(director/writer: Gene Nelson; screenwriter: Stanford Whitmore; cinematographer: Ellis W. Carter; editor: Ben Lewis; music: Hank Williams; cast: George Hamilton (Hank Williams), Susan Oliver (Audrey Williams), Red Buttons (Shorty Younger), Arthur O’Connell (Fred Rose), Shary Marshall (Ann Younger), Rex Ingram (Teetot), Donald Losby (Young Hank Williams); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Katzman; MGM; 1964)

The film is best in presenting the lively country music.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran TV director, a former skater with Sonja Henie’s ice show and character actor in Oklahoma! (1955), Gene Nelson (“Kissin’ Cousins”/”Hootenanny Hoot”/”Five Fingers of Death”), directs this average biopic on the legendary country singer from Alabama Hank Williams (George Hamilton) with efficiency but can’t make it exciting. A seemingly miscast Hamilton tries his best in this modestly budgeted film, but though giving an appealing, decent and earnest performance fails to catch the volatile personality of the hard drinking spirited entertainer. WriterStanford Whitmore fictionalizes and cleans up some controversial parts of Hank’s life, allowing the film to become too tepid. The film is best in presenting the lively country music, as Hank Williams Jr., only 15 at the time, dubs his father’s songs. The songs include: Your Cheatin’ Heart,”“I Saw the Light,” “Jambalaya,” “Hey, Good Lookin’,” “Cold, Cold Heart,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” and “I Can’t Help It.”

It opens in the early 1930’s in rural Alabama, where the impressionable young Hank Williams learns from the kind-hearted itinerant musician and shoeshine man Teetot (Rex Ingram), an elderly Negro, to play the guitar and sing. after Teetot’s untimely death, we next see Hank as an adult working as a singer and snake-oil salesman in a traveling medicine show. There he meets his future wife, Audrey (Susan Oliver), who watches the show in the audience and is impressed with him as a singer. Hank teams up with her country band called The Drifting Cowboys, and they get small-time gigs in church picnics.

The pushy Audrey gets Nashville publisher Fred Rose (Arthur O’Connell) to audition hubby after sending him a song hubby wrote. Rose signs him to a record deal and gets him an appearance on the Louisiana Hayride radio program. The earthy unsophisticated hillbilly Hank connects with the rural audience and soon becomes very popular and joins the Grand Ole Opry. But fame and wealth are not handled well by the troubled singer, who feels guilty he sold out his poor roots and starts hitting the bottle and missing performances. He soon disappears until found in a dumpy Memphis hotel by his longtime friend and band drummer, Shorty Younger (Red Buttons). Hank goes on the wagon and Fred gets him a booking, but he passes away of a heart attack at the age of 29 while driving to his comeback concert on January 1, 1953.