If you like classic country from the 50's, and 60's, boy do I have a deal for you.
As soon as I popped in the DVD, I felt like I was entering a time warp, as the interface is reminiscent of the menus of 90's era video games. It prompted me to choose my adventure, and I did. You can choose to play all or view scene selections, and while you wait there is a slightly comical almost Hee-Hawish Cowboy playing a very small lap steel. It is of course, purposely a teaser.
As the camera zooms in, we notice how impeccably dressed he is. When the camera slowly decreases its Zoom, we realize he is playing in front of a mirror, and not actually playing. He's going through the motions while a 45 spins to the left of the screen. He is very convincing except, for one minor detail, the 45 has a scratch. When it skips, the cowboy's head jerks in unison, and continues happily playing along with the record unperturbed.
The intro is flawless, and a metaphor for life as a whole. Things might go wrong, but you roll with the lows, and soar with the highs, and just keep right on going, which is exactly what the cowboy does.
The movie centers around Jubul, who is no cowboy. He's actually a lovable bespectackled nerd who loves country music. By all accounts, he is a loving, and devoted husband who allows himself one indulgence, country music. He lives out his country music fantasies in the comfort of his bedroom when his wife is not watching. His wife on the other hand, is an opera loving socialite, who would rather die than cavort with twang. For the classic film buffs, like myself, we are treated to the Bowery Boys Huntz Hall, and Leo Gorcey throughout the movie. Some will also remember Huntz from the Beatles cover art for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The plot is Yubul's wife is organizing an opera for charity. After expenses, and potential payment to the performers that are coming from Europe, a mere dollar is what would be left to disburse to charity. However, in a twist of fate, the opera singers get stuck in a pizzeria in New York, and are not able to make the engagement. Yubul's wife is distraught, and driven to tears at the thought of becoming the laughing stock of Nashville. Yubul steps in, and convinces her to substitute country music artists for the opera troupe instead. He delivers a presidential worthy speech that underscores the finer attributes of country music, and it's intrinsic link to America. The delivery is intentionally hyperbolic, but it works as Arnold Slang, the actor playing the role is a comedian.
Jubul swiftly crashes a recording session where he finds Faron Young behind the mixing board, and I think Marty Robbins fiddling around with the playback. This gets the ball rolling, and Nashville's A-listers are on high alert for the worthy event needing their help right now.
The show goes on with Jimmy Dickens dressed as sharp as ever with red suede boots, and a matching tie delighting our ears with his almost opera level big voice, and sunny smile. Pearl, and Carl Butler sing their huge hit "Don't Let Me Cross Over". And the bling on their clothing reminded me of the bedazzler I never quite learned to use when I was 8, oh well.. But I do think Webb Pierce may have had the most embellishments on his suit. There were many performance high notes throughout the film including:
Born To Lose- Billy Walker
Connie Smith- Three Times a Day
Johnny Wright-Moving On Over
Kitty Wells- It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels
But Buddy Spicher performing Mountain Rag was by far the most energetic performance, and he looked so incredibly happy. Buddy was quite literally a starving artist in Nashville that depended on the kindness of others early on to survive. He rose to become part of the Nashville A-Team for 10 years, which is quite a feat..
Of course, I especially liked Lefty Frizzell's performance of "If You've Got The Money" with lots of shimmy, and hip movements in the characteristic Lefty style. He kept the audience, and fellow musicians engaged, and was introduced by Merle Kilgore as country music's first teen idol..
Faron Young was the most elegantly dressed of all. He had the type of suit you would wear to a friend's wedding or Sunday church. His performance of Hello Walls was so good y'all. A minor disappointment was the horrible lip sync on some songs. Also, the plot had several gaps for example, how was it that Yubul knew Faron Young?
Everyone that performed were dressed to the nines. It was Nudie Suit heaven y'all, and I kept thinking how it is such a shame that most of our country performers do not dress up at all. And to be honest, some look like they sleep in those clothes the night before, and never bothered to change. I think we deserve better than that.
One other takeaway was the variety of country. that was showcased. Everything from crossover country pop to honky tonk country, and rockabilly was played. There were a couple of odd coincidences with this movie. Firstly Pamela Hayes, Yubul's wife never appeared in another movie. And the director Victor Duncan only worked on one more film "Cry For Poor Wally".
Another interesting factoid was that the music direction for the film was provided by Audrey Williams, Straight through, this was very wholesome family entertainment.
If you are wondering about the title, well the songs played almost all have a prominent steel. Even Peter Drake is seen backing several artists, and also does a fine job on one of his classics. The cast join together at the very end for an old-fashioned gospel tune led by the southern gentleman Sonny James. Pop this one in after church on Sunday, you'll be glad you did.
The most memorable line in the movie: "As long as people can laugh, cry, hope, and love there will always be country music.." (Merle Kilgore)
Title:Second Fiddle To A Steel Guitar
September 15, 1965
Run time:1 hour and 47 minutes
Release date: February 27, 2007
Actors: Kitty Wells, Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, Carl & Pearl Butler, Bill Monroe
Studio: Time Life Records