For a number of reasons I have always had a soft spot for this Clint Eastwood film featuring the legendary star as a Grand Ole Opry hopeful during the great depression. I generally like movies that take place during the era of the thirties like this, Hard Times and Dillinger to name few. I number myself among Clint’s legion of fans and when this was released I was around the same age as Kyle Eastwood’s character in this film and the notion of playing the Opry was a great dream to fantasize over as a young wannabe country singer jamming at music festivals.
Clint as is customary produces and directs himself as a songwriting honkytonk singer who gets a chance to audition at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. He’s got some traveling to do to get there which takes us on a cross country adventure with old timer John McIntire and Clint’s real life son Kyle playing his nephew in the movie. Clint is more than willing to share the screen time with Kyle and the two make for a winning team.
Promising to look after his nephew, Clint promptly teaches him the proper way to raid chicken coops, bust out of jail and even attempts to secure the services of a “professional” at a local house of ill repute. “It’s a sorry state when a man can’t buy a woman for his own boy.”
They cross paths with the unsavory Barry Corbin as a man who owes Clint some cash but isn’t doing much to pay up. This leads to an entertaining shotgun episode and a stowaway in the getaway car. As Kyle learns life’s lessons he has to grow up pretty quick to keep Clint in line, sober and healthy.
“Honktonks and flophouses. That’s the life of a country singer.” A good line as that’s the way Clint’s character Red has been making his way for years. On the downside he’s a victim of tuberculosis and called a “lunger” when he finally gets his chance at the Mother Church of Country Music. While his Opry dream remains unrealized a record producer takes notice of his audition and Eastwood’s Red just might achieve a level of immortality before the film’s fadeout.
I’d like to think this film was a labor of love for Clint but admittedly that’s because I love the subject material. Joining Clint on screen are singers Ray Price, Porter Wagoner, Shelley West and David Frizzell all getting a chance to sing on the soundtrack. Fiddle player Johnny Gimble appropriately gets the chance to play fiddling legend Bob Wills who Clint stops to see doing a live radio broadcast where Kyle becomes star struck at seeing the iconic front man of the Texas Playboys.
Loving the sounds of Marty Robbins I find the closing of the film can raise goosebumps recalling the film’s release back in ’82. Robbins joins Clint in the movie where they record the movies title track. Robbins actually died in real life before the film’s release. A great loss at the time to Country Music as Marty was a huge Opry favorite and had numerous standards including El Paso and A White Sport Coat. I miss his voice very much on so-called country radio these days.
If one knows the early days of Country Music then it’s hard to separate the Clint character and his eventual outcome from the real life of the singing brakeman Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers like Clint in this film suffered from tuberculosis.
Honkytonk Man came out during the era that I like to refer to as Clint’s Country Music period due to the soundtracks. He had made the two movies with Clyde the orangutang featuring top country music singers and featuring Eddie Rabbit on the title track for Every Which Way But Loose. Then there was Bronco Billy with another country influenced soundtrack including the Clint duet with Merle Haggard, Barroom Buddies.
An easy choice for me this week as I looked to feature films associated in one way or another with the era of country music that I grew up listening to.