Monday, April 12, 2021

Spring Night Summer Night (1967) Masterpiece of Appalachian Noir

"Shit Happens" 

Directed by Joseph L. Anderson. 

Written by Joseph L. Anderson, Franklin Miller, and Doug Rapp. The Cinematography was by Brian Blauser, David Prince, and Art Stifel

Starring Larue Hall as Jessica, Ted Heimerdinger as Carl Marjorie Johnson as Mother, John Crawford as Father, Betty Ann Parady as Donna, Tracy Smith as Jessica's Sister, David Ayres as Gas Station Owner, Mary Cass as Rose, Ron Parady as Tom, Bob Jones as Jacob, Jon Webb as Frank, Miles Gibbons as George, Art Stifel as Howard, Isabel Stott as Grandma, and Michael Marcum as Mike.

A touching, and loving paean to that part of Ohio that sits on the western foothills of Northern Appalachia. Its the polar opposite though, of equally entertaining Shanty Tramp which goes for the gold in outrageousness. 

Larue Hall as Jessica

Ted Heimerdinger as Carl

Marjorie Johnson as Mother

 John Crawford as Father

Betty Ann Parady as Donna

 Isabel Stott as Grandma

Spring Night Summer Night is very subtle, it treats its subject, incest, in a matter of fact, it happened, now deal with it, manner. And because of the remote country setting, everyone, in the dirt farming family and in the small town has to deal with it one way or another. 

Spring Night

The story starts on a Saturday night at the family farm in the rolling hill country dotted with small abandoned coal mines around Canaan Ohio. Papa scratches out a living. The farmhouse barn and outbuildings sit in a yard strewn with the effluvia of low rent living. Old washers, bushel baskets and old pans, shattered crockery, a rusted water heater, broken chairs, cinder blocks, bailing wire clotheslines hung with wash, the family car, a 1956 Plymouth Fury alongside the house and a 1950 Oldsmobile Futuramic 88 out by the barn. 

Jessica is Mama's oldest daughter. She does most of the chores. Mama had Jessica fairly soon after she married Papa. Papa had a boy Carl with his first wife, who died in childbirth. Carl helps with the farm chores when he's not goofing off blasting a shotgun at derelict tractor. 

Carl is ready to get the hell out of Dodge, and try and make a go of it in the big town, Cleveland.  

We first meet all eight of the family seated around the dinner table with Papa complaining about anything and everything, while Mama sucks on tar bars and all day self marinates on Carling Black Label brewskies. The baby is still in a high chair the next two, a younger sister and a younger brother make up the tableau. 

Granny is not at the table. She's off spooning up gruel parked on the upholstered rocker in the parlor. She's lit by the flickering shadows of the boob tube glued to one of her favorite shows. 

Mama and Papa want to get Jessica married off. It would ease some of the burden. 

Saturday night is when they do up the town. Granny goes to meeting to praise Jesus while Mama, Papa, Jessica, and Carl, go to the town bar/bluegrass dancehall to shake a leg. 

Boozin' it up country style at the Dance Hall

We first get an inkling of something being off square when we see Carl getting a bit over protective of Jessica. When Carl gets too worked up he shoves, throws a punch starts a ruckus and Jessica storms out. 

Carl gets in his  Olds Futuramic and follows Jessica down the street. 

He hops out grabs her opens the car door and throws her into the Olds. He wrestles with her pins her down and then crawls over her to the drivers side. He puts the Olds in gear makes a "U-ey" at the Sunoco Station. Carl drives Jessica out of town.

He drives on out to the lake, pulls Jessica out of the car and they do it in the grass. She doesn't stop him. 

The next day Carl takes off in his car for Cleveland.

Summer Night

Carl riding passenger in a Mustang convertible is dropped off by the side of the highway. He grabs his suitcase out of the back seat and starts hoofing it up a dirt road. 

He's back home. When he gets to the hill above the family place he sees that not much has changed save the Plymouth got its hood open alongside the house. When get to the yard he surprises Jessica who has just finished hanging the wash on the bailing wire clothes lines. Jessica is looking like she's got a bun in the oven. She's happy to see him. 

Jessica with a bun in the oven

Papa has been beside himself trying to find out from Jessica who the father is. She ain't telling. He goes to town questioning all the likely suspects of the boys she went to school with and guys he seen Jessica with at the dance hall. He goes to the gas station and ross examines the owner about his young employee.

Even her worldly best friend, round heels Donna, who told Jessica what she should have done before she first missed her period, doesn't know who the father is. Donna comes from a much more well off background (hell her house is even painted) but she isn't uppity in the least. She offers Jessica one of her dresses when she stops by after falling with all her clothes on in the old swimming hole

What exactly did Donna tell Jessica. Did Donna, who flouts her good looks and wears revealing bikinis tell Jessica to lets say  just have oral sex with her boyfriends or did she  tell her about some other birth control method? Like Noirs under the code you can make up whatever scenario you want. 

Papa is now going around town like a bull in a china shop trying sniff out who screwed his daughter. He zero's in on a few likely culprits.  Its all building to a head. That final summer night night Carl tells Jessica he loves her and they should run away and get married. Jessica says that its not right for a brother and sister to get married. Carl says that they may only be half brother and sister. 

Half is better than full. Carl and Jessica decide that the only thing to do is that they got to ask Mama, who was the town pump, i.e., screwing around quite a bit, before she got respectable, weather or not Jessica, is really Papa's child. Carl confronts Mama in the store room of the beer hall.


The resolution with Jessica and Carl taking off on a bus is only a another twist on a road that has a 50% of leading even further downward. We wish them luck, but in the back of your mind you ask, is a trailer park their next stop.

This film was quite a surprise for its unexpected eloquence and the serious treatment of it's subject matter. Director Anderson was a University of Ohio professor, and other than a few short subjects this was his only completed film. 8/10. Beautiful restoration by - byNWR

One final factoid, an exploitation distributor re edited the film adding sex inserts and distributed the film under the title Miss Jessica Is Pregnant.

No comments:

Post a Comment