Movie: Girl from Tobacco Row (1966)

Another movie from the first half of the Powerhouse/Indicator box set From Hollywood to Heaven: The Lost and Saved films of the Ormond Family.  1966’s Girl from Tobacco is the second-to-last movie in the “sleaze” half of the set.  I am so very tired.

A pre-credits sequence gave me false hope.  Well, as much hope as one could have at this point, after seeing five of these garbage films.  This sequence has Earl ‘Snake’ Richardson escaping from a chain gang after being told by a fellow prisoner where the loot from a heist is stored.  That convict tells Snake that, should anything happen to him, Snake can have the money.

Naturally, there is no reason for this information to be conveyed except for said convict to be killed almost immediately.  This happens during a struggle with the only guard.  That guard may have a shotgun, but I question his decision to sit with his back to a group of prisoners, each of whom has a shovel.  The prison may want to do a training video to prevent this in the future.

My hopes were up a tad only because I assumed anything had to be better than the previous Ormond film I watched, Forty Acre Feud, a country music jukebox musical that made the average episode of Hee Haw look like the Metropolitan Opera in comparison.  I figured, “At least I’m done with musical numbers stuck together with the flimsiest illusion of a plot!” 

How wrong I was.  Fortunately, Row has comparatively fewer such musical numbers in it.  Unfortunately, it still has far too many of them overall.  Some of the numbers are working into the plot in a somewhat sensible manner.  Then we get to the tobacco festival at the climax and the gloves come off.  By that point, director Ron Ormond is back to Feud territory, with musical acts standing in front of a barn door, allegedly performing to an audience. 

This festival is to raise money for the local church.  I know the dangers of smoking were seriously downplayed at that time, but I was nonetheless stunned by this.  If this had been a half-century earlier, would they have had a cocaine sale as a church fundraiser?  After all, that was considered so safe at one time that it was even in some brands of children’s cough syrup.

Anyhoo, the plot (as it is), concerns the church pastor and his family as he takes in the escaped convict.  Tex Ritter plays the family patriarch and, given his long career up to this point, I thought he would deliver a better performance.  He seems to be happy to appear here, so at least there’s that.  I’m not sure I have seen him in anything before but, just based on appearance, I’m surprised he’s the father of John Ritter.

In a movie like this, just having a character who is a preacher inevitably leads to there being preacher’s daughters.  Rachel Romen is the older sister.  Although she has apparently been designated as future property of a local lawman I’ll call “Moose”, the insatiable bad girl beneath the surface is soon putting the moves on Snake, however clumsily.  Rita Faye plays “Rita” (facepalm), the shy, younger sibling who supposedly has a lisp.  I think she has only two or three lines of dialog, but she doesn’t lisp when she sings.

A moment where she sings “May the Circle Be Unbroken” accompanied only by her autoharp is, by some margin, the best musical number in either this or the previous Ormond film.  Heck, it is one of the few bright spots in any of his films I have seen so far.

As for the other musical numbers, they’re pretty much what I came to expect from Feud.  Richards was a musician in real-life, so he’s not bad in the sole number he has here.  Alas, he is only lip-syncing to a finished track, one that has a great many instruments that aren’t there in a living room he’s in as he sings and strums an acoustic guitar.

Richards had appeared in another Ormond feature, White Lightnin’ Road.  In that movie, the director cast himself as a gangster and here he is doing that same shtick again and just as poorly.  Between this movie, that movie and Feud, I started to believe I was watching some kind of weird trilogy.  Thankfully, the Ormondverse appears to end with this picture.

We also get yet another failed attempt to build his son Tim into a star.  Having already seen an older Tim in some of the movies on the “religious” half of this set, I am always hoping this insufferably smug tool will experience a fatal mishap in these earlier works.  When we first see him here, he is a-huntin’ with the real-life family dog (another regular through these films).  How I hoped he would be mistaken for a deer by another hunter.

Like I was saying earlier, Girl from Tobacco Road seems to cap off some sort of weird trilogy where only white-trash tropes apply.  It feels like a hermetically sealed world of illegal booze, tawdry sex, country music, dirt track racing, fist fighting and greasy food.  At least this installment didn’t feel like it was going to turn into Two Thousand Maniacs at any point.  Something I left off that list is religion, which is touched on here by focusing on a preacher and his family.  And it is deep into southern-fried religion that the Ormond box will soon be taking us.

Dir: Ron Ormond

Starring Tex Ritter and….grrr…Ron and Tim Ormond. And Earl ‘Snake’ Richards as…Snake Richards.

Watched as part of Powerhouse/Indicator’s blu-ray box set From Hollywood to Heaven: The Lost and Saved Films of the Ormond Family