The Great Lester Boggs
aka: Hootch Country Boys [Movie]
aka: The Hard Heads [Movie]
aka: Redneck Country [Movie]
The Great Lester Boggs is a ninety-four-minute feature film directed by Arkansas filmmaker Harry Thomason and shot on location around central Arkansas, particularly Beebe (White County). It was released in late 1974 by Thomason’s company, Centronics International, and carried a rating of PG. The film was later re-released to various areas of the United States under different titles, including The Hard Heads, Hootch Country Boys, and Redneck County. One of its promotional taglines was “Learn about life the hard way.”
The plot, by writers Don McLemore and Harry Thomason, concerns a young man named Malcolm Vandiver who embarks on a cross-country motorcycle journey. When, as almost all reviews note, his trip “boggs” down in the fictional Mountain Glen (in the also fictional Moody County) in Arkansas, he encounters a wild, moonshine-swilling bi-plane stunt pilot named Lester Boggs, a sidekick named Leroy Jones, a county sheriff called Billy Bob, a motorcycle gang, a hostile crowd of barroom brawlers, and a romantic interest in the form of a level-headed country girl, Susan Rollins. The film contains numerous car chases, crashes, and explosions.
The role of Malcolm Vandiver is played by Scott MacKenzie, an actor with no other documented movie credits. Some online sources state that he recorded the 1967 hit song “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” but on the official movie poster, his name is spelled differently from that of the vocalist Scott McKenzie. He also did not resemble the singer, and, at the time of the filming, denied being the same person.
Several notable character actors came to Arkansas for the filming. The title role of Lester Boggs went to Robert (Bob) Ridgely (1931–1997). Ridgely was a recognizable face and voice in show business, having been acting since a 1957 guest appearance on the TV show Maverick. He appeared in the hit movies Blazing Saddles (1974) and High Anxiety (1977), as well as the award-winning Melvin and Howard (1980). In 1986, a decade after playing Lester Boggs, Ridgely could be seen in a guest appearance on TV’s Designing Women, a show created by Thomason.
Dean Jagger (1903–1991) appeared in movies dating from the silent era and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the 1949 movie Twelve O’Clock High. In Boggs, he played Grandfather Vandiver. As Sheriff Billy Bob, Alex Karras (1935–2012) was said in reviews and later promotions to have stolen the show with his broad portrayal of a bumbling lawman. Among numerous credits, he was best remembered for the movie Blazing Saddles in which his character, Mongo, punched a horse.
Local Arkansas favorites in the movie included Robert (Bob) Ginnaven (1937–2008) of Little Rock (Pulaski County) as T. T. Boggs, conservative town mayor of the fictional Mountain Glen and brother of the town drunk, Lester Boggs. Ginnaven also appeared in Thomason’s Encounter with the Unknown (1973) and went on to be cast in the hit movie Steel Magnolias (1989).
Working behind the camera on The Great Lester Boggs was actor Joe Barone (1939–2005) of Little Rock, who appeared in the Thomason movies So Sad about Gloria (1975) and The Day It Came to Earth (1977). He would also later appear on Designing Women.
Reviews of Boggs were generally negative. Some reviewers have pointed out that viewers could see not only the boom microphone but also the boom operator in one of the shots. Others noted that the stunt of tying a chain around the axle of a police car had been done a year earlier in the hit film American Graffiti. Regardless, subsequent to Boggs and other Arkansas-based movies, Thomason enjoyed a highly successful show business career.
For additional information:
Cochran, Robert, and Suzanne McCray. Lights! Camera! Arkansas!: From Broncho Billy to Billy Bob Thornton. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2015.
Fulkerson, Perry. “‘Boggs’ Not that Great,” St. Petersburg (Fla.) Evening Independent, December 16, 1974, p. 8B.
“The Great Lester Boggs.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073073/ (accessed October 5, 2020).
“The Great Lester Boggs.” Arkansas.com. http://www.arkansas.com/things-to-do/entertainment/film-tv/detail.aspx?id=15 (accessed October 5, 2020).
Garland County Historical Society
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