Color, 1976, 90m.
Directed by Gus Trikonis
Starring Monica Gayle, Glenn Corbett, Roger Davis, Johnny Rodriguez, Jesse White, Marcie Barkin
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Color, 1976, 90m.
The '70s had more than its share of so-called "hicksploitation" films about the fun 'n' thrills of life in the American South, but it seems odd that Roger Corman was the first one to tackle a country and western-sploitation movie with this offering from his New World Pictures. Obviously designed as a drive-in alternative to Robert Altman's Nashville released less than a year earlier, this is the best star vehicle for Monica Gayle, the pretty and perky star of such films as Switchblade Sisters and softcore programmers like Sandra: The Making of a Woman and Southern Comforts. Here she gets to stretch with a charismatic performance that calls for musical numbers (dubbed, but she pulls it off like a champ), the usual tawdry sex scenes, comedy, drama, and pretty much everything in between.
We first meet young Jamie (Gayle) getting assaulted by a young randy local when she tries to get some peace and quiet while skinny dipping in the local lake, but he backs off at the last minute and asks for forgiveness. However, when she publicly calls him out the next day, her no-good dad turns to corporal punishment. She decides to hit the road and search for her dream as a singer in Nashville so she can be like "Dolly Party, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn," and soon she's dodging a pair of corrupt cops and hitching a ride to the outskirts of town with a couple of helpful truckers. Unfortunately almost every other man turns out to be a grabby lech, and since she's still a virgin, she gets a little skittish when she crashes out at the YWCA to find her roomie Alice (Barkin) smuggling her boyfriend in dressed as a woman. A little smart bargaining gets her a guitar, which nets her a quick audition for Mr. Ordell (White) for whom she sings a sweet ditty about having friends. Unfortunately it'll cost five grand to do a demo with a producer and a band, which means she has to become a working girl to raise the cash and start hustling producers (including one named Dick Miller!) to hear her case. Being under 18, she has a tough time getting a day job so she answers an ad and lies about her age to work in a massage parlor, where she starts out as a receptionist and gets busted by the vice squad when she decides to move up the ladder. A stint at a women's work prison puts us firmly in Roger Corman territory for a few minutes with a lesbian warden and a shower scene, then it's back to business as she follows the road to showbiz glory and ends up under the wing of groupie-loving country legend Jeb (Homicidal's Corbett), who's in a downward spiral of his own that could put her dreams in jeopardy.
About as brisk and entertaining as you could want from an exploitation film of the era, Nashville Girl lucks out with its solid cast (including an appearance by C&W singer Johnny Rodriguez) and a surprisingly strong roster of songs that give the story more credibility than you might imagine. Even if you're not a country music fan, there's still enough incident here to keep you amused, and it's a great snapshot of the music industry culture of the time before the music genre became far more politicized and aligned with pop music. Formerly married to Goldie Hawn, director Gus Trikonis manages to keep things colorful and snappy, a skill he later used for Corman productions like The Evil and Moonshine County Express before leaping over to TV work.
Though reasonably successful in theaters (including a title change to New Girl in Town for some northern markets and a reissue as Country Music Daughter to cash in on a certain 1980 Oscar-winning biopic), Nashville Girl is oddly obscure now with its sole VHS release from Charter in the '80s being the only way to see it for several decades unless you were lucky enough to catch a scarce repertory screening. Scorpion Releasing brought the film back in 2015 with a general release DVD edition and a limited Blu-ray sold exclusively through Screen Archives, both culled from a new HD transfer and featuring the same extras. Either option will satisfy but the Blu-ray looks especially punchy with the colorful country outfits and textured '70s film stock looking pleasingly fresh and vibrant throughout. The film features optional wraparound segments as "Katarina's Drive-In Theater" with regular host Katarina Leigh Waters (as her countrified cousin, Katie Rina) covering the basics of the players involved in the film (and doing some hilariously off-key warbling with a miniature guitar), while other bonus material includes a 6-minute interview with Corman (focusing on the auditions for Gayle and Corbett as well as the film's surprising success in Europe) and the theatrical trailer, both in its original form and with intros and voiceover by Allison Anders.