Southern Gothic, Union County, Summer of '72
Don't know if you know it or not, but the movies came to Maynardville in the summer of '72.
Yes, MGM shot a motion picture in Union County, bringing along such heavyweights as Rod Steiger and Robert Ryan and up-and-comers Jeff Bridges, Randy Quaid and Gary Busey.
The film was called "Lolly-Madonna XXX" (aka "The Lolly-Madonna War") and if you've never heard of it, you're not alone. It died a quick death at the box office in 1973. Some theaters even refused to show it, confused that the XXX (the symbol for kisses on a letter or postcard, i.e. Xs and Os) meant it was an adult film.
My buddy Bradley Reeves showed a restored 16mm print of the film tonight at the East Tennessee History Center. The print had faded a bit, but it was so good to see it on FILM, rather than some digital device. Yep, I still like to hear that whirl of a projector in a darkened theater. Call me crazy.
Based on an early and out-of-print novel by Sue Grafton (copies go for as high as $1,500 online), the story is basically a family feud gone horribly awry, a cross between "Deliverance" and the Hatfields and McCoys.
I first saw a television copy several years ago. It has never been officially released on home video or DVD. Don't know why, but I found myself enjoying it more this time around.
Don't get me wrong. This isn't "Gone with the Wind." It isn't even "Gidget."
But, it's a dark, Southern Gothic saga, vaguely Faulknerian in theme, something that could have been quite good given a better script and more competent direction.
I did a series of stories on the film for the Shopper-News in 2007. One mystery we've yet to solve is the whereabouts of Cathy Watts, an unbilled actress in the film who appears in flashback as Jeff Bridges' wife. Best I can tell, she graduated from Knoxville Central High School in the early 1970s and may or may not have been a cheerleader at the University of Tennessee.
Cathy, if you're out there, or if you know her whereabouts, drop me a note at JakeMabe1@aol.com.
We had a great time in spite of a thunderstorm, Brad did a great job as always, and it was good to see a forgotten slice of East Tennessee cinema where it belongs: back on the big screen.
For a future list of upcoming movies in the "From the Vaults" First Friday film series, visit www.knoxlib.org.