Picks and Pans Review: The Beverly Hillbillies

Claris Leachman, Dabney Coleman, Lily Tomlin, Diedrich Bader, Erika Eleniak, Lea Thompson, Rob Schneider, Jim Varney

It seems unlikely that Ford would come out with a new model Edsel. Neither the Colorado Rockies nor the Florida Marlins sought to emulate the pathetic expansion team of 1962, the New York Mets. But 20th-Century Fox and director Penelope Spheeris herewith recycle the 1962-71 TV series widely derided as a low-water mark of popular culture.

The movie is no improvement, displaying the same patronizing, silly, anti-intellectual prejudices as Paul Henning’s TV creation. It even trashes one of the TV show’s few real charms, replacing the actor playing Jed Clampett, whose discovery of oil on his Arkansas farm finances his family’s move to Hollywood. Instead of the affable Buddy Ebsen, the movie casts the chronically dull Varney; in fact a brief scene with Ebsen playing Barnaby Jones, his post-Hillbillies TV detective character, is the highlight of the film. Otherwise, Spheeris and the screenwriters fall back for laughs on unimaginative slapstick and scenes of obscene gestures and crotch-kicking.

Tomlin, playing the Nancy Kulp role of assistant to the greedy bank president who wants to tap into the Clampetts’ nouveaux riches, demeans herself grievously, resorting to overbite mugging and flighty takes. Leachman makes a suitably grizzled Granny, and Eleniak, rushing headlong into a career as a designated bimbo, portrays teenager Elly May, all of whose measurements exceed her IQ.

Coleman, as the banker, blusters effectively, and Bader, as dollish nephew? Jethro, succeeds in seeming sublimely stupid, though he is embarrassing in a scene where, dressed in drag as his own sister Jelhrine, he has to smooch with poor Schneider, who by that time would probably have been happy to do a Riehmeister bit.

Varney pursues his specialty of making Southerners seem imbecilic (and he’s a Kentuckian!), slouching and seeming to chew his cud. But the whole movie conspires to propagate myths of Southern ignorance and big-city venality. It is all one bad, mindless ethnic joke. (PG)”

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