EDITOR’S NOTE: Honky Tonk Freeway was not produced by Cannon. It was, however, released on video in Germany by Cannon Screen Entertainment.
Honky Tonk Freeway was one of the most expensive box office bombs in history, losing Thorn EMI between $11 million and $22 million dollars. Before this movie, they had purchased the Associated British Picture Corporation and their facilities at Elstree Studios. By 1986, they would sell their film production and distribution side known as Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment, Thorn EMI Video) ABC Cinemas to businessman Alan Bond. Bond, who would sell it to Cannon a week later.
A year after that, Cannon sold most of the film library to Weintraub Entertainment Group and their stake in Thorn EMI video — which is what we know as HBO/Cannon Video — to HBO.
British producer Don Boyd had the idea for this movie and he was going with what he thought the U.S. was like versus what it really was all about. Along with writer Ed Clinton, they traveled America for nine months, then came back and wrote the script. John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy, Marathon Man) was hired as director and there was no limit placed on the budget, which would come back to haunt the production.
The movie takes place in Ticlaw, Florida where mayor and religious leader Kirby T. Calo (William Devane) owns a hotel and tiny wildlife safari park with a star elephant known as Bubbles. The state is building a highway and won’t give the town an off-ramp, so the entire city paints itself pink.
The rest of the movie is a rambling episodic story of the many people coming to town, like Eugene and Osvaldo (George Dzundza and Joe Grifasi); copy machine repairman and aspiring children’s book author Duane Hansen (Beau Bridges); a waitress named Carmen Odessa Shelby (Beverly D’Angelo), who is carrying her deceased mother’s ashes to Florida; Snapper and his messed up family of his wife Ericka and kids Delia and Little Billy (Howard Hesseman, Teri Garr, Jenn Thompson and Peter Billingsley); Sisters Mary Magdalene and Mary Clarise (Deborah Ruse and Geraldine Page); an elderly couple (Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy; is this a prequel to Coccoon?); a county singer named T.J. Tupus (Paul Jabara) with a rhino and David Rasche, Daniel Stern, Jeffrey Combs and tons of other character actors all show up too.
Two thousand extras and artists in Mount Dora, Florida were paid around $35 per day to appear in the film, as well as paint their entire town pink. All of the main street businesses were paid $100 a day to allow filming outside their stores. It’s one of those big movies they don’t seem to make anymore outside of CGI superhero stuff.
And then the movie was released, it disappeared.
EMI had sold the ancillary rights to German investors in need of a tax loss to try and make back all the money they lost making it. When the movie’s distributors learned about that, they were no longer financially motivated to distribute it.
So one week and done.
This movie is like Nashville if Robert Altman wasn’t any good. At least it has a waterskiing elephant.