Harper Valley PTA

I want to tell you all the story of a Harper Valley widowed wife...
★★★
☆☆
Released: 
1978
Director: 
Richard C. Bennett
Starring: 
Barbara Eden, Nanette Fabray, Susan Swift, Ron Masak
The Setup: 
Woman gets revenge on local PTA after they chastise her for dressing like a harlot.
Discussion: 

I remember seeing parts of this movie on TV when I was little, and recall the golden trashiness of the song of its title, and… well who knows why one is suddenly possessed by feelings such as “I need to see Harper Valley PTA RIGHT NOW!?!?”

This is one of the rare movies based on a song. I guess today we have video game adaptations…. Anyway, the song [heard over the opening credits] was written by Tom T. Hall and tells the story of a widow who receives a letter from the PTA of her daughter’s school district chastising her for “wearing her dresses way too high” and “Runnin’ round and goin’ wild,” and that she shouldn’t be “raisin’ her little girl this way.” And it was signed by the secretary, Harper Valley PTA.

The song continues to tell of how Mrs. Johnson goes to the PTA meeting that afternoon and exposes them all as drunks and womanizers and calls them “Harper Valley Hypocrites.” The first 15 minutes of this movie follow the song exactly. Barbara Eden [the FABULOUS Barbara Eden] plays the mother in question, and her daughter comes home to find her singing and dancing around the piano with another woman and two men, one of whom is Herbie the bartender. We will refer to him as “Hot Herbie,” for reasons that will be made clear later. They are consuming beer that seems to be named “Hudepola.”

Anyway, you’re looking at the daughter, who is very charming but kind of an ugly duckling, and you’re thinking “WHO is that? I’ve seen her before…” when suddenly it hits you that she was AUDREY ROSE!!! And even though that movie drove me crazy, I found that I had fond feelings for this actress and was happy to see her again. Anyway, so this letter from the PTA says what the song says, adding that her daughter will be expelled if she doesn’t whip her shit into shape. After a little dirt on everyone in town from her close friend Alice the beautician, Barbara strolls into the PTA meeting… and it follows from the song. Thing is, the action of the song is over in the first 15 minutes, and you’re like; “WHERE is this film going to go from here?”

Well, it would seem that Barbara’s public shaming of the PTA was not enough to rectify the situation, and has polarized the town. The next thing you know, kids have TP’ed her house. People are throwing rocks with rude notes through her window. Etc. On the plus side, she hears tell that a lot of people in town support her, and the [supposedly] hot blond millionaire thinks she’s pretty keen and starts sending her flowers.

So for the next hour, this thing turns into a series of pranks and humiliations that Barbara brings on the members of the PTA. This old guy comes on to her [after she has publicly exposed him for his unwanted advances—duh!] and she takes a tip from Foxy Brown and dumps him out in the hallway naked. She ruins the hair of the society matron. An amusing one [that I SO remember from when this was on TV] is when she splices film of a teacher having sex with a mailman into the sex ed film [that shows disturbingly long close-ups of some statue’s genitals] that she’s showing in class that day. These are all kind of amusing in a wicked, randy 70s sitcom kind of way.

Meanwhile her boyfriend has been trying to get her to run to be president of the PTA. More wacky hijinx ensue, and, well, I think you can tell where all this is headed. Along the way we have learned that Barbara earns a living by selling cosmetics door-to-door. Don’t you want to return to a time when that was a viable career path? Then the daughter is taken to the salon where she learns that she can have self-esteem if she only dresses in a way man find attractive [“Wow, is that really me?”], and promptly starts chatting up the hot guy, who reveals that he has faced oral trauma after kissing hottie Tina Carlisle: “She chews a lot of Certs. I think I got a canker sore.” I see from my notes that I failed to capture a still of the “hot orthodontist” before I sent the disc back. If you watch this movie you will enjoy the sight of unending 70s décor and couture. The soundtrack [by Nelson Riddle!] can be considered “Harper Valley PTA: Theme and Variations.” Back then it apparently cost $30 to send away to have a reel of movie film developed. This movie was filmed at a time when having our main characters dress up as nuns was considered really, REALLY funny [see also: Fuzz]. And finally, the manure in this film was provided courtesy of “Seattle Slew.” No word on whether or not that is a single horse, but if it is, I feel satisfied knowing that he enjoyed several hearty meals.

So, overall? I liked it, but it got a little boring. I watched this movie over the course of several mornings while exercising, and, due to its TV-ready nature [this was an actual movie, though most think it was a made-for-TV movie] this wasn’t really a problem. The problem was that, since it’s all so similar, it starts to get all the same, and by the end I just wanted to get through it so I could return it. But Barbara was a TOTAL hoot, very sassy and fun, and I would watch a whole lot more I Dream of Jeannie if she wasn’t a genie but a hip 70s mom in the kind of randy outfits and Dolly Parton-type hair and makeup we’ve got here. And of course I love the whole air of 70s naughty sexuality, personified by Hot Herbie [thought I’d forgotten him!], this bartender who is a good guy and is always ready to help his friends, is always cheerful, wears T shirts that say “the bear” [YEARS before the whole gay “bear” thing! SO prescient…], and best of all, seems like he would have sex with just about anyone if they only said “Ya wanna?” I really liked the whole amiability and trashy glamour of that whole era and place. Sigh. I want Barbara Eden to be my mother, and come home from school to find her boozing it up around the piano with two guys while wearing skin-tight white pants and drinking Hudepola beer in the mid-afternoon. Ah, the world was younger then.

Oh, and expect the title song to be in your head for a solid week.If you like that whole trashy, randy 70s vibe.

Should you watch it: 

If you like that whole trashy, randy 70s vibe.