The Legend of Hillbilly John (1974)

THE LEGEND OF HILLBILLY JOHN (1974)
Article 2415 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-6-2007
Posting Date: 3-23-2008
Directed by John Newland
Featuring Hedges Capers, Denver Pyle, Susan Strasberg

A ballad singer from Appalachia becomes a defier; he battles evil with the help of his silver-stringed guitar.

This unusual and interesting fantasy is based on stories by Manly Wade Wellman, and to some extent, the movie feels a bit like an anthology with the same basic setting and several repeating characters. There’s something truly engaging about the concept, the setting, and the characters, with Denver Pyle and Severn Darden both quite memorable as the grandfather and the mysterious dowser who help the main character. I just wish it was better; the movie is quite confusing at times, especially in the early scenes, and Hedges Capers (as the title character) seems a little too seventies-leading-mannish to really make his character feel authentic. The music is a mixed bag; on a song by song basis, the music works best in proportion to how close it sounds to real folk ballad music and to how far it sounds from seventies singer-songwriter fare. The song that plays over the credits comes off best. The special effects are low-budget, but have a real charm, especially the “ugly bird”. If anything, it makes me want to seek out the Wellman stories and check them out myself; I sense a really great movie could be made from them, and could succeed where this one (a noble effort nonetheless) falls short.

 

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