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Ode to Billy Joe

"On June 3, 1953, Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge. Now, the muddy Tallahatchie River gives up its secrets[,] the secrets within the haunting ballad that swept America. What the song didn't tell you[,] the movie will."
Directed by Max Baer, Jr.
Produced by Max Baer, Jr.
Written by Herman Raucher
Starring Robby Benson
Glynnis O'Connor
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography Michel Hugo
Editing by Frank Morriss
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) 4 June 1976
Running time 105 min
Country  United States
Language English
Budget US $1.1 million

Ode to Billy Joe is a 1976 film with a screenplay by Herman Raucher adapted from his own novel, which in turn was based on the 1967 hit song by Bobbie Gentry, also titled "Ode to Billie Joe" (note different spelling).

The film was directed and produced by Max Baer, Jr. (of The Beverly Hillbillies fame) and stars Robby Benson and Glynnis O'Connor. Made for US$1.1 million, it grossed US$27,000,000 at the box-office, plus earnings in excess of US$2.65 million in the foreign market, US$4.75 million from television, and US$2.5 million from video.

Plot

Gentry's song recounts the night when Billy Joe McAllister committed suicide by jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge on Choctaw Ridge, Mississippi. When Gentry and Raucher got together to work on the screenplay, she explained that while the song was based on an actual event, she had no idea why the real person characterised as "Billie Joe" had killed himself[citation needed]. Raucher thus had a free hand to pick one.

The film explores the budding relationship between McAllister (Benson) and Bobbie Lee Hartley (O'Connor), who corresponds to the unnamed narrator of the original song. Hartley and McAllister struggle to form a relationship despite resistance from Hartley's family, who contend she is too young to date. They develop the relationship, despite the obstacles in their way. One night at a country jamboree celebration, however, McAllister gets drunk and seems nauseous and confused when entering a makeshift whorehouse behind the gathering.

It turns out that in his inebriated state, he has sex with another man who later turns out to be his sawmill boss, Dewey Barksdale (James Best). After disappearing for days, he returns to bid an enigmatic goodbye to Bobbie Lee. Overcome with guilt, McAllister subsequently kills himself by jumping off the bridge spanning the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi. In the film's final scene, Bobbie Lee meets Dewey on the bridge as she is leaving town, and he guiltily confesses to her that he was the man. She insinuates that she has invented a rumor of being pregnant, possibly to counteract town gossip about Billie Joe's homosexuality.

On the set

Scenes at the old sawmill were filmed at Cross Lumber Company in Vaiden, Mississippi. The bridge featured in the film was the actually the old bridge over the Yazoo River on County Road 512 near Sidon, Mississippi. The bridge has since been demolished and replaced by a modern concrete span.

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