Name Occurs Before Title
Print Viewed By AFI
New York opening: 11 Jun 1975
8 Jul--early Sep 1974
Duration (in mins):
157 or 159-160
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(L. A. Joan [also known as Martha])
(Pfc. Glenn Kelly)
(Albuquerque [also known as Winifred])
James Dan Calvert
(Smokey Mountain Laurel)
(Smokey Mountain Laurel)
Misty Mountain Boys
(Misty Mountain Boys)
Thomas Hal Phillips
(voice of Hal Philip Walker)
Howard K. Smith
(Television news reporter)
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.”
ABC Entertainment, Inc.
(American Broadcasting Companies, Inc)
A Jerry Weintraub production of a Robert Altman film
Paramount Pictures Corp.
(Gulf & Western Industries, Inc.)
(Dir of photog)
(Mus arr and supv)
(Mus rec by)
(Mus rec by)
Lion's Gate 8 Track Sound
William A. Sawyer
Thomas Hal Phillips
(Asst to the prod)
(Chem-tone process by)
"200 Years," music by Richard Baskin, lyrics by Henry Gibson; "Yes, I Do," music and lyrics by Richard Baskin and Lily Tomlin; "Down to the River," "Bluebird," “Tapedeck in His Tractor (The Cowboy Song),” “Dues” and “My Idaho Home,” music and lyrics by Ronee Blakley; "Let Me Be the One" and “One, I Love You,” music and lyrics by Richard Baskin; "Sing a Song," music and lyrics by Joe Raposo; "The Heart of a Gentle Woman," music and lyrics by Dave Peel; "The Day I Looked Jesus in the Face," music and lyrics by Richard Baskin and Robert Altman; “Memphis,” “I Don’t Know If I Found It in You” and “Rolling Stone” music and lyrics by Karen Black; “For the Sake of the Children,” music and lyrics by Richard Baskin and Richard Reicheg; “Keep a’ Goin,” music by Richard Gaskin and Henry Gibson, lyrics by Henry Gibson; “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” traditional, arrangements by Millie Clements; “Honey,” “I’m Easy” and “It Don’t Worry Me,” music and lyrics by Keith Carradine; “I Never Get Enough,” music and lyrics by Richard Baskin and Ben Raleigh; “Rose’s Cafe,” music and lyrics by Allan Nicholls; “Old Man Mississippi,” music and lyrics by Juan Grizzle; “My Baby’s Cookin’ in Another Man’s Pan,” music and lyrics by Jonnie Barnett; “Since You’ve Gone,” music and lyrics by Gary Busey; “Trouble in the U. S. A.,” music and lyrics by Arlene Barnett, performed by Avis Barnett and The Barnetts.
American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
M-G-M Film Laboratories
Death and dying
English in foreign countries
Fathers and sons
Mothers and sons
Striptease dancers and dancing
Television news and information
The Paramount logo at the beginning of the film appears in black-and-white, after which the film commences in color. The opening credits are presented within a sequence reminiscent of late-night television commercials for compilation albums that were prevalent in the 1970s. As a fast-talking, voice-over announcer promises “twenty-four of your very favorite stars,” simulated album covers featuring each of the major characters are shown as the actors’ names scroll upward, song titles scroll downward and a montage of excerpts from the film’s songs are heard underneath.
, the stories of twenty-four major characters are presented over a five-day period, all given approximately equal importance, prompting the
reviewer to call director Robert Altman and screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury “true egalitarians,” explaining that
does “not divide the world...into leading roles and character parts.” Many of the sequences involve multiple major characters and several minor ones, who often appear in a scene as observers or extras, or who simply cross another character’s path. One of the major characters, who is identified in the credits as “Tricycle Man” (Jeff Goldblum), has no dialogue and enters and exits scenes, often driving a low riding, three-wheeled motorcycle. The character, “Hal Philip Walker,” (Thomas Hal Phillips) is never seen and is heard only as a recording played through a loudspeaker on a moving van. Altman told each character’s story using his signature long takes, moving cameras and overlapping dialogue.
According to a 30 Jun 1975
article, a United Artists studio executive presented Altman with a completed screenplay on the subject of the country music scene, entitled,
The Great Southern Amusement Company
. According to a 14 Jun 1975
article, the studio was interested in a film about country-western music because it owned a music company. Although Altman did not like the script the studio presented him, he liked the idea of a film about the country-western music scene. Part of his interest, according to a 15 Jun 1975
article, was prompted by the novel,
, by William Price Fox, which featured a fading country-western star. The idea inspired him, after an acquaintance suggested that country-western stars do not “fade,” but remain popular. According to the
article, Altman rejected the UA script, but proposed doing an original work on the subject. The article reported that Tewkesbury, who had worked with Altman on the 1974 production,
Thieves Like Us
, visited the city of Nashville several times and wrote a script that incorporated her experiences and ideas suggested by the country stars she met. In the
article, Tewkesbury stated that Altman was interested in the idea of a multiple plot movie and stipulated that the script end with a character’s death. A 14 Jun 1975
article reported that Tewkesbury returned from Nashville with ideas for developing eighteen characters. Many of the characters she created were based on actual country stars, according to the INewsweek article. Altman added several more characters, including the unseen presidential candidate, which added a political theme to the story. He also changed a suicide Tewkesbury had written into an assassination.
article reported that when Altman presented his complex script to UA, the studio was uninterested, as the executives considered
The Long Goodbye
Thieves Like Us
, his last two projects that they distributed, unsuccessful. The script was rejected by several other studios, until producer Jerry Weintraub became involved. With Weintraub attached, Altman was given a $2.7 budget from ABC Entertainment, which also had an interest due to a related music company.
According to the
article, the principal actors were paid $750 to $1000 per week for their roles. Altman cast several players from his informal “stock” of actors who often worked with him. According to the
article, the part of “Haven Hamilton” was originally intended for actor Robert Duvall, who had previously worked with Altman and had expressed interest in being in the film. However, due to the low salary, Duvall dropped out and the part went to comedian Henry Gibson, known for his work on the television series,
. As Gibson knew nothing about country-western music, he hired local performer David Peel, a native of Nashville then living in Santa Monica, to coach him. Eventually, Peel was cast in the role of Haven’s son, “Bud.”
marked the film debut of another
star, Lily Tomlin (“Linnea Reese”), as well as the film debut of Ronee Blakley, a songwriter-actress, who replaced Susan Anspach, who withdrew from the project after initially being cast as “Barbara Jean.”
Much of the dialogue in the film was improvised. According to the
article, Geraldine Chaplin (“Opal”), who turned down a more lucrative role to work with Altman, created the giddy soliloquies spoken by her character. (Although Opal claimed to be a BBC reporter, a modern source stated that in one draft of the script, her character was revealed to be a fraud.) In the shooting script, the fragile “Barbara Jean” fainted twice during the story, but according to the
article, Blakley thought that would be too repetitious. For the second occurrence of a faint, she substituted a rambling monologue that hinted at the character’s potential for a nervous breakdown. According to a 15 Jun 1975
article, Thomas Hal Phillips, who was an associate producer for
Thieves Like Us
and whose brother had once run for Mississippi governor, provided technical advice about the story’s political campaign, and wrote and recorded the campaign speeches of Hal Philip Walker, the unseen presidential candidate in the film. Real life television reporter Howard K. Smith was asked to do a commentary about the fictional campaign, and was instructed by Altman to say anything he wished about the candidate, for or against, according to the
article. In a
article, Shelley Duvall, who portrayed the groupie “Martha,” stated that she had no lines in the script and improvised her role. The
article added that Barbara Baxley (“Lady Pearl”) wrote the “drunken meditation” about her character’s campaigning for President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert.
also reported that a new, eight-track system able to record overlapping conversations simultaneously with ambient sounds was developed for the film. According to a 3 Aug 1975
article, the film was shot in sequence and on location in Nashville. An 8 Dec 1974
article reported that Altman insisted that most of the cast remain on location for the two months of principal photography in order to create the feeling of ensemble and that even Goldblum, who had no lines, was expected to be up early and doing vocal exercises with the rest of the cast.
, during pre-production, Altman decided to ask the actors to write their own songs. Twenty-five-year-old Richard Baskin, who appears in the film as “Frog,” was hired to arrange and supervise the music. He composed the tune for lyrics written by Gibson, according to a 24 Aug 1975
article. The same article reported that three songs sung by Blakley had been written and recorded by her three years earlier for Elektra records. According to a modern source, Karen Black’s character, “Connie White” was added to the story after Black presented several songs she had written to Altman. Keith Carradine (“Tom Frank”) wrote the music and lyrics for his seduction song, “I’m Easy,” and the song “It Don’t Worry Me,” that is heard several times during the film. According to the 24 Aug 1975
article, Baskin spent four months in Nashville before filming to meet and learn from the local musicians. He hired several country backup musicians, David Briggs (piano), Sonny Burnett (steel pedal guitar) and Vassar Clements (fiddle) to perform in the film.
ststed that a rough cut of the film was eight hours long, prompting Altman to consider making two related films,
, which would have the same beginning and ending, but different characters dominating the story. Paramount, the studio distributing the film, was against the idea on the grounds that it would be a hard sell, although according to modern sources, there was some discussion of creating a television mini-series of two two-hour episodes. According to
, critic Pauline Kael, who was a supporter of Altman, screened a three-hour cut of the film, and in Mar 1975, she published a long, glowing review in the
as “an orgy for movie-lovers.” Several critics reacted negatively to her review of an uncompleted film and Vincent Canby of the
wrote a tongue-in-cheek response, suggesting that he could review a film that was “little more than a screenplay and several contracts.”
The final film of approximately two and a half hours was described by various reviewers as a satire or a political parable. Roger Ebert’s 1975 review for the
called the film “a tender poem to the wounded and sad,” and the
review stated that the movie explored “the appearances vs. the realities of the American scene,” using the political rally as a metaphor. Penelope Gilliatt’s
Jun 1975 review reported that the film was “about fatuous words parading as home truths, about the drive to succeed substituting for the love of work, about surfaces passing themselves off as bedrock.” According to a 10 Aug 1975
article, the country-western music community had mixed reactions to the film, some feeling that the movie did not portray them accurately.
was ranked 59th on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films. According to a 29 Jan 1976
news item, the score for
was excluded for Academy Award eligibility on a technicality, because of a rule stating that an original song score must be written by one person or a team of writers. However, the song, “I’m Easy,” won an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song and a Golden Globe for Best Original Song—Motion Picture. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture, and twice for Best Supporting Actress (Ronee Blakley and Lily Tomlin). Blakley, Tomlin, Barbara Harris and Geraldine Chapman were nominated for Golden Globes for Best Supporting Actress and Henry Gibson for Best Supporting Actor. The film also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture—Drama, Best Director and Best Screenplay. In addition, Blakley and Tomlin received Golden Globes for New Stars of the Year. Tewkesbury was nominated for a WGA Award for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen. The film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry due to its cultural, historical and aesthetical significance. Five years after the film’s release, the assassination of the character, Barbara Jean, seemed to many people to be a portent of the 1980 killing of musician John Lennon by a fan.
Los Angeles Times
29 Jun 1975
pp. 1, 50-51.
9 Jun 1975
26 Apr 1974.
19 Jul 1974
6 Sep 1974
6 Jun 1975
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
18 Jun 1974.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
2 Jul 1975
Section II, p. 1, 6.
Los Angeles Times
8 Dec 1974
Calendar, p. 50, 112.
Los Angeles Times
3 Aug 1975.
Los Angeles Times
29 Jan 1976
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
11 Jun 1975
14 Jun 1975.
New York Times
12 Jun 1975
New York Times
15 Jun 1975
Section II, p. 1.
New York Times
24 Aug 1975.
New York Times
8 Nov 1992
Section 2, p. 13.
3 Mar 1975
16 Jun 1975.
30 Jun 1975
28 Jun 1975
16 Jun 1975
11 Jun 1975
Display Movie Summary
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