Having grown up in the wilds of New Jersey, my playground was generally Times Square, so I've never developed a full appreciation of country music. The numerous attempts to launch country stations on New York radio generally ended in financial disaster. Thus, I acknowledge I'm not very well versed in the lives and careers of legendary country singers, including the man who is considered by many to be the greatest of them all, Hank Williams. When a review copy of Warner Archives' new release of the Williams' biopic Your Cheatin' Heart arrived, I felt as though the world it was set in would be as foreign to me as a distant planet. The 1964 MGM release, directed by Gene Nelson, is notable in several ways. It is perhaps the last musical to be filmed in black-and-white and it represents a rare mainstream release for producer Sam Katzman, who was known for cheesy cult classics, though he did produce successful Elvis Presley and Herman's Hermits musicals for MGM.
I found myself surprisingly impressed by the movie, particularly with George Hamilton's performance as Williams. On the surface, it would seemed to have been a bizarre bit of casting: Hamilton was the ultimate Hollywood pretty boy and he was to play a country bumpkin who would make Gomer Pyle look like Laurence Olivier. However, Hamilton gives an excellent performance - in fact it may be the best work of his career. The film itself is consistently entertaining, though the background on its production is quite fascinating. Williams emerged from an impoverished youth to become an idol to country music fans. His seemingly endless array of chart-topping hits were sung in his distinctive style of crooning, which generally included high pitched vocals that often approached yodeling. In his personal life, however, Williams had trouble coping with the trappings of success and felt his material gains were somehow an insult to his core audience of everyday folks from modest backgrounds.