For our “Ron Ormond Day” at B&S About Movies, I chose this early hicksploitationer* featuring an early role for Ron’s son, Tim. Tim would grow up to serve as an editor, cinematographer, writer (39 Stripes, The Second Coming), and director (the lost The Second Coming) on several Ormond family productions, which also included wife and mom, June Carr (her 2006 Variety obituary). Tim also acted in Ron’s films — only eight out of forty films — Girl from Tobacco Row, The Exotic Ones, If Footmen Tire You, The Burning Hell, The Grim Reaper, The Believer’s Heaven, and 39 Stripes. So, when in Ormondville, you might as well review White Lightnin’ Road to complete Tim’s acting resume . . . and honor the career of Earl Sinks — also the star of today’s second (non-Ron Ormond) film.
Read on, B&S surfer!
White Lightin’ Road (1967)
This one has it all: Loose n’ tempting femme fatales, red-lining stock cars, driver rivalry, and love triangles between said rivals and femme fatales. So, yeah, the proceedings are just like any red-neckin’ romp with fast cars and faster women. And moonshine. And gangsters. And an illegal auto parts network. And murder. And shotgun weddings. And everything southern fried that we love. (Oh, Tim’s a young lad who hangs around the track that’s befriended by Joe, our ne’er-do-well hero.)
Earl “Snake” Richards — a ’50s rockabilly crooner who also appeared in Ormond’s Girl From Tobacco Row (1966), and a ’50s rock flick, That Tennessee Beat (we’re getting to it), before hanging up the clapboard — stars as Snake Richardson, the rough n’ tumble bad-boy racing rival of Joe (the one and gone Ter’l Bennett): your typical, straight-laced lad who has the need for speed. And, as in other back roadin’, moonshinin’ and asphalt romps, Ruby (the sexy n’ white-trashy, eyeball melting Arline Hunter; Playboy Playmate of the Month for August 1954), the bad guy’s girl, has eyes for the good guy. And she — one not to shriek from a good ol’ girl-on-girl catfight — gets Joe mixed up with Slick (played by Ron Ormond), who cons our lad into being the wheelman for a heist, which results in the death of a nightwatchman.
As you watch the trailer, you’ll take note that, unlike the Elvis (Viva Las Vegas) and Fabian (Fireball 500, Thunder Alley**) racing flicks Ormond emulates, there’s no stock footage: everything is staged and shot in-camera by Ron, himself, which makes White Lightnin’ Road superior to many of the racing flicks of the ’60s.
To say we love Ron Ormond’s films is a trope-laden understatement, as we’ve also reviewed Ron Ormond’s pre-salvation exploiters Mesa of Lost Women and Please Don’t Touch Me. And, if you feel like You Tubin‘ or Googlin’, you’ll discover that, after Buddy Holly went solo and left the Crickets hangin’, Earl Richards, aka Sinks, ended up fronting the Crickets. Oh, and did you know, Earl and the Crickets cut the original version of “I Fought the Law” made famous by the Bobby Fuller Four (and later the Clash; just heard it this week on a classic rock station)? True story.
And, in a real treat, there’s a You Tube upload of the Earl Sinks compilation tribute CD The Man with 1000 Names — a super-fine, hour and a half of music featuring his work under the names Sinks, Earl Henry, Sinx Mitchell, and Earl Richards, as well as his work with the Omegas, the Hollidays, the Mar-Vels, and the Crickets. Embedded below, there’s a wonderful slideshow with Earl and the Crickets to the tune of their lost ’50s hit, “Someone, Someone,” to enjoy.
That Tennessee Beat (1966)
The big selling point, here (this is B&S About Movies, after all), is American cinema chain owner and producer Robert L. Lippert, who we’ve waxed nostalgic in our reviews for just a few of his 300-plus films: Jungle Goddess, King Dinosaur, Project Moonbase, and Rocketship-XM. And Ron Ormond — the reason for this review — produced and directed several films for Robert L. Lippert, including many westerns with Lash LaRue. (Ormond also used Lash — as a therapist (!) — in the mondo sex-hypnosis romp, Please Don’t Touch Me. Another western star of old, Tex Ritter, worked with Ormond — as a priest (!) — in Girl from Tobacco Row.)
Star Trek: TOS scribe Paul Schneider — who gave two of the series’ best-known, first-season episodes: “Balance of Terror,” which introduced the Romulans, and “The Squire of Gothos” — pens; he also wrote episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. As for our director, Richard Brill: primarily a producer who worked on the TV series The New Steve Allen Show and Dateline: Hollywood, That Tennessee Beat was his only feature film.
This also proved to be the fifteenth and final film for (hubba-hubba) screen beauty Delores Faith, who wowed us in House of the Black Death (1965) with Lon Chaney and John Carradine, the 1966 Drive-In double-biller of The Human Duplicators and Mutiny in Outer Space, and her debut set in the far-flung future of 1980: The Phantom Planet (1961).
Then there’s our leading-lady, Sharon DeBord: During her slight, fifteen credit-career, she was Darrin Stephens’s secretary on TV’s Bewitched for several episodes. Did anyone one see her work in The Hoax (1972) with the recently passed (June 2021) Frank Bonner of Equinox fame? The Halloween rip Killer’s Delight, aka The Dark Ride (1978)?
Okay. Okay. I know. As Sam the Bossman would say: “Hey, don’t we have a movie to discuss?”
Sink — under his then stage name, Earl “Snake” Richards, is our leading man: Jim “The Nashville Kid” Birdsell. An aspiring country-western music star on the run after stealing money to fund a trip to Nashville, he’s subsequently robbed and left penniless by another road bandit. Luckily, Jim meets a brother and sister with a singing group who take him into the band and help him achieve his rock ‘n’ roll dreams. Jim, of course, falls in love with the sister, Opal Nelson (Sharon DeBord), as she and the Rev. Rose Conley (Minnie Pearl) put him on the straight and narrow.
As you can see from the newsprint ad, this film is packed — as is the case with all ’50s and ’60s rock films (see the similar The Road to Nashville; Mister Rock and Roll starring DJ Alan Freed) — with plenty of musical performances.
No disrespect to the ol’ Snake — and it’s not his fault, as he’s just a musician in an acting role — there’s not much of a story here; but again, as is the case with ’50s and ’60s rock films: the whole point is the performances. Remember, there was no MTV back then. And not everyone could afford a television to watch variety shows to see groups perform. And many couldn’t afford to go to concerts. So, it was movies, like That Tennessee Beat (distributed by 20th Century Fox, of all studios), which, for a mere buck a person (sodas and hamburgers were $.30 each*˟), brought the TV — and concerts — to America’s rural Drive-Ins.
You simply can not see a concert line up featuring Earl “Snake” Richards, Peter Drake, Boots Randolph (best know for the huge sax-driven hit, “Yakkity Yak”), the Statler Brothers, and Merle Travis (the film’s title song), not to mention the comedy stylings of the Grand Ol’ Opry’s grande dame, Minnie Pearl, for one dollar. Well, $4.00, if you toss in the sodas and burgers for you and your sweetie. So goes the genre of the “jukebox musicals” of old before Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, ABC-TV’s In Concert, and NBC-TV’s The Midnight Special.
Sadly, I only have White Lightin’ Road recorded on an old VHS taped-off UHF TV. I also had That Tennessee Beat on a tape via UHF-TV, but lost that one to the blue screen of death. In all of my grey-market VHS years, I’ve never come across a copy of either film. And there’s no online streams to share of either film.
If there’s ever an actor-musician who deserves a restored, reissue box set of his films — only three, mind you — it’s Earl Sink. Make it happen, Arrow, Kino, and Severin. Yeah, we’re calling you out, our brothers. You can even toss in a restored greatest hits career-spanning CD of Earl’s tunes in the set.
* We paid our tribute to hicksploitation films with our “The Top 70 Good Ol’ Boys Film List” featurette.
** If you need more films with romance and burnin’ rubber (of the asphalt variety, dirty mind), check out our “Drag Racing Week,” as well as our “Savage Cinema (box set)” and “Fast and Furious Week” tributes, featuring review links to over one hundred films.
*˟ “Here’s How Much a ‘Cheap Date’ Cost Every Decade Since the 1940s” by Morgan Greenwald for Best Life.
For Henry Earl Sinks
January 1, 1940 to May 13, 2017
Your rocked, it, Snake!