TCM Special Theme: Big Country

September 29, 2021
Tcm Special Theme: Big Country

Mondays in October / 16 Movies, 2 Shorts

Country music has always been a powerful source of storytelling, with an emphasis on down-to-earth folks and their struggles with life, love, and the day-to-day effort to survive. It’s no surprise, then, that this musical form has found itself aligned with another great narrative medium – the movies.

The last few decades of the 20th century provided a rich lineup of films with country-music backgrounds, whether they were biographies of actual musical performers or fictional stories with real-life country stars in leading roles. In this Special Theme, TCM presents a lineup of such offerings.

Six of the movies, described below, are TCM premieres.

Norwood (1970) is a comedy starring singer Glen Campbell as an ex-Marine, Vietnam vet and aspiring musician whose ambition is to appear on the radio show Louisiana Hayride. Jack Haley Jr. directs a colorful cast that also includes Kim Darby, Joe Namath, Carol Lynley, Dom DeLuise, Pat Hingle, and the director’s dad, Jack Haley Sr.

Payday (1973) is a drama starring Rip Torn as a womanizing, trouble-prone country-Western singer whose misadventures on the road lead to big problems. Daryl Duke directs, with Ahna Capri and Elayne Heilveil among the women in the singer’s life.

Outlaw Blues (1977) focuses on an ex-convict (Peter Fonda) who attempts to break through as a writer of country songs in Austin, TX. Susan Saint James costars under the direction of Richard T. Heffron.

Kenny Rogers as the Gambler (1980), which incorporates the singer’s name in its title and is based on his Grammy-winning song, is an Emmy-nominated made-for-TV movie. Rogers plays gambler Brady Hawkes, who is reunited with a son he never knew (Ronnie Scribner). The film was a great success that spawned four sequels.

Pure Country (1992) has singer George Strait in his acting debut, playing a performer who has drifted into rock-style performances but is determined to return to his country roots. Along the way he finds romance with a rancher’s daughter (Isabel Glasser). Christopher Cain directs a cast that also includes Lesley Ann Warren and, in his final film role, Rory Calhoun. The soundtrack was a best-selling album for Strait, and the film led to two direct-to-video sequels.          

Falling from Grace (1992) has rock singer John Mellencamp in his film directorial and acting debuts. In a story by Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove), Mellencamp plays a country-Western performer who returns to his native Indiana with his wife (Mariel Hemingway) and takes up with an old sweetheart (Kay Lenz).  

Other films with country-music connections include Your Cheatin’ Heart (1964, Hank Williams biopic), A Star Is Born (1976, with Kris Kristofferson) Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980, Loretta Lynn biopic), 9 to 5 (1980, with Dolly Parton), and Honeysuckle Rose (1980, with Willie Nelson).

Also Tender Mercies (1983, with Robert Duvall as a country-music star), Songwriter (1984, with Willie Nelson), and The Thing Called Love (1993, with cameos by Pam Tillis, Trisha Yearwood, and others).

Additionally, the programming includes two shorts featuring noted performers of a related musical form, Western swing: Spade Cooley: King of Western Swing (1945) and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (1944).