(director/writer: Arthur Penn; screenwriters: based on the song “The Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” by Arlo Guthrie/Venabel Herndon; cinematographer: Michael Nebbia; editor: Dede Allen; music: Arlo Guthrie; cast: Arlo Guthrie (Himself), Pat Quinn (Alice), James Broderick (Ray), Michael McClanathan (Shelly), Geoff Outlaw (Roger), Tina Chen (Mari-Chan), Kathleen Dabney (Karin), William Obanhein (Officer Obie), Joseph Boley (Woody), Shelley Plimpton (Reenie), M. Emmet Walsh (Group W Sergeant), Pete Seeger (Himself), Sylvia Davis (Marjorie Guthrie); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating:NR; producers: Hillard Elkins/Joseph Manduke; MGM Home Entertainment; 1969)
“It’s worth checking out for the marvelous look back at how the counterculture dropouts related to each other and to the straight older generation in the late 1960s.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Arthur Penn (“Bonnie and Clyde”/”Night Moves”/”Little Big Man”) brilliantly captures the end of an era in this poignant and funny dramatic rendition of the 22-year-old folk singer Arlo Guthrie’s 20-minute song, “The Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” The best-selling song was written by Arlo as a commercial for the new small restaurant of his Stockbridge, Ma, friends Alice (Pat Quinn) and Ray Brock (James Broderick). Writer Venabel Herndon adds to the song by chronicling Arlo’s growing pains during a time of social upheaval in the States, protests over the Vietnam War, and the folk singer’s relating to his hippie friends. There’s a strong social commentary against the Vietnam War and the younger generation rejecting the older generation authority figures. It’s worth checking out for the marvelous look back at how the counterculture dropouts related to each other and to the straight older generation in the late 1960s.
Arlo’s growing pains include a short calamitous college stint at a Montana college to study music in order to get a draft deferment; his relationship with his celebrated Depression-era Dustbowl folk singing father Woody Guthrie, who is dying in a New York hospital from Huntington’s chorea (an inherited nervous disorder); his close friendship with the nurturing Alice and the excitable Ray Brock, a young couple who live in a Stockbridge church, run a freaky restaurant, and act as surrogate parents to a loose bunch of hippies.
After a hippie gathering at the church for a Thanksgiving Day feast, Arlo and his hippie friend Roger (Geoff Outlaw) are arrested by the police chief (William Obanhein, the real police chief) for littering. As a result Arlo’s fined $50 and has to pick-up the half a ton of garbage he dumped down a cliff (because the town dump was closed for the holiday) and ends up dumping it at a NYC Sanitation Department site. This arrest turns out to be a good break for Arlo, as he’s rejected for military service because he’s perceived as not a rehabilitated criminal.
Penn aims for more than telling about Arlo’s hippie adventures, as he uses the song as the centerpiece to ask what went so wrong with the communal aspects of the hippie movement. The pic takes a hard look at the joys and emptiness of the movement, and how it could be just as dysfunctional as growing up in a traditional family. This film looks better with the passing of time, as it closes with Alice’s unforgettable haunting look at her unstable hubby, the empty church and with her seemingly thinking to herself that we really blew it. Despite being surrounded by decent people with similar peaceful interests, the couple couldn’t keep things together because of their own personal issues, sexual rivalries, and the inability of the peaceniks to freely love one another–which the rejection of mainstream life for a life as a carefree spirit was supposedly all about.
Some memorable scenes include Woody (Joseph Boley) in the hospital being serenaded by Seeger singing solo “Pastures of Plenty” and then singing with Arlo the silly “Car-Car Song” and during a light snowfall at a Hallmark card setting New England funeral for a disturbed artist hippie (Michael McClanathan) who took a drug overdose, the great Joni Mitchell is chillingly singing “Songs to Aging Children.”
REVIEWED ON 7/8/2011 GRADE: A-