bus, they find out that Dino McLeish (Rip Torn) has been selling tickets to Blackie Buck concerts without booking the band. They turn the bus around and head to Austin where Dino is selling fake tickets.
Dino goes to his house and his pretty young wife is there with a baby. Dino puts a pistol in his boot and his wife demands to be taken to the concert. She asks who the opening act will be.
Driving towards Austin is Gilda (Lesley Ann Warren) a nervous singer and her bandmate Arly (Mickey Raphael). Dino has to carry her onto the stage. When she starts singing she can wail. However, she is drinking like a fish. Dino announces that Blackie is not coming and encourages the fans to tear the place up. About this time, Blackie and his crew show up. Blackie hits Dino up for $5,000 for the show and then he sees how good a singer Gilda is.
After the show, Blackie and the band have to use bats and shotguns to get their money. Blackie says he only drinks so people won’t say that he is drug fiend. Later Blackie and the band go to Honey’s house and are very welcome. Blackie puts Honey on the phone with Doc. Blackie tells Doc about Gilda.
Gilda is playing a hotel when Dino, his wife, Doc, and Blackie go to watch. They like what they see. Dino has Gilda under contract so he and Doc have to work out a deal. They go to Gilda’s house and Doc flirts and gets Gilda wanting to work with him. Doc plays the song “Songwriter” for the partiers.
Doc and Dino continue to work on Gilda and getting her to record. Dino mentions that he found Gilda at the Pentecostal Center. Doc buys a vacuum cleaner and shows up at Honey’s house. Finally, she is happy to see him. Doc says he has been off of booze for a year. Honey chews him out for wasting money. Doc plays Honey a song and she remembers the good times. The kids come in and Doc works on music with his family.
Doc flies back to Nashville where he moguls at Cowbird records. He steals all the songs he has written. Doc calls his assistant to take all of his stuff to Austin. He confirms that he owns the building before burning it down.
Rocky finds out the building has burned. Doc heads to Austin, singing and playing the entire way.
Doc opens Lone Star Records in Austin. Doc gets a message that Rocky is going to break his knees and he looks for a place to hide his songs. Blackie is sleeping with Dino’s wife. Doc arranges with Gilda to take credit for writing his songs so Rocky can’t claim it.
Rocky and his gang show up in Austin and search Doc’s office. Rocky says he is owed 6 albums and 7 years of song writing. Blackie and his bunch bust in with shotguns and Doc says Blackie is the president of Lone Star Records.
Doc takes Blackie to a house he has rented and then he pitches his deal about Gilda. Blackie will play some local shows and then go on the road with Gilda. Gilda is nervous and drinking a lot. Doc has Gilda’s tape delivered to Blackie. Gilda is taking the writing credit for the songs and Blackie says he will do the same thing if it screws Rocky.
Doc takes Gilda’s song to the radio and uses payola to get it played. Rocky is getting angry about Gilda and pushes hard to get Doc shut down. He finally realizes it is Doc’s song.
Doc heads out on the road with Blackie and Gilda. Everything is great but she keeps on drinking. The pressure of success is too much for her. Doc’s wife is on the bus and she getting closer to one of the band members. Dino explains how sheep flirt with people and sometimes start relationships.
When they get to the hotel, Sam is missing. Dino finds him in bed with his wife. Dino brings Sam out in his whitey tighties and makes him stand by the pool with a beer on his head. Dino takes a breath and drops the gun to his side, raises it quickly and shoots the beer off Sam’s head. Doc says I underestimated you Dino, to which Dino replies all you “somebitches” do.
By this point on the tour, Gilda is almost catatonic. Rocky gets the injunction but he waiting for so he can claim more of Doc’s songs that come out under other people’s names. Gilda is now headlining the tour and adding pills to her booze. Gilda makes it to number 1.
Dino tells Doc he is glad they went with Gilda, adding we put all our chips on a hysterical neurotic drunk woman and she gonna make us rich or dead. Gilda shows up at Doc’s room with a bottle and bucket of ice. Gilda puts the hard press on Doc but he doesn’t fall for it. Honey calls and Doc uses the call to get rid of Gilda. When Gilda leaves, we find out that Blackie was on the phone. Later that get a call that Gilda overdosed. Gilda went to Honey’s house to confess and passed out. Honey revived her in a cold tub.
Doc shuts down the party at his house and in the morning, he goes to tell Honey that he is ready to settle down. Gilda and Arly come in and announce that they have gotten married. She also raises her hand gospel style.
Rocky serves the injunction and Doc offers to sell Gilda for 2 million dollars. Doc wants to keep his Blackie contract and his songwriting contract. They settle on 1 million for just Gilda’s contract.
Dino goes backstage and hits one of Rocky’s guys with a brick. Gilda shows up looking happy and sober. She meets Rocky and impresses him. Doc gets the million and Gilda goes on stage. When the lights come on, Gilda announces that she is born again and will only be singing gospel from now on.
Rocky passes out. Dino robs the money cage and takes half of everything. Doc drops off a tape with a song he says he wrote for Rocky. They play the tape for Rocky and it is “Songwriter.” Rocky is happy. Blackie takes up with the secretary and Doc goes back to his family.
World-Famous Short Summary – He did it for the love, but he wasn’t above the money
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Beware the moors