Friday, March 02, 2012

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.

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