Based on Bobbie Gentry's caustic pop classic, Ode to Billy Joe fleshes out the narrative ambiguities and implications of the song with surprising success. Through sensitive use of some beautiful locations (Tallahatchie Bridge is always central to, but never overwhelms, the proceedings), sympathetic attention to the flavour of the period (like the excited reaction to a first flush toilet), and an unusually sinewy script from Herman Raucher (it only dissolves into sticky Rod McKuen territory towards the close), Baer convincingly depicts the smalltown mores of a Mississippi backwater in the early '50s. Virtually all the performances are winners, but most impressive are the star-crossed teenage lovers, Benson and O'Connor, who catch the joys, fears and fantasies of adolescence with ingenuous authenticity. Only the last half-hour becomes laboured, and in one sequence hideously sentimental, which is not improved by the intrusively slushy score from Michel Legrand.
Cast and crew