For some reason, 1978 was a boom year for movies based on popular songs: In addition to this lowbrow comedy, audiences grooved to the action picture Convoy and the Southern tragedy Ode to Billy Joe. Harper Valley P.T.A., starring former I Dream of Jeannie sexpot Barbara Eden as a sassy Southern single mom, is of course extrapolated from the 1968 story-song “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” which was written by Tom T. Hall and sung by Jeannie C. Reilly. Hall’s pithy little narrative about a woman who gives small-town busybodies a good talking-to after they criticize her parenting was a No. 1 smash on both country and pop radio. The first 15 minutes of the movie adaptation deliver the story content of the song right down to featuring lyrics in dialogue; fans of the tune can rest assured that Eden recites the song’s familiar put-down, “This is just a Peyton Place, and you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites!” After the song’s narrative runs its course, the filmmakers contrive a thin story about the heroine’s tormenters—the members of the titular Harper Valley Parent Teachers Association—ostracizing Stella Johnson (Eden) after her angry speech. She returns the favor by staging humiliating pranks that expose the P.T.A. members as drunks, liars, nymphomaniacs, thieves, and so on. Subplots, such as they are, involve Stella falling for a local businessman (Ronny Cox) and nurturing her ugly-duckling daughter (Susan Swift). The movie’s production values are passable, but the acting is lifeless, the dialogue is trite, the physical comedy is crude without actually being outrageous, and the plotting is moronic, so there’s not much reason to watch Harper Valley P.T.A. except to wallow in predictability and to admire Eden’s famous figure, which is on (fully clothed) display in every scene.
Harper Valley PTA: LAME