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Li l Abner

Li’l Abner on DVD

Okay, this isn’t going to go down in history as the greatest musical ever put onto the big screen. But it has its moments – especially when the gang starts kickin’ up its heels and dancin’ up a storm.

Li’l Abner is based on the Broadway musical that was based on the old Al Capp comic strip. Abner (Peter Palmer) is a big lunk, lots of brawn and not too much brain (then again, there aren’t a lot of brains to go around among these characters – though some of them are in danger of displaying some common sense). He’s a hunk, the apple of the womenfolks’ eyes, especially Daisy Mae (Leslie Parrish).

They’s all fixin’ to get ready for the annual Sadie Hawkins day, where the women get to chase the male of their choice, object matrimony. And naturally, Daisy Mae is fixin’ to catch Abner and Abner’s okay with that, except when push comes to shove his bachelor survival instinct kicks in and he always manages to outrun her.

But maybe not this year. He’s now facing competition for Daisy Mae’s hand (and the rest of her, too) from Earthquake McGoon, the world’s champeen dirty rassler, kind of a hillbilly Judd Fry who loves Daisy but to whom she would rather not give the time of day.

Then the feds come in and announce that Dogpatch, the ramshackle town that houses this horde of hillbillies, is going to be evacuated so they can use the area for nuclear testing. You see, Dogpatch was determined (probably by focus testing) to be the most useless area in the United States, so it won’t be missed.

Except by the residents, of course, and they spend the rest of the movie trying to find a reason to make Dogpatch useful – if not indispensable – and therein lies the plot.

The storyline is convoluted and kind of dumb, and by the time the movie is over you aren’t too sorry. And the Johnny Mercer/Gene de Paul songs, with the possible exception of Jubilation T. Cornpone, are mostly forgettable,which we found kind of surprsing. But what the heck; the dancing alone makes this movie worth watching. The energetic choreography is really something to see, and the movie features one of the best chorus sections we’ve witnessed.

We were intrigued at the presence of a very young Stella Stevens as Daisy Mae’s nemesis, and Julie Newmar as a sexpot something or other (Is she a robot? A clone? It’s never really made clear and it doesn’t really matter anyway) who’s designed to bring the male half of the species to a screeching halt before her. She works, too.

Parrish, who we best remember from an old Star Trek episode, is virginally decorative and pretty good as Daisy Mae. Palmer and a bunch of other studs are there mostly for their “studliness”, though to be fair he does a pretty good job as an actor/singer/dancer.

And of course in the end Dogpatch is saved and all ends happily for the good guys.

All the famous, and probably mostly forgotten by now, Al Capp characters are here: Marryin’ Sam (Stubby Kaye, who’s the glue that holds the movie together), Mammy and Pappy Yokum, Lonesome Polecat, Moonbeam McSwine, Available Jones, General Bullmoose, etc.

It kind of reminds one of Popeye, except we’d have to say that Li’l Abner is the better of the two films.

The movie was adapted and directed by Melvin Frank and produced by Norman Panama, who were the force behind the stage version. The costumes, casting and makeup are actually very good considering the goal of bringing Dogpatch to life and, of course, the choreography is superb.

Songs include the abovementioned “Cornpone,” as well as "Don't That Take the Rag Offen the Bush," The Matrimonial Stomp," the naïve (or is it satiric?) "The Country's in the Very Best of Hands," "Namely Me" and "Otherwise."

The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality leaves a lot to be desired in many places. This flick could really benefit from a good restoration. The image is generally sharp and colorful, but there are many times when the color is more smeary or runny than anything and the film is definitely showing its age.

Audio is Dolby Digital mono and is unremarkable

There are no extras. We’d have loved to see some background info on the play, the movie, and the comic strip and how they all came together, but alas it was not to be.

Still, this is an intriguing diversion at least once, especially if you love exuberant dance numbers.

Li’l Abner, from Paramount Home Entertainment
113 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital mono
Starring Peter Palmer, Leslie Parrish, Stubby Kaye
Produced by Norman Panama
Written by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, directed by Melvin Frank


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