Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Ballad of Billie Blue (1972)

The sort of religious picture that gives religious pictures a bad name, The Ballad of Billie Blue tells the fictional story of a pop singer who descends into a spiral of booze, ego, and violence, only to be saved by a preacher who brings the gospel to a prison work farm. According to movies like The Ballad of Billie Blue, the world outside the Christian faith is a hornet’s nest of avarice, cruelty, and lust, but the moment a fallen soul trades the secular for the sacred, all is forgiven and trouble becomes a thing of the past. That this message is delivered by way of atrocious acting and bargain-basement dramaturgy makes the whole enterprise even less appealing. Some Christian viewers may find The Ballad of Billie Blue palatable simply because of the subject matter, but others will likely find it intolerable, unless they approach The Ballad of Billie Blue as an unintentional comedy. Billie (Jason Ledger) is already famous when the movie starts, so the drama during the first half of the picture stems from his conflicts with a craven manager (Ray Danton), an opportunistic journalist (Marty Allen), and an unfaithful wife (Sherry Miles). Billie gets drunk in a bar one night and punches the journalist, who then blackmails the singer to get exclusive, unfettered access to Billie’s life. Meanwhile, the manager and the shrewish wife have an affair. When the wife kills the manager during a fight, Billie takes the fall for her, and the journalist is only too happy to bury the singer with bad press. Once in jail, Billie bonds with hot-headed convict Justin (Erik Estrada) until traveling preacher Bob (Robert Plekker) arrives with homilies about “a Jesus kind of love” and God’s “life assurance plan.” Blah, blah, blah. Among the awful cast, Miles stands out by giving a truly hideous performance comprising uncertain line readings delivered at top volume, while Allen nearly matches her ineptitude. Danton and Leger are serviceable at best, and it says a lot that Estrada does the best work of the whole bunch.

The Ballad of Billie Blue: LAME

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