AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Director: Robert Altman (Dir)
Release Date:   Jun 1975
Duration (in mins):  157 or 159-160
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Cast: David Arkin  (Norman)
  Barbara Baxley  (Lady Pearl)
  Ned Beatty  (Delbert Reese)

Summary: Five days before a U.S. presidential primary election, Replacement Party candidate Hal Phillip Walker’s “Walker Talker Sleeper” van, which is fitted with loudspeakers on the roof, is driven from early morning until night through the streets of Nashville, Tennessee, broadcasting Walker’s message that the current political system is failing. Elsewhere, during a recording session, country western veteran singing star, Haven Hamilton, insists that Opal, who claims to be a BBC journalist, leave his studio. Bud, Haven’s son and business manager, escorts Opal to the session of white gospel singer, Linnea Reese, and her black chorus of Fisk University students. The incessantly chatty Opal, who says she is preparing a documentary, compares the rhythmic movements of the singers to Kenya natives and asks Bud whether they “carry on like that in church.” A little later, at Nashville Airport, music fans and a marching band wait on the tarmac for the plane carrying beloved country singer Barbara Jean. A television newsman at the scene reports that Barbara Jean spent several weeks at a Baltimore burn care unit after a fire baton accident. From within the crowd, Pfc. Glenn Kelly watches the fragile Barbara Jean intently, and Haven is also there at the microphone to officially greet her. Also at the airport is Haven’s attorney, Delbert Reese, who meets with John Triplette, a smooth-talking political aide from Los Angeles. Triplette asks for Delbert’s help in convincing country western singers to perform at a televised pre-election rally for Walker. Wade, a dishwasher, and his neighbor, Sueleen Gay, a tone deaf waitress, are two airport employees hoping for a “big break” in their musical careers. After they finish their shift, they go outside to watch Barbara Jean. Mr. Green, an elderly man whose wife Esther is dying in the hospital, has come to the airport to pick up his niece Martha, a celebrity groupie who calls herself “L.A. Joan.” Thoughtless of her uncle’s grief, the scantily clad Martha asks for the autograph of singer Tom Frank, a member of a folk-rock singing trio, “Bill, Mary and Tom.” The trio has come to Nashville to cut a record album that will include Tom’s signature song, “It Don’t Worry Me.” Although Tom gets a ride into the city from female fans, Bill and Mary are driven in by an eager-to-please chauffeur, Norman, who has his own dreams of becoming an entertainer. After Barbara Jean addresses the crowd with platitudes and homely sayings, she collapses and is taken by ambulance to the local hospital. The other people at the airport conclude their various tasks, get into their cars, and become ensnared in a traffic jam caused by a sixteen-car collision. While waiting for the road to be cleared, a party atmosphere ensues, in which the celebrities give out autographs and people visit between cars. Hitchhiking toward Nashville is Albuquerque, whose real name is Winifred. Although she plans to have a singing career, she keeps an eye out for her husband Star, a farmer who is intent on finding and taking her back home. At the hospital, Barbara Jean’s room is soon filled with well-wishers. Although Green brings Martha to visit Esther, Martha instead flirts in the hall with Glenn and Bud. Later in the evening several musicians gather at Lady Pearl’s Old Time Picking Parlor. Lady Pearl, a close friend of Haven, announces to her customers that singer Tommy Brown, known as “the pride of Nashville,” is one of the celebrities in the audience, but when Wade, who is drunk, calls him a “white nigger,” Brown leaves. At another club, Deeman’s Den, it is amateur night. Sueleen sings a tuneless rendition of a song she wrote and is unaware of the impression made by her sexy clothes and erotically charged movements. Her performance prompts the bartender, Trout, to suggest her to Triplette and Delbert as a performer for a smoker they are arranging for Walker’s big money contributors. That night at home, Linnea receives a call from Tom Frank, who she met while on a musical tour. He invites her out, but she turns him down, in order to protect her unhappy marriage to Delbert, who shows polite indifference to her and their two deaf children. During the night, as Barbara Jean sleeps in her hospital room alone, Glenn, carrying flowers, sneaks in and sits beside her until early the next morning. Kenny Fraiser, a young man with a violin case who recently arrived in town, answers Green’s newspaper ad for a room to let. He arranges to board with Green, but says little about himself. When Martha again accompanies Green to the hospital to see Esther, she instead talks to Glenn. In the morning, Tom awakens with Opal in his bed, but ignores her to call Linnea. Aware that Delbert might be listening, Linnea pretends not to know Tom and hangs up. That day, Haven has a barbecue at his home. There, Triplette asks Haven to perform at the rally, but Haven is reluctant. Opal arrives uninvited and charms Bud into confiding his suppressed desire to be a singer, but then abruptly drops him when she spots the famous actor, Elliott Gould, at the party. At the Grand Ole Opry that evening, Brown and Haven perform, and after them, singer Connie White, Barbara Jean’s rival who is substituting for her. At the hospital, Barbara Jean listens to the show’s radio broadcast, and, feeling sorry for herself, instigates a quarrel with Barnett, her husband and manager. After the Opry performance, several of the musicians and their friends attend a nightclub. Actress Julie Christie, who is passing through town, drops by, and Barnett stops in to thank Connie for filling in for Barbara Jean. An inebriated Pearl becomes tearful as she tells Opal about her support of former president John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert. Triplette asks Haven if Connie would perform with Barbara Jean at the rally. Haven, who is miffed when the nightclub emcee introduces Connie and overlooks him, says that the women do not appear together, but that he will perform with Barbara Jean. Also at the club is Bill, who confides to Norman his suspicion that Mary, his wife and fellow singer in the trio, is having an affair. Although Norman assures him he is wrong, Mary is, at that moment, at the hotel in Tom’s bed. The next morning is Sunday and many of the performers go to their respective churches. Barbara Jean sings for a service in the hospital chapel. Opal wanders through an automobile junkyard, where she dictates her observations about race relations in America into her portable tape recorder. In an attempt to be thought-provoking, she compares the junkyard with a secret burial ground for elephants. Albuquerque performs at a stock car race, but cannot be heard over the loud motors. After Mary returns to their hotel room and oversleeps, Bill confronts her about her infidelity, but their quarrel is interrupted by the arrival of Triplette, who asks them to participate at the rally. Bill is willing, but Mary tells Triplette they are Democrats and that Walker is crazy. When Barbara Jean is released from the hospital, Glenn and Green bid her goodbye at the elevator. Just after Green learns from a nurse that Esther died during the night, Glenn, unaware of the sad news, tells Green that he came to Nashville to fulfill the wish of his mother, who saved Barbara Jean’s life in a fire and wanted him to see her. In another part of town, Opal is with Triplette, explaining her theory that country western musicians influence innocent people into buying guns and becoming assassins. At Green’s house, Frasier stops Martha from looking into his violin case. He calls his mother, but after failing to assure her that he is safe, he hangs up. Before Barbara Jean’s next performance, Delbert asks Barnett if she will headline the rally, but he declines, as he does not want her involved in politics. After performing a couple songs, Barbara Jean commences a rambling speech that convinces Barnett, who senses a nervous breakdown, to cancel the rest of the show. At first Barnett begs the booing crowd to consider that she has been ill, but then he impulsively promises that Barbara Jean will appear at the rally. When Tom Frank again calls Linnea, she is alone at home and agrees to meet him at a club. There, musicians onstage invite Tom to sing and, after performing with Bill and Mary, Tom, alone, sings a recently written song that he dedicates to an unnamed special woman. Mary, Martha and Opal, each of whom have slept with Tom, believes herself to be the special person, and Linnea, too, is moved by the song. Meanwhile, at the benefit smoker, Sueleen becomes confused when the crowd boos her performance, because no one told her she was hired to strip. Delbert and Triplette convince her to remain by offering to let her perform at the rally, and claim she will share the stage with Barbara Jean. Humiliated but eager for the promised opportunity, Sueleen reluctantly removes her clothing, item by item, then walks out. Later, Tom and Linnea make love, but it is Linnea rather than Tom who gets up to leave. Tom asks Linnea to stay, but she says she cannot. To hurt her, he calls another conquest, a woman in New York, but Linnea simply gives him a kiss and departs. At her apartment, Sueleen tells Wade about her ordeal and he is outraged, but feels he must warn her that she lacks talent and will be exploited. However, Sueleen is unwilling to believe the truth and tells him she will soon perform with Barbara Jean. On the day of the rally, a television newscaster describes how Walker is gaining support. Meanwhile, Green leaves Esther’s graveside to find Martha, who never paid last respects to her aunt. Frasier, carrying his violin case, accompanies Green to the rally, where Martha is in the audience holding hands with Bill. As Haven and Barbara Jean sing a duet, Star searches the crowd for Albuquerque, who is in the wings with other musicians. As Barbara Jean continues to perform, Frasier opens his violin case, pulls out a gun and fires several shots at her. Glenn and others apprehend him, while the dying Barbara Jean is carried away. Despite being nicked by a bullet, Haven attempts to calm the crowd, telling them, “This is Nashville, not Dallas.” As Delbert leads the injured Haven from the stage, Albuquerque takes the microphone and begins to sing. The gospel choir joins her and, as the crowd claps in time, she sings, “You may say that I ain’t free, but it don’t worry me.” 

Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures Corp.
Production Company: ABC Entertainment, Inc.
Director: Robert Altman (Dir)
  Tommy Thompson (Asst dir)
  Alan Rudolph (Asst dir)
Producer: Robert Altman (Prod)
  Robert Eggenweiler (Assoc prod)
  Scott Bushnell (Assoc prod)
  Martin Starger (Exec prod)
  Jerry Weintraub (Exec prod)
Writer: Joan Tewkesbury (Wrt)

Subject Major: Ambition
  Country music
  Nashville (TN)
  Political campaigns
Subject Minor: Airports
  Automobile accidents
  Death and dying
  English in foreign countries
  Fathers and sons
  Gospel music
  Managers (Entertainment)
  Mothers and sons
  Music fans
  Nervous breakdown
  Striptease dancers and dancing
  Talent agents
  Television news and information

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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