Planned Bill Monroe Film Isn’t the First Time Kentucky Has Gone Hollywood
Or maybe I should say it isn’t the first time Hollywood has gone Kentucky. It’s one or the other. Maybe it’s both. But as we await the arrival of the Bill Monroe movie, I thought it would be fun to take a look at other films that have been shot or partially shot in the Commonwealth.
Why not start in Owensboro? “The Kentuckian”–about a man who, with his son, moves from 1820s Kentucky to Texas–was filmed mostly in the Bluegrass State in 1954, and Owensboro was one of its locations. It was released on August 1, 1955. The city was supposedly attractive to the studio because of an old riverboat–it was a floating restaurant called “The Sternwheeler”–which was docked here. One of my favorite stories my dad used to tell me was about when Burt Lancaster, the film’s star, was eating at Gabe’s Restaurant when it was in downtown Owensboro. As luck would have it, Dad was nearby and got a chance to get down there and actually shake his hand; Lancaster was my father’s all-time favorite actor. I remember asking him if he ever had a chance to meet Walter Matthau, who made his film debut in “The Kentuckian.” No dice. He either never saw him or Matthau’s part in the film didn’t require him to be in Owensboro. But either way, it was an exciting time for the city 57 years ago when Hollywood came to town.
Now, I was used to only seeing “Elizabethtown” on the big green sign at the Natcher Parkway/Western Kentucky Parkway interchange. Who knew we’d all be able to see it on a movie marquee one day? But that’s what happened on October 14th, 2005 when Oscar-winning filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown” opened around the country. The comedy-drama tells the story of shoe designer Drew Baylor, played by Orlando Bloom, whose latest creation is a disaster. After losing his job, he learns of his father’s death in Kentucky and flies back to retrieve the man’s body and bring him home. The movie includes a romantic relationship with a flight attendant, played by Kirsten Dunst, and various shenanigans involving his eccentric family. Susan Sarandon and Paula Deen are co-stars. To be honest, I didn’t care for the movie; its drama isn’t taken seriously enough and its comedy isn’t funny enough. But it is cool to see familiar sights on the big screen. It’s funny. While watching, I noticed that after Drew leaves the Louisville airport and heads toward Elizabethtown, he goes through the I-64 tunnel and soon crosses the state line into Indiana. Now, I get that he was lost. But when he crosses that state line, it’s on dry land. Ahem, you CANNOT drive into Indiana from Kentucky without crossing the OHIO RIVER. Can’t be done. So I have no idea where he was. And apparently, neither did the filmmakers.
“That’s the fact, Jack!” I’d link you to that famous quote from “Stripes” but then you’d get a lot of other quotes from “Stripes” to which I probably SHOULDN’T link you. This is, after all, a family website. But many a family–and many of my friends–lined up in November of 1980 to watch the filming of the classic military comedy which would become a huge box-office smash the following summer; it was released nationwide on June 26th, 1981. The film stars Bill Murray as a Louisville cab driver who, all in the span of one day, loses his job, his car, his girlfriend….and his pizza, and decides to join the Army. He gets his boot camp training at fictional Fort Arnold, played here by non-fictional Fort Knox. The film was well-received by both critics and movie-goers; it’s 85-plus million dollar take was an enormous haul 30 years ago. When I began college, many of my Louisville-area friends would quote the movie repeatedly; at that time–back in the dark ages–it was still a very fresh experience.
Hopefully, the Bill Monroe film will get going and provide new generations with fresh experiences of their own. And that includes yours truly.