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THE BALLAD OF BILLIE BLUE [a.k.a. Starcrossed Roads] (1972).

A music legend faces insipid emotional and spiritual struggles in this mawkishly sentimental Christian claptrap with a very unusual pedigree, since director Kent Osborne earlier helmed drive-in exploitation fare like CAIN'S CUTTHROATS and WILD WHEELS, and also acted in Al Adamson's FIVE BLOODY GRAVES and BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE. Meanwhile, its screenplay is credited to Osborne's old WILD WHEELS writer, Ralph Luce, actor Robert Dix (SATAN'S SADISTS) and Herschell Gordon Lewis fixture William Kerwin (BLOOD FEAST)... In his feature debut, Jason Ledger plays country-western mega-star Billie Blue. Though burnt out from incessant touring and preferring the simple life with his young daughter, Billie is pressured to keep working by his "greedy, swinging" wife May (19-year-old Sherry Miles, from MAKING IT and THE VELVET VAMPIRE) and manager Carl (Ray Danton), who're secretly shacking up. Resorting to booze and pills to sooth his troubled soul, Billie's parasitical hangers-on begin to worry that their cash cow is drying up. The script is a disjointed mess. We watch poor, fucked-up Billie slurring his way through a live stageshow; then it's comedy time, as he's aided by black childhood friend Al (Renny Roker, future founder of Teens on the Green, and star of Horace Jackson's TOUGH and DELIVER US FROM EVIL) in stealing a pig and letting it loose in his crowded hotel room; but soon a bum manslaughter rap lands Billie on a Southern chain gang, befriending fellow jailbird Justin (22-year-old Erik Estrada, whose hardened con talks about having spent the last 10 years in prison... you do the math); until the story shifts into more overtly religious territory for its second half, when Billie finds God with the help of a pushy prison preacher (executive producer and Michigan dentist, Dr. Robert Plekker) and fellow music star Reba (THE HARD RIDE's Sherry Bain), with Billie's life taking on Christ-like parallels as he accepts the blame for the stupid and sinful. Promising to "portray life as it really is," there's light-PG plotting, like Billie trying to save his slutty wife from a whorehouse fate by lecturing about God. But many of Billie's problems are strictly his own fault (e.g., although finally loved by a good woman, he can't ditch his horrible, cheating wife because divorce is a sin), and loads of unintentional laughs along the way. Unable to even play a drunk convincingly, Ledger is so pathetically ill-equipped for this starring role that it's difficult to imagine how he was ever hired in the first place. Did he have a cheap coke connection? Blow the producer during his casting session? Or simply fit the suit? Ledger's screen career continued with forgettable supporting gigs (JOHNNY FIRECLOUD, THE SINGLE GIRLS) and Arch Oboler's final film, the the barely-released Japanese 3-D travelogue/romance DOMO ARIGATO. The rest of the actors have little to work with, but at least Estrada gets to toss Preacher Bob into a pond and stage a badly-timed escape attempt. And I haven't even mentioned its most absurd bit of casting, with fuzzy-haired comedian Marty Allen as tabloid scumbag Harvey Trip, who blackmails his way onto Billie's tour. Its self-confessional songs by longtime arranger Richard Wess are particularly grating.

© 2018 by Steven Puchalski.