Sunday, June 12, 2016

Marvin Gaye, Lee Majors, and Half of the Righteous Brothers? It's "The Ballad of Andy Crocker"

Lee Majors in the title role.
After fighting for his country in Vietnam, Corporal Andy Crocker (Lee Majors) returns to his Texas hometown as a decorated war hero. The local newspaper touts his acts of bravery. His father gazes proudly at his son's medal. Strangers buy Andy drinks and offer him jobs. But all the ex-soldier wants to do is to see his girlfriend Lisa (Joey Heatherton) and work on motorcycles in his repair shop. Those memories kept him alive during his bleakest hours.

Joey Heatherton as Lisa.
First, he learns that Lisa married three months ago--around the time she stopped writing. Then, he discovers that his incompetent business partner (Jimmy Dean) has allowed their motorcycle shop to fall into financial ruin and wants to sell the property.When he tracks down Lisa, she admits she still loves him, but refuses to run away with him. She's willing to have an affair, but not leave her well-to-do husband. It turns out Lisa is pregnant.

The Ballad of Andy Crocker (1969) is certainly not the first film about a veteran who returns from war and becomes disillusioned. However, it's an interesting oddity, given when it was made and who appeared in it. The U.S. was still sending troops to Vietnam in 1969 and the war dominated the nightly news. Yet, it was a subject ignored largely by filmmakers except for rare efforts like John Wayne's The Green Berets (1968) and the low-budget A Yank in Vietnam (1964).

The plight of Vietnam veterans was explored more frequently on television. Glenn Corbett, who joined Route 66 in its third season, played a Vietnam veteran. His first episodes dealt with his challenges with finding a new place in society. It essentially paved the way for The Ballad of Andy Crocker, which was broadcast as an ABC Movie of the Week. According to Lee Goldberg's reference book Unsold Television Pilots, the Lee Majors TV film was intended as a pilot for a TV series called Corporal Crocker. One can only assume that the concept would have been for Andy to travel the U.S. and have various adventures (along the lines of...Route 66).

Marvin Gaye as David.
The unusual cast in The Ballad of Andy Crocker includes three famous singers: soul music legend Marvin Gaye, Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers (he sang the lead on "Unchained Melody"), and country singer Jimmy Dean. Gaye and Hatfield only have a couple of scenes and neither one makes an impression. It was Hatfield's only film appearance. Gaye also co-starred in the feature film Chrome and Hot Leather (1971), which ironically was about another Vietnam vet (only this time, an ex-Green Beret finds his girlfriend dead and seeks revenge on a biker gang). As for Jimmy Dean, he had already appeared as a regular on the Daniel Boone TV series and would later appear in films like Diamonds Are Forever.

Actress Joey Heatherton had a modest singing career, too, though she wouldn't have a hit record until three years after The Ballad of Andy Crocker. She released her creatively-titled The Joey Heatherton Album in 1972. Her only Top 40 hit, a cover of Ferlin Husky's "Gone," peaked at #24 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.

Actor-writer Stuart Margolin.
The Ballad of Andy Crocker was written by actor Stuart Margolin, who is probably best known for his Emmy-winning portrayal of the conniving Angel on The Rockford Files. Margolin boasted some musical roots, too, having co-written several songs. He even released a 1980 album called And the Angel Sings. Margolin has a small role as a hippy in The Ballad of Andy Crocker and also penned the lyrics to the title song which plays excessively throughout the movie.

The Ballad of Andy Crocker is a predictable film, but it has its heart in the right place and probably provides Lee Majors with his best film role. But the main reason to see it is for its then-timely topic and for the rare opportunity to see some music greats try their hands at another medium.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like an interesting little film that gave a few TV actors and singers some time together on the big screen. Thanks for recognizing lesser known movies.