Films

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Arkansas Judge

Arkansas Judge (1941) is the sixth in a series of eleven comedies made by Republic Pictures from 1938 to 1943 featuring the Weaver Brothers and Elviry (consisting of Missourians Leon, Frank, and June Weaver), a popular “rube” vaudeville and radio act. The Weaver series also included Down in “Arkansaw” (1938), the first film in the series. In his book Hillbilly, Anthony Harkins noted that the years 1937–1945 saw “the hillbilly stereotype at high tide” in popular culture, with the Weavers and Judy Canova making pictures at Republic, Arkansan Bob Burns appearing in films for Paramount (including The Arkansas Traveler, 1938), and the Lum & Abner show on the radio. Arkansas Judge was the only movie in the series set in …

Arkansas Swing, The

Following success in radio and recording in the 1930s, the Hoosier Hotshots, a swing and jazz quartet that also performed humorous novelty songs, appeared in twenty-one Hollywood films from 1939 to 1957. The membership of the group varied but always included brothers Ken and Paul Trietsch, and usually Gil Taylor and Charles Ward; they were the four Hotshots featured in Columbia’s film The Arkansas Swing (1948), a sixty-two-minute musical comedy directed by Ray Nazarro. The Hotshots, along with singers Stuart Hart and Dorothy Porter, perform eight country, swing, blues, and novelty songs in the movie. The black-and-white film opens with an assurance by the narrator that “there is nothing in America more American than the state or county fair” and …

Biloxi Blues

Biloxi Blues is a 1988 movie made entirely in Arkansas. Shooting locations included Van Buren (Crawford County), Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Barling (Sebastian County), and Fort Chaffee. The film, written by humorist Neil Simon, is semi-autobiographical with elements of both comedy and drama. It was directed by Academy Award winner Mike Nichols, and it starred Matthew Broderick along with Academy Award winner Christopher Walken. In 1985, Simon had written a semi-autobiographical play of the same title. Biloxi Blues was the second in what is known as the “Eugene trilogy,” with the first being Brighton Beach Memoirs and the third being Broadway Bound. He adapted Biloxi Blues for the screen, maintaining the characters and plot elements of the play. Broderick, who …

Bloody Mama

In 1969, Roger Corman, who had found success directing and producing low-budget exploitation films for American International Pictures, chose as his next project a fictionalized account of the exploits of the infamous Ma Barker and her gang. After a scouting trip to Arkansas, Corman decided to shoot the film in the Ozark Mountains and around the Little Rock (Pulaski County) area. Corman described the experience as one of the “smoothest and most successful” shoots of his career. For the part of the notorious Ma Barker, Corman had only one actress in mind—Oscar-winner Shelley Winters. After agreeing to the role, Winters helped Corman cast the film. She showed him a video of Robert De Niro performing in a low-budget Brian De Palma film, …

Bootleggers

aka: Deadeye Dewey and the Arkansas Kid
The 1974 movie billed on its original posters as Charles B. Pierce’s BOOTLEGGERS was later re-released as Deadeye Dewey and the Arkansas Kid, and yet again as Charles B. Pierce’s THE BOOTLEGGER’S ANGEL. The 115-minute film was shot on location in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas near Calico Rock (Izard County). It chronicles two feuding families of bootleggers, the Pruitts and the Woodalls, in rural Arkansas during the 1930s. Its original poster contained the tagline “Revenge, Love and Liquid Dynamite!” Significant is the billing of two of its minor cast members: “Introducing Jaclyn Smith” followed by “AND Slim Pickens.” Variously categorized as an action/adventure, a revenge drama, and a period comedy, the low-budget movie earned more than $4 million …

Boxcar Bertha

Boxcar Bertha (1972) was the second exploitation film shot in Arkansas by B-movie director Roger Corman. The first was Bloody Mama (1970), and both were set in the 1930s. Corman chose Arkansas because many rural areas in the state could still pass for the Depression-era South. Interiors and street scenes for Bertha were shot around Camden (Ouachita County). Train sequences and other exteriors were shot on the Possum Trot Line of the Reader Railroad in Nevada and Ouachita counties. Rather than direct the film himself, Corman served as producer and hired a relatively unknown young director, Martin Scorsese, who had impressed Corman with his first feature film, Who’s That Knocking on My Door (1967), also titled I Call First. Corman gave Scorsese …

Boy Erased

Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir Boy Erased recounts his experiences at the Memphis, Tennessee, “ex-gay” therapy program Love in Action, to which his parents sent him in 2004 upon learning that he was gay. A movie adaptation of the book was released in November 2018. Conley, who was born in Memphis and grew up in northern Arkansas—first in Cherokee Village (Sharp and Fulton counties), then in Mountain Home (Baxter County)—is the son of Hershel Conley and Martha Caudill Conley. His father served as a Missionary Baptist pastor in Mountain Home. Conley was a Lyon College freshman when another student outed him as gay. In response, his parents sent him to Love in Action. His memoir is a painful reflection on his …

Brubaker

Released in 1980, Brubaker is loosely based on the 1969 nonfiction book Accomplices to the Crime: The Arkansas Prison Scandal by Joe Hyams and Thomas O. Murton. Murton was hired as a prison warden in the late 1960s to modernize two prison farms: the Tucker State Prison Farm and the Cummins State Prison Farm. The controversial book and movie brought national attention to issues such as prisoner abuse, inhumane conditions in prisons, and the need for modernization. The movie follows Henry Brubaker, a new warden who has been hired to modernize and reform Wakefield Prison. Brubaker pretends to be a prisoner and mixes with the general population until he discovers widespread corruption and reveals himself in disgust. Though faced with …

Chrystal

Chrystal is a film written and directed by longtime Arkansas resident Ray McKinnon. The movie stars McKinnon’s wife, Fayetteville (Washington County) native Lisa Blount, who played the title character alongside Hot Springs (Garland County) native Billy Bob Thornton, who played her husband. The movie was shot in and around Eureka Springs (Carroll County) in 2003 and is set in a small, unnamed community in the Ozark Mountains. It was the second project of Ginny Mule Productions, a company co-owned by McKinnon, Blount, and Walton Goggins, who also acted in the movie. The three had received an Academy Award for best live action short in 2001 for their first project, the film The Accountant. Chrystal centers upon the reunion of Joe (played …

Come Early Morning

Released in 2006, Come Early Morning is a movie written and directed by Joey Lauren Adams, best known for her acting roles in Dazed and Confused (1993) and Chasing Amy (1997). It was filmed primarily in Adams’s hometown of North Little Rock (Pulaski County), with several scenes shot in her grandmother’s house. The movie stars Ashley Judd as a working-class woman who spends her weekends getting drunk in bars before going to a motel for one-night-stands, after which she quickly leaves “come early morning.” In the New York Times, reviewer Stephen Holden said that Adams, in her filmmaking debut, “knows how these people speak and has a finely tuned awareness of their relationship to an environment where beer flows like …

Come Next Spring

Come Next Spring was a 1956 dramatic feature film produced and distributed by Republic Pictures Corporation. The film is about the reconciliation of a rural, Prohibition-era Arkansas family split apart by alcohol abuse. Both the original story and screenplay were written by Montgomery Pittman, whose family connections, and possibly childhood experiences, in Independence County, Arkansas, are referenced obliquely throughout the film. The film premiered at the Center Theater in downtown Little Rock (Pulaski County) on February 1, 1956. The premiere included a personal appearance by one of the film’s stars, Steve Cochran. Released nationally in the United States the following month and internationally afterward, the film played in U.S. theaters well into 1957 and, in subsequent years, was broadcast many …

Command and Control

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety is a 2013 book by investigative journalist Eric Schlossser that explores the history of the United States’ nuclear weapons, efforts to control them, and accidents involving them, focusing particularly on the September 1980 Titan II Missile explosion in Arkansas. The book was the basis for a 2016 documentary film directed by Robert Kenner. Author Eric Schlosser previously wrote the New York Times bestsellers Fast Food Nation (2001) and Reefer Madness (2003). The 632-page Command and Control, published by Penguin Press, explored the United States’ development of nuclear weapons and national policy regarding them from their origins in World War II into the twenty-first century. It also documented …

Daddy and Them

Daddy and Them is a comedy-drama written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton that stars Thornton and Laura Dern as Claude and Ruby Montgomery, a passionate but antagonistic married couple from Arkansas. Insecurity about measuring up to one another’s past romantic relationships stands as their biggest point of contention, which is further complicated by Claude’s past relationship with Ruby’s older sister, Rose, before he married Ruby. Claude travels with Ruby, Rose, and his mother-in-law Jewel to support his extended family when his Uncle Hazel is arrested for attempted murder. The plot largely centers around the chronic dysfunction of the Montgomery family. In the DVD commentary, Thornton remarked that “one of the things about this movie, one of the things I …

Day It Came to Earth, The

The Day It Came to Earth is a 1977 horror/science fiction feature film directed by Arkansan Harry Thomason. It was filmed in and around Little Rock (Pulaski County). Running at eighty-eight minutes and rated PG (for violence), the movie features a number of local Arkansas actors, such as Little Rock advertising executive Robert (Bob) Ginnaven (1937–2008) in addition to comedian George Gobel near the end of his career and actress Rita Wilson at the beginning of hers. The story, written by Paul Fisk, begins with a glowing meteorite falling into a secluded pond. Gangsters have dumped the body of one of their victims into the pond. The water takes on rejuvenating powers from the meteorite, causing the dead body to …

Devil’s Knot

Mara Leveritt’s 2002 book Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three focuses on the facts of the 1993 murder of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis (Crittenden County) and the controversial court case that followed. One of the teenagers of the so-called West Memphis Three convicted in the case was sentenced to death, while two others were condemned to life in jail without parole; the three were freed in 2011. The murders remained unsolved. The book depicts a bleak picture of small-town Arkansas in the 1990s, providing background for how, in the author’s view, this case assumed a level of hysteria that in many ways equaled the Salem Witch Trials. The book provoked a larger discussion about …

Die Goldsucher von Arkansas

aka: Massacre at Marble City
aka: Conquerors of Arkansas
Die Goldsucher von Arkansas (literally, The Gold Seekers of Arkansas), produced in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1964, is based loosely on Friedrich Gerstäcker’s novel Die Regulatoren in Arkansas, which is set in Arkansas. Fitting into the genre of the spaghetti western, the film was released in Germany, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, Spain (under two separate titles), Sweden, Finland, and the United States. The title in the United States was Massacre in Marble City, while in the United Kingdom, it was released as Conquerors of Arkansas. Directors were Paul Martin in Germany and Alberto Cardone in Italy. Although both the novel and movie take place in Arkansas, considerable license was taken in adapting the novel, and in the …

Down in “Arkansaw”

B-movie studio Republic Pictures shot hillbilly situation comedy Down in “Arkansaw” (1938) in California. The only Arkansan in the film was Pinky Tomlin, who was born in Eros (Marion County) but raised in Oklahoma. The film was the first in a series of eleven comedies made by Republic from 1938 to 1943 featuring the Weaver Brothers and Elviry (consisting of Missourians Leon, Frank, and June Weaver), a popular “rube” vaudeville and radio act. The Weaver series also included Arkansas Judge (1941). In his book Hillbilly, Anthony Harkins noted that the years 1937–1945 saw “the hillbilly stereotype at high tide” in popular culture, with the Weavers and Judy Canova making pictures at Republic, Arkansan Bob Burns appearing in films for Paramount …

Encounter with the Unknown

Encounter with the Unknown is a low-budget 1973 feature film directed by Harry Thomason of Hampton (Calhoun County). It was shot at various locations in or near Little Rock (Pulaski County) using a number of local actors and crew. The ninety-minute film was rated PG and released by Centronics International. It was produced by Joe Glass and written by Glass, Jack Anderson, and Hillman Taylor. Encounter with the Unknown was the first film created by Thomason, who would later become known for projects including the 2004 documentary The Hunting of the President along with four Arkansas-based movies: The Great Lester Boggs (1974), So Sad About Gloria (1975), The Day It Came to Earth (1977), and Revenge of Bigfoot (1979). He …

End of the Line

End of the Line is a film set in the fictional town of Clifford, Arkansas, that deals with working-class issues of the loss of job security, worker entitlement, and the powerlessness of average people when up against faceless corporations. The film stars Wilford Brimley and Arkansas native Levon Helm and features in supporting roles Holly Hunter, Kevin Bacon, Clint Howard, and Arkansas native Mary Steenburgen (who was also the executive producer). End of the Line was the first film directed by Arkansas native Jay Russell, who went on to direct many well-known films, including Tuck Everlasting, Ladder 49, and My Dog Skip. Russell also co-wrote the script with John Wohlbruck. Much of the movie was filmed in or near Little …

Face in the Crowd, A

A Face in the Crowd was a 1957 movie drama based on the short story, “Your Arkansas Traveler,” written by Budd Schulberg. It concerns a fictional Arkansas native, its opening scenes were set in northeast Arkansas, and it was filmed on location in Piggott (Clay County) using local residents as extras. The film marked the screen debut of Andy Griffith and Lee Remick, along with being Walter Matthau and Tony Franciosa’s first major roles. It is significant for its prophetic theme of the cult of celebrity, the power of television, and the merging of entertainment and politics. Writer Budd Wilson Schulberg (1914–) and director Elia Kazan (1909–2003) had previously worked together on the film, On the Waterfront (1954), based on …

Fighting Mad

B-movie mogul Roger Corman was responsible for three films made in Arkansas. After directing Bloody Mama (1970), he produced Boxcar Bertha (1972), which was directed by Martin Scorsese, and Fighting Mad (1976), which was written and directed by Jonathan Demme. After directing three movies for Corman, Demme went on to direct major films like Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Philadelphia (1993). In 1976, Peter Fonda, the star of Fighting Mad, was near the end of his brief period of stardom after his hit Easy Rider (1969). Supporting actor Scott Glenn was at the beginning of his starring career. Corman once said that his films should have “a little violence but not too much; a little sex but not too …

God’s Not Dead 2

God’s Not Dead 2 is a 2016 Christian-themed movie starring Melissa Joan Hart and directed by Harold Cronk. Filmed in central Arkansas, the movie is a sequel to the 2014 film God’s Not Dead and centers upon Grace Wesley (played by Hart), a high school history teacher who encounters legal trouble for incorporating words from Christian scripture in a classroom lesson. During a lesson about civil rights figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, student Brooke Thawley (played by Hayley Orrantia), in her history class at the fictional Martin Luther King Jr. High School, asks teacher Wesley about the religious origins of King’s commitment to non-violence. Wesley’s answer incorporates a few lines of Christian scripture, specifically Jesus’s …

God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness

God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness (2018) marked the third installment in a popular franchise of Evangelical Christian–themed movies by production company Pure Flix. Like its predecessor, God’s Not Dead 2, it was filmed in central Arkansas and features several prominent landmarks. The movie was released nationally on March 30, 2018. Set in the fictional Hope Springs, Arkansas, God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness opens where the previous movie left off—with Pastor Dave Hill (played by David A. R. White, who also produces) in jail for refusing a subpoena for the text of his sermons. After he is bailed out by his co-pastor, Reverend Jude (Benjamin A. Onyango), he finds that his church, St. James, has become a …

Great Balls of Fire!

Great Balls of Fire! is a 1989 motion picture loosely based on pioneering rock and roll star Jerry Lee Lewis. Several scenes of Great Balls of Fire! were filmed on location in the Arkansas towns of Marion (Crittenden County) and West Memphis (Crittenden County), with other filming taking place in nearby Memphis, Tennessee. It starred Dennis Quaid as Lewis, Winona Ryder as the thirteen-year-old cousin whom he married, and Alec Baldwin as another cousin, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. The 108-minute film was based on a book by Myra Brown Lewis and was directed by Jim McBride. It follows Jerry Lee Lewis’s early career in 1956 through 1959 as he rose to stardom. A pivotal plot point is his controversial marriage to …

Great Lester Boggs, The

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 …

Hallelujah

Hallelujah (1929), one of the earliest Hollywood feature films shot on location in Arkansas, was innovative in several ways. It was the first talking picture made by popular director King Vidor and one of the first Hollywood pictures with an exclusively African-American cast. It also introduced an early form of sound dubbing. Vidor had wanted to make a movie with an all-black cast for many years, but studio chiefs at Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) rejected the idea until Vidor suggested making a musical. Even then, Vidor had to defer his usual $100,000 directing salary against any of the film’s profits. Hallelujah tells the story of a young sharecropper-turned-preacher who must fight the temptations of a beautiful city girl. The musical …

Hunting of the President, The

The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons was published in 2000. The book formed the basis for a documentary film titled The Hunting of the President first shown on January 23, 2004, at the Sundance Film Festival. The ninety-minute film, narrated by Morgan Freeman, was directed by Nickolas Perry and Harry Thomason. The book examines the motives behind the investigation into what has been termed the “Whitewater Scandal,” as well as the news organizations and advocacy groups that tried to mire President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton (along with several of their associates) in scandal. Initial book sales were brisk, and the book was extensively …

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings [Book and Movie]

Detailing her childhood in Stamps (Lafayette County), as well as in St. Louis, and San Francisco, Maya Angelou’s autobiographical novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was first published in 1970 by Random House and nominated for a National Book Award. It was the first of a series of eight autobiographical novels that cemented her place as one of the great voices of African-American literature. The title of the book comes from the poem “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, which describes perseverance in the face of oppression. The book chronicles the racism Maya, a young incarnation of Angelou, encountered in the segregated town of Stamps and other places she lived, along with the sexual abuse she faced at the …

I’m from Arkansas

With a screenplay by Marcy Klauber and Joseph Carole (based on a story by Klauber), director Lew Landers attempted to blend romance, rustic Ozark comedy, and country music into the 1944 film I’m from Arkansas. Unfortunately, some of the Arkansas characters are portrayed as ignorant hillbillies, and the numerous musical numbers tend to muddle the story line. The plot centers upon Esmeralda, a sow, who has excited the tiny town of Pitchfork, Arkansas, by giving birth to yet another massive litter of piglets. The news quickly spreads and draws a number of visitors to the town for myriad reasons. Bob Hamlin (Bruce Bennett), a citizen of Pitchfork who has become a country music star on the radio, takes his orchestra—including …

It’s Alive!

Larry Buchanan was a producer and director of very low-budget films, with titles such as Zontar, the Thing from Venus (1966) and Mars Needs Women (1967). In his autobiography, Buchanan cheerfully called himself a “schlockmeister.” In the late 1960s, Buchanan formed Azalea Pictures to make cheap films for American Independent Television, the TV arm of American Independent Pictures (AIP), which specialized in low-budget B movies (though not as cheap as Buchanan’s) made by Roger Corman and others. Buchanan recalled that his instructions from AIP were: “We want cheap color pictures, we want half-assed names in them, we want them 80 minutes long and we want them tomorrow.” By “half-assed names,” AIP meant actors whose names would be familiar to audiences …

Kettles in the Ozarks, The

The Kettles in the Ozarks (1956), directed by Charles Lamont, was the ninth in a series of ten comedies made by Universal International Pictures. The characters of Ma and Pa Kettle were introduced in supporting roles in The Egg and I (1947), starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. Marjorie Main, as Ma Kettle, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for The Egg and I, and the first feature starring the Kettles, Ma and Pa Kettle, followed in 1949. The Kettle series began after the years 1937–1945, which Anthony Harkins in his book Hillbilly identifies as the period of “the hillbilly stereotype at high tide.” During that time, Judy Canova and the Weaver Brothers and Elviry made films …

Legend of Boggy Creek, The

The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) was the first in a series of three Boggy Creek films loosely based on a legendary monster of southwest Arkansas. It was directed by Charles Pierce of Texarkana (Miller County) and written by Earl E. Smith. The film, shot as a faux documentary-style drama, centers on the real town of Fouke (Miller County). Since the 1940s, many sightings of a creature known as the “Fouke Monster” have been reported. The film presents an interesting portrait of Southern swamp culture in the 1970s by juxtaposing interviews with local citizens, ranging from a police officer to hunters, talking about their experiences with the creature with dramatic recreations of some of these purported encounters. According to witnesses, …

Lum and Abner

From 1931 to 1955, the Lum and Abner radio show brought the town of Pine Ridge (Montgomery County), into the homes of millions of listeners across the country. During World War II, Armed Forces Radio took Lum and Abner around the world. Chester “Chet” Lauck and Findley Norris “Tuffy” Goff, two young comedians from Mena (Polk County), created the characters when they were invited to appear on a statewide flood relief broadcast over KTHS radio in Hot Springs (Garland County) on April 26, 1931. Seconds before being introduced, they created the names Lum Edwards (pronounced “Eddards”) for Lauck and Abner Peabody for Goff. The two old codgers (Lauck and Goff were actually in their late twenties) ran the Jot ‘Em …

Man Outside

Directed and co-written by Mark Stouffer, brother of Arkansas-born documentary filmmaker Marty Stouffer, Man Outside (1987) is a modestly budgeted independent romance-thriller made and set in rural Arkansas. In an effective opening sequence, Arkansas-born lawyer Jack (played by Robert Logan) speeds his expensive sports car recklessly across Mississippi and Arkansas, finally crashing and abandoning the vehicle in the Ozarks woods. Remorseful that his wife had died in a house fire while he was out drinking, Jack becomes a hermit—with enough funds to afford a house much nicer on the inside than the outside. He is friendly only with a few subsistence farmers, although college professor Grace (Kathleen Quinlan) makes some progress befriending the recluse. After a local boy disappears, Jack …

Mud

Mud is the third film written and directed by Little Rock (Pulaski County) native Jeff Nichols. The film was shot over an eight-week period in parts of Dumas (Desha County), DeWitt (Arkansas County), Lake Village (Chicot County), Crockett’s Bluff (Arkansas County), and Stuttgart (Arkansas County) in the fall of 2011. The film used more than 400 locals as extras. Other Arkansan actors in the film include Jacob Lofland of Yell County in the role of Neckbone and El Dorado (Union County) native Stuart Greer, a noted character actor, as a bounty hunter called Miller. The film made its premiere at the famous Cannes Film Festival in France on May 26, 2012, and was shown at the Sundance Film Festival before …

One False Move

One False Move is a 1992 thriller co-written by Arkansan Billy Bob Thornton, who was born in Hot Springs (Garland County). Running for one hour and forty-five minutes, the R-rated film stars Thornton, his future wife Cynda Williams, and Bill Paxton, known for roles in the hit films Apollo 13, Twister, and Titanic. The director of One False Move was Carl Franklin, who went on to direct Denzel Washington in 1995’s Devil in a Blue Dress. The screenplay was written by Thornton and Tom Epperson, a native of Malvern (Hot Spring County). One False Move was a low-budget independent film that became popular through word of mouth as well as critical raves from film critic Roger Ebert and his reviewing …

Ozark Sharks

aka: Summer Shark Attack
Ozark Sharks (2016) is one of two SyFy Channel TV films about sharks set in Arkansas, both part of a series of low-budget, over-the-top shark movies. Directed by Missy Talley, Ozark Sharks (alternatively titled Ozark Shark or Summer Shark Attack) followed the previous Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre (2015). Talley’s film has attractive scenery (filmed in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, area) and mild humor about predictable characters, including brainless, selfie-obsessed teenagers; a weapons-crazed survivalist Ozarker who dislikes tourists (Thomas Francis Murphy, seemingly having the most fun of anyone in the cast); an irresponsible hippie; and a nerdy bookworm who becomes a fanatical shark killer. The plot of Ozark Sharks is relatively thin. Sharks have swum up from the sea to Arkansas …

Painted House, A

A Painted House is a book which takes place in Arkansas and was written by bestselling author John Grisham. It was based on his childhood in Arkansas, and when the book was made into a television movie, it was filmed in Arkansas. Born in Jonesboro (Craighead County) on February 8, 1955, and raised in northeast Arkansas near Black Oak (Craighead County), Grisham created an evocative portrait of the time and place of his childhood in A Painted House. Set in 1952 Arkansas, it is a departure from his usual legal thriller style, with Grisham writing, “There is not a single lawyer, dead or alive, in this story. Nor are there judges, trials, courtrooms, conspiracies or nagging social issues.” In 2000, …

Pass the Ammo

A satire of greedy televangelists, Pass the Ammo (1988) was made in Eureka Springs (Carroll County). It opens with a helicopter shot of the giant Christ of the Ozarks statue. This is followed by a television sermon by the Reverend Ray Porter (Tim Curry), who asks, “Why be afraid of nuclear war? Welcome it! For it is part of God’s prophecy.” The congregation in Porter’s megachurch and his TV audience listen raptly and, when he gets to his key point (“Today’s goal—$1 million for Jesus!”), they burst into an enthusiastic rendition of “Give Me That Old-Time Religion.” As contributions pour in from thousands of low-income donors, Porter sings ecstatically, “Lay your money down for Jesus! You owe your life to …

Primary Colors

Loosely based on Governor Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential bid, Joe Klein’s controversial novel Primary Colors was published anonymously in 1996. A film based on the novel was released in 1998. The controversy stemmed from the resemblance of many characters to real-life counterparts, leading many to believe that the novel must have been written by a political insider. The novel follows the presidential campaign of Governor Jack Stanton, an overweight womanizer with a gift for politics, and is narrated by Henry Burton, an idealistic young black man who quickly rises within the ranks of Stanton’s staff. Themes of the book include adultery, sexual promiscuity, idealism, politics, and the role of the media in the political process and celebrity, culminating with Burton …

Rosalie Goes Shopping

Rosalie Goes Shopping (1989) is an eccentric, comical critique of American consumerism. In its quirky fashion, the film reflects the growing multinational, digitized nature of debtor economics and underscores the reality that consumerism is not limited to those living in large cities. Filmed almost entirely in Arkansas, this German-produced film is centered in Stuttgart (Arkansas County)—a town founded, not coincidentally, by German settlers. The film was directed by German director Percy Adlon, who with wife Eleonore Adlon wrote and produced it. Marianne Sägebrecht plays the title character, Rosalie Greenspace, a plump Bavarian with a serious addiction to buying things. Her goofily demented Arkansan husband, Ray “Liebling” Greenspace, is played by Brad Davis (in his final film role). Rosalie had met …

September 30, 1955

Following the success of the film The Paper Chase in 1973, writer and director James Bridges, who was born in Paris (Logan County), turned his attention to a more personal project. Bridges wrote a script based on his college experiences in Arkansas and convinced the studio to allow him to shoot the movie in his home state. September 30, 1955 is about a college student, played by Richard Thomas, who is devastated by the death of his idol, actor James Dean. At the time of Dean’s death, Bridges was a student at Arkansas State Teachers College, now the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), in Conway (Faulkner County). According to his college friend Tom Bonner, a former weatherman at KARK-TV in …

Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre

Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre (2016) is a television movie, distributed by SyFy, that is set in Arkansas, though it was filmed in Florida. It capitalizes on the popularity of sharks as villains in such productions as Jaws and its sequels (1975–1987), Shark Week documentaries on the Discovery Channel (1988–), and the zany Sharknado films on the SyFy (formerly SciFi) Channel (2013–). Director Jim Wynorski is a prolific veteran of both SyFy fodder (such as 2010’s Dinocroc vs. Supergator) and mild exploitation movies (Sexy Wives Sindrome, 2011), and Sharkansas combines the conventions of both cinematic types. The SyFy Channel’s original films are parodies of old creature features, but they use cheap computer-generated-image (CGI) special effects rather than the more professional effects …

She Couldn’t Say No

aka: Beautiful But Dangerous [Movie]
She Couldn’t Say No (1954), directed by Lloyd Bacon, is a small-town romantic comedy made by RKO Pictures in California and set in fictitious Progress, Arkansas. The story of why this little-regarded film was made and how it came to feature two major stars, Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons, is more dramatic than anything in the movie. In the early 1950s, tycoon Howard Hughes (not yet a recluse) controlled RKO and was obsessed with Simmons, a young British film star. He bought her contract, brought her to Hollywood, and made sexual demands, despite her marriage to another star, Stewart Granger. When Simmons rebuffed him, Hughes retaliated by assigning her to a series of films so poor he expected they would destroy …

Shelter

Shelter (1998) is a modestly budgeted action thriller made in Little Rock (Pulaski County) by director Scott Paulin. The film features no significant Arkansas landmarks. The movie centers upon hero Martin Roberts (John Allen Nelson), an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) whose corrupt superior Landis (Charles Durning) tries to have him killed. Martin flees and is protected by Dimitri (Peter Onorati), head of the Arkansas-based “Greek Mafia” that dominates illegal gunrunning throughout the American South from its headquarters in an Arkansas mansion. Landis joins forces with a rival gangster, Cantrell (Kurtwood Smith), to wipe out Dimitri’s gang. However, Martin gets into more trouble when he falls in love with Helena (Brenda Bakke and stand-in Monica …

Sling Blade

Filmed entirely in Benton (Saline County) by Arkansas native Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade was one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 1996 and earned Thornton—who wrote, directed, and starred in the movie—an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay as well as a nomination for Best Actor. Sling Blade opens on the day that Karl Childers (Thornton), a developmentally challenged man, is released from an asylum for the criminally insane, twenty-five years after murdering his mother and her lover with a sling blade—a scythe-like tool that Karl prefers to call a kaiser blade. Karl demonstrates a talent for fixing small engines and is able to find work as a repairman in his hometown of Millsburg. One day at a …

So Sad about Gloria

aka: Visions of Doom
aka: Visions of Evil
So Sad about Gloria is a ninety-minute horror/thriller movie that was filmed in central Arkansas and released in October 1975. Rated “PG” for Parental Guidance, it was directed by Arkansan Harry Thomason for Centronics International, a production company based in Little Rock (Pulaski County). So Sad about Gloria was also re-released under the titles Visions of Doom and Visions of Evil. The plot, credited to Marshall Riggan, centers around a young woman who moves back to the family home after being released from a mental hospital. She soon experiences frightening visions concerning a series of ax murders. There is an element of romance after she meets young writer Chris Kenner, who is lounging in a tree. His rationale: “I sit …

Soldier’s Story, A

A Soldier’s Story is a 1984 dramatic movie filmed entirely in Arkansas at four locations: Clarendon (Monroe County), Fort Chaffee, Fort Smith (Sebastian County), and the Lamar Porter Athletic Field in Little Rock (Pulaski County). After being turned down by several studios, it was produced on an extremely low budget and went on to win numerous awards, earning more than four times what it cost to produce. At a critical point in the filming when there was very little money to pay extras, Governor Bill Clinton helped the production by approving use of Arkansas Army National Guard personnel in full military dress for an essential scene. The movie starred a number of distinguished actors including Denzel Washington, Howard E. Rollins …