harlan

Honey Britches

Honey Britches has so many things going wrong for it that you can’t help but look at it as a work of fine art. I mean, this is the sort of movie you watch and think to yourself, “Gee, with some formal training and more money, this director could be as good as Hershel Gordon Lewis.” The film opens with “credits painted on a wooden fence,” which I soon found to be the most popular opening credits style for ultra low-budget hicksploitation films, usually accompanied by banjo music or random sounds of pig squealing — sometimes both. It is during these credits that you realize the theory about the director one day being as accomplished as HG Lewis are just fantasies, because up comes the name Fred Olen Ray. Well, up comes his name in certain versions. In other versions, his name does not appear, and we’ll explain why in a spell.

Fred Olen Ray, of course, would become synonymous with utter crap and boobies, two things we here at Teleport City fully support. But he would make them so dreadfully dull! He would pretty much create what is probably the best known gaggle of scream queens, including Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer, and Linnea Quiggely — all names any self-respecting bad movie fan should recognize. Fred’s biggest contribution to the world was probably the film Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. I like to think of him as the Andy Sidaris of horror films, and hey! Both of them have an affinity for Julie Strain. It’s worth pointing out that Fred Olen Ray didn’t actually direct most of Honey Britches. He just bought a movie directed by a guy named Donn Davison, shot a couple more minutes of footage (apparently featuring a very broken down, senile John Carradine, though I have not seen a version with him in it), and added his name to the credits. Now, you may think that maybe that’s a rude thing to do, but you have to think about a guy who would watch Honey Britches and think to himself, “Holy shit! This film is brilliant! I have to get a piece of the action!”

After the credits, we go immediately to the “plot specific radio,” a staple of all crappy movies and television shows that feature castaways and the Harlem Globetrotters. Which reminds me — that Tom Hanks movie Castaway might have been more shocking and interesting if he’d walked over to the other side of the island and found Meadowlark Lemon and the Skipper cruising around in a coconut powered car. Call me a stickler for tradition, but if your castaway movie doesn’t feature multiple Gilligan jokes, then you obviously don’t know what the hell you are doing. The radio is broadcasting a story about some jewel robbers in New York City. You may ask yourself why radio stations all over the world are apparently broadcasting around the clock about some diamond heist that took place in New York. What do the yokels in some backwoods North Carolina town care about some robbery in New York? Do New York radio stations broadcast stories around the clock about some Nitro, West Virginia farmer who robbed a convenience store and might be heading toward New York City?

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Anyway, when you meet our gang of crooks, you’ll wonder how the hell they robbed a diamond store in New York when it’s obvious they couldn’t even successfully rob a fourth grader of lunch money. First, you have the weird guy who leads the gang. He looks like a sleazy English Lit teacher, or that television inspector from the “Bomb” episode of The Young Ones. For some reason, he fakes a really bad British accent through most of the movie. Or maybe it was real. I don’t know. Either way, what the hell was the point of pretending to be British? It has nothing to do with the movie other than allowing him to say things like “old chap.” I guess the easy way to make someone sound brilliant is to make the British. Then, even when they are spouting inane dialogue and being outsmarted by pig farmers, they still at least have that sophisticated accent.

Right away you should question this guy’s intelligence, because here’s the gang he has assembled. There’s the incredibly tall, skinny, bored glamor girl in high heels and fancy furs. What the hell kind of bank robbing outfit is that? Some people, when they rob places, wear combat gear and terrorist masks. I don’t know if anyone has ever attempted to rob a store in high heels. Then you have the angry Southern guy who hates everyone. Why would you even have this guy in your gang? I mean, the whole concept of putting together a gang for a heist is that you get people who can work together and who know what they are doing. None of these people seem like seasoned criminal masterminds. Why would you put together a group that has never robbed anything before, and furthermore, all hate each other? Anyway, rounding out the pathetic band of criminals is the Southern guy’s abused bimbo girlfriend. Again, need I even comment on the wisdom of including a moronic bubble-head in your gang? Come on! You know your gang sucks when everything they do seems like it should be accompanied by the Three Stooges theme.

So there you have it. A fake British guy, an angry redneck, a lanky Cher look-alike (or proto-Julie Strain), and a buffoon. Great team. Those guys in Heat have nothing on this gang. Obviously, this gang would never succeed, so none of the robbery is actually shown. How the hell do these four rob a diamond store in Manhattan and then make their getaway in a plane? If they are stealing diamonds, they are probably either in Midtown or down near Canal Street where all the Chinese and Hasidic diamond stores are. All of these stores have hardcore security, especially in 1971 when crime was running rampant in the city. So somehow, these four idiots overcome the various alarms, armed guards, locks, et cetera and get some diamonds. Whether they are in midtown or on Canal Street, the closest police stations are about a block away, which means the cops would be all over them before they’d even made it out the front door. So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. These four goofballs, armed apparently with a single six-shot revolver, manage to elude the police. They then have to hop into a car and, of course, speed away for about five seconds before getting caught in traffic.

But let’s say they get lucky and the streets are miraculously empty of careening taxis and double-parked delivery trucks. The gang escapes the city in a small single-prop airplane, which means they had to fly out of one of two small airports that actually service small private planes. One is in Long Island, the other in New Jersey. Both are about an hour away from Manhattan and require driving over crowded bridges or through tunnels. It would take all of five seconds to completely block any escape route — and their escape route would be very obvious. In short, this scheme has a 100% chance of failing even if it was pulled off by seasoned veterans or members of the Rat Pack. But somehow, these folks did it. Impressive.

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Of course, all of this would prove positively ludicrous had they been able to afford to show it, so when we actually meet our merry band, they’re tooling down country roads in an old jeep listening to the plot point radio. Conveniently, the radio then goes on to explain how they ended up in the jeep. Turns out they crash their plane in the mountains of North Carolina, or was it Virginia, and steal a jeep in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses who then report the incident to the police, thus completely giving away their location. To complete the circle of extreme idiocy, the jeep runs out of gas. This who sequence is just painful. It’s sort of funny that anyone ever thought these would be believable or compelling criminals, but it’s also just painful to watch. It reminded me of this exercise I had to do in a script writing class back in college. We were charged with writing a new final scene for Silence of the Lambs, something that happens after Clarice Starling gets the last phone call from Hannibal Lechter. Keep in mind, this was years before Hannibal. One guy wrote a scene in which Clarice goes to South America to track Hannibal down. After about five pages of her walking around, she goes to get some ice cream, and of course, Hannibal has killed the real ice cream man (presumably played by Clint Howard) and is disguised as a store clerk. He ends up decapitating Clarice Starling and, as the movie fades to black, utters the memorable line “Quid pro quo, Clarice!”

It was, at the time, awful. It was one of the most awful things ever written, the sort of thing that makes you wish you were doing something more pleasant, like listening to Quentin Tarantino talk for hours about how cool stuff is as you are hammered in the groin by an elf singing the various musical numbers from the Rankin Bass Hobbit cartoon. At least that would make a funny story afterward. Of course, this was before Hannibal, remember, which may have made the guy’s script seem less pathetic. The professor, a high school drop out who looked a lot like Walt Whitman and wore a rawhide vest to class every day, actually howled when the guy was finished reading his scene. He grabbed the script, and I kid you not, tore it in half, threw it across the room, the proceeded to dance on it with wild abandon while shouting, “This is the worst piece of shit I’ve ever read!” That scene would have been much more interesting than what the kid wrote. The whole thing was one of the most uncomfortably hilarious moments in my life, and the entire concept behind Honey Britches is actually even worse.

What’s really sad, and at the same time sort of poignant, is that I have no doubt writer Barbara Morris Davison put her heart and soul into the script. She worked her ass off. The guy who wrote the script in which Hannibal Lechter kills Clarice Starling while dressed as an Ecuadorian ice cream man thought his script was the greatest idea the world had ever seen. He was so excited about it, so amazed by how wild and cool it was. He was utterly crushed when the professor literally tore it to shreds. Likewise, I’m sure when she typed the words “The End,” Barbara lit a cigarette, leaned back in her chair, and thought about how great the script was. She was excited because it was something she did herself, something she completed, beginning to end.

When the jeep runs out of gas, Phillip the Fake Brit showcases his superior intellect once again by deciding to push the jeep to the side of the road and cover it with branches. The perfect crime! Except that it’s just sitting in a wide open area underneath a big pile of suspiciously out-of-place branches forming a rudimentary dome-shape. It’s about as inconspicuous as neon-clad yodelin’ cowboy at a goth club. While they are pulling off that feat of brilliance, we are introduced to our next lovable character, a portly, bearded moonshiner named Harlan who loves to scream “Jezebel!” and “Sinful harlot!” at the sassy town hooker while making the “indignant puffy face” and emitting Ted Knight-esque mumbles any time she zings him with a suitably sassy comeback to his ranting. Someday, I’m going to make a movie about a hooker who isn’t smart as a whip and her best friend, the homeless guy who did not used to be a literature professor or famous concert cellist.

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People only tolerate Harlan’s Bible-thumping hellfire because he’s the best moonshiner in the county, which is a claim to fame not unlike the one in Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indiana Jones proclaims, “Sallah, you’re the best digger in all of Egypt.” For me, that line is as famous as Sting’s awkward singsong “I will kill him!” from Dune and Warwick Davis’ amusing, “You ahhhr great!” from Willow. Harlan looks sort of like what James Earl Jones might look like if he had a spotty gray beard and had gone on a week-long binge drinking excursions culminating in being thrown in a river, swept miles downstream, and then plucked out of the waters by Fred Sandford who thinks to himself, “I’m gonna make this guy look like my good friend Grady!” Anyway, the big shock is that although Harlan goes on and on about the wages of sin and the glory of God, he is really a dirty bastard who loves to peep at women and lick his chops like a dog eying a steak.

Meanwhile, our gang (their names, for the record, are Phillip, Kurt, Karen, and… ummm… the tall lady. Since their stereotypes are much easier to remember than their names, I will call them the Fake British Guy, the Angry Southern Guy, Bubbles, and Cher) has gotten lost in the woods and stumbled upon a backwoods babe hanging up the laundry. In case you were worried, yes she is barefoot and wearing one of those cute little sundresses that maybe covers the majority of her upper thigh. I grew up in a relatively rural part of Kentucky, so how come all the women I saw out back doing laundry were wearing polyester pantsuits or lumberjack clothes? I have to admit that the stereotype of the sexy country gal is one I’m pretty happy with. Maybe it’s a function of my background. Doesn’t much matter to me. Okay, weird sexual fantasies aside, the gang of disturbingly successful yet totally miserable thieves meet up with Sally Lou, or Mandy Sue. It was really a name like that, and I just can’t remember. She’s friendly, of course, because of Southern hospitality, and invites the weary travelers to take a rest while she waits for her new husband to come home. Of course, her husband will end up being Harlan, because why the hell else would we have met him at the beginning of the film?

I should note the rather impressive acting job done by the very tall, skinny woman I refer to as Cher. She’s apparently going for an atmosphere of blase sophistication, like she’s so slick that nothing in the world impresses her. She gets across this characterization with subtle methods like droning all her lines in a monotone voice and prefacing every comment with a sigh. It’s funny once, annoying after about the hundredth time, and absurdly comical round about incident number five thousand. She and Karen… err, Bubbles — the dumb one — strip down to their skivvies to go down to the swimmin’ hole. The country girl jailbait bride has never seen such brazen hussiness! Maybe it didn’t occur to her that she was wearing a little dress short enough to be illegal in certain counties. Harlan returns and bellows about sin and his wife’s wanton ways when he finds the fellas hanging out in the living room. Everything is cleared up when the city gals return, allowing Harlan to ogle them and wag his tongue about five inches from their breasts. How this guy maintains his religious facade while behaving this obviously is beyond me. I guess everyone is plastered on Harlan brand moonshine, so perception is not at its highest.

Complicating matters is the fact that Harlan has discovered the cleverly hidden jeep and claimed it as his own. Frankly, those idiots deserved to lose their jeep. Harlan agrees to allow the city slickers to stay with them until they can regroup themselves and figure out what to do about the jeep Harlan doesn’t want to return to them. Kurt the angry Southern guy also wants to give himself enough time to score with Harlan’s sexy bride, figuring that beneath her naive country exterior is a wanton hillbilly whore. He also figures that Harlan, although he may look like a poor old doofus, probably has a fortune in moonshining money buried somewhere out in the yard. You’d think the guy would be happy with millions of dollars worth of diamonds, but whatever. What’s more fun to say you have — a bunch of diamonds or jars full of buried moonshine money? I thought so.

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Kurt bullies the others into going along with his scheme — to take over Harlan’s moonshine business and make a killing while they wait for the heat on them to cool off. In the meanwhile, he does indeed manage to unleash the pent-up sexual frustrations of Harlan’s wife after discovering she only married the guy because her father lost a bet. Those backwoods savages! The bored Cher chick catches Kurt in the sack with his new country gal and, ever the pissy bitch, decides to tell Karen. Once again, you have to wonder what sort of idiot Phillip was for ever thinking these petty, bickering morons would be good accomplices in his heist. I really hate Phillip. I mean, Kurt is obviously the most despicable character, but I really hate Phillip.

Kurt also explains the concept of diamonds to the dim-witted hillbilly gal, and promises to take her away from all the pigshit and condescending, hypocritical moralizing of Harlan. I guess this was actually a nice thing to do, but he makes it as sleazy as possible. When Karen finds out, she freaks, and in an attempt to calm her down by beating the shit out of her, the country gal accidentally kills her with a moonshine jug. If you are a fan of high art, as I am, you should be a bit shocked that it’s taken nearly an hour in a wild hillbilly action film from the 1970s to get to the first cat fight. These sorts of things need to happen early in the film, and then they need to happen often throughout the remaining running time. I’m not saying every one of them needs to end with someone getting hit in the head with an unbreakable jug of hooch, of course. But we need something to relieve the monotony of scenes like the dramatic “Phillip walks to the other room” sequence, or the scintillating “Harlan drinks the moonshine” scene.

Phillip is mildly annoyed by this whole turn of events and expresses his annoyance by making it a point to sigh as often as possible. While they are busy burying Karen, Harlan and his idiotic sidekick in the moonshining business decide to make a very slow getaway, which happens when you leave people unguarded. They manage to overpower and stick Kurt in the belly with a pitchfork, which you knew was probably going to happen at some point. Kurt really deserved this, since the series of events goes something like this: Kurt pulls a gun on Harlan, which causes Harlan to make funny faces. Being the quickest wit in the sticks, Harlan cleverly says, “That sure is a purty gun! Is it real? Can I take a look?” at which point Kurt smugly hands the gun to Harlan for a closer inspection of its beauty. Anyone that dumb deserves to be stabbed in the throat by a fat, lip-smacking moonshiner.

Harlan and his pal run over Cher as they make their escape in the truck, with Phillip following very slowly behind them. The entire backroads chase scene is set to ass-kicking bluegrass music, which might have been fitting if the vehicles ever hit speeds above a leisurely twenty miles per hour. You’d get a more exciting chase scene out of those little motorized power vehicles for children they sell at Toys-R-Us. Harlan and his buddy run out of gas, and take off on foot through the woods. I say “take off” in the same sense that a slug takes off. Phillip, luckily, is not exactly the fastest guy in the world. What follows is one of the few foot chase scenes that is actually done beginning to end with everyone walking. Phillip seems to be about five feet away from Harlan but can neither catch him nor successfully shoot the big lumbering blob of flesh. Really, the only thing that could have made this whole rotten scene any better would be if they undercranked it and redid the whole thing to the Benny Hill theme song.

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Harlan’s friend manages to step in a bear trap, and Harlan abandons him. I should mention that whenever something sinful happens, the movie cuts to a fiery Southern preacher screaming out some hellfire and brimstone type stuff. Phillip shoots the guy in the trap, and continues to walk very casually after Harlan, who has fallen offscreen and had to fashion a crutch out of some nearby twigs. He prays to God to protect him, citing the many times he has yelled at people in God’s name. I guess it works, because when Phillip comes strolling up, Harlan bests him in one of the most scintillating hand-to-hand combat scenes I’ve ever seen. Actually, Phillip runs out of bullets, Harlan tumbles around, and Phillip ends up impaled on a branch.

Upon returning to his home, Harlan is enamored by the diamonds and proclaims aloud his intention to ditch his wife, dig up his moonshine money, and move to the big city. She’s pissed, and rightfully so, so she grabs Kurt’s gun, blows Harlan away, and presumably grabs the diamonds for herself and heads for the big city, presumably Charlotte, North Carolina. The final shot is a freeze frame of Harlan, the religious hypocrite, giggling and clutching a bunch of diamonds while, in official “frilly Biblical font” we get the caption “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.” Thus, we learn the wages of sin are death, and a false religious man like Harlan will get his just desserts same as all those big city thieves. Okay, points for the morality play, and at least attempting to communicate some sort of message, but couldn’t we have gotten there with a little less casual strolling through the woods?

Okay, problem number one. Where’s the nudity? I mean, how can you make a movie called Honey Britches, feature a bombshell as a naive scantily clad country girl, and not have any nudity? Aren’t there laws against that? I mean, I think you get one breast shot during her cavorting about with Kurt, but come on! This movie promises sex and action, and it delivers both with about the same level of energy as that woman playing the bored chic lady delivers all her lines. This movie actually suffers from not being sleazy enough. It’s sleazy, thanks to Kurt’s abuse of women and his rather rough seduction of the country gal, but it’s also pretty tame. It’s sleazy enough to insult the easily insulted, but it’s not sleazy enough to make it a wild ride that will shock or please cult film fans. Call me perverted — and you wouldn’t be the first — but I could do with a little more action, a little more gore, or a little more nekkidness. All three, or any of the three. Something — anything — besides another scene of Harlan walking across the yard!

The action is, of course, pathetic. Laughably bad, even worse than the kungfu choreography in Relic Hunter. The shocking gore is nothing more than the “slap some red paint on ‘em” style of gore that was extremely common in films of this era and of this budget. The acting is passable only because everyone plays such an over-the-top stereotype. The dialogue is the real killer. It’s horrible, and it comprises about 90% of the movie. Most of the action is explained to us over the radio. People talk about what they’ve just done (usually offscreen), what they are going to do, and what they would like to do, but they almost never actually do anything. If your idea of hot action is a fat guy walking through the woods in between ten minute scenes of a guy faking a British accent and saying things like, “I wish I had a bloody cup of tea,” then you’re set.

With all that is so horrible in this movie, I still found myself laughing my ass off the whole way through. I mean, it’s rare these days that we get to see such an all-around example of total incompetence, but here you go. The drive-in theaters used to be full of movies of this nature, and God do I miss them. I mean, there’s something basic and honest about a movie this bad. It’s bad, yes, but it’s bad in such a pure way. Bad movies these days are bad because the Hollywood types simply don’t give a shit. As long as they get a killer compilation soundtrack and a shitload of special effects, they don’t care.

What makes films like Honey Britches enjoyable — and I use that term loosely — is that the people involved really thought they were doing something good. They worked hard at it, and they put a lot of energy and effort into it. They simply failed miserably, but there’s something admirable and likeable about that. Having worked on a number of truly awful movies myself that seemed hilarious at the time, I can relate, and as such, any movie as bad but as honest as Honey Britches makes me happy. Plus that country girl in the little dress doesn’t hurt. She’s a real mind-blower, and I like that she outsmarts them all, not that this bunch of clods couldn’t be outsmarted by a very small pebble.

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This is the sort of movie that erupts in wild explosions of banjo music for even the most trifling bit of action. I guess much like the viewer, the banjo music has to take what it can get. Thus a slow stroll to the outhouse is punctuated with fiery banjo bravado. It’s really no more out of place there than in the incredibly poor final “chase” scene. To be fair, a lot of the music itself isn’t that bad if you dig bluegrass, which I do, what with me being a dumb Southern cracker and all. I’m sure it was all royalty-free library music Donn Davison found in some studio down in Florida, but it’s fun enough to almost fool you into thinking something interesting is happening when, in fact, it’s just Harlan going out to the shed to check on something.

Ultimately, what endears this horrid piece of cinema to me and makes me smile when I think about it is… well, okay. It’s the country girl. But it’s also the fact that this movie is basically one step above a home-made shot on video piece of work. This was a bunch of people sitting around in some overheated north Florida home going, “You know what’d be boss? To make a movie!” So Donn got his wife to write him something, because you know she always dreamed of being a writer, and they called in favors from friends and local community theater rejects (I suspect that’s where they got the guy who insists on faking a British accent for no reason), conned some local businesses into giving them some cash, and presto! Honey Britches was born! As always, my weakness for admiring these kinds of projects always biases me in their favor. Additionally, sexy hillbilly women, blustering moonshiners, and truly stupid criminals are a recipe for a fun time no matter how bad the film may be. Of course, downing some moonshine yourself before watching might make things more enjoyable.

Release Date: 1971 | Country: United States | Starring: Ashley Brooks, George Ellis, Trudy Moore, Mike Coolik, Jim Peck, Valarie Lipsey, Pepper Thurston, R. Kenneth Wade | Screenplay: Barbara Morris Davison | Director: Donn Davison, Fred Olen Ray | Cinematography: Avrum M. Fine | Alternate Titles: Death Farm, Hillbilly Hooker, Little Whorehouse on the Prairie, Moonshiners’ Women