1973's SOUL HUSTLER stars the former "Hound Dog Man," Fabian Forte, the '50s teen idol, who is better than you might think as Matthew, a guitar-playing, heroin-addicted drifter who becomes a gospel-rock superstar overnight. While cruising through the desert with only his two dogs and hitchhiker Brian (Larry Bishop, later the sleazy strip club owner in KILL BILL, VOL. 2) for company, Matthew stops off at an evangelical tent show owned by the shady Reverend Evin Calder (Tony Russel, the star of Antonio Margheriti's Italian space operas), where he picks up some extra bread by fleecing the crowd. Calder realizes Matthew has something he doesn't--youth and a way with a song--and hires Matthew as a headliner. Soon, with ex-junkie Vietnam vet Brian in tow as chauffeur, roadie and hooker procurer, Matthew, the Son of Jesus, heads to the top of the charts and a sold-out gig at the Los Angeles Forum, where he receives an award from the city.
Yes, it's a pretty typical show biz rags-to-riches story, and it's obvious there's going to be no easy way out for Matthew, but the production is pretty lively, the campy dialogue is fun, and--I'm ashamed to say--my toes were frequently tapping during Fabian's bubblegummy tunes, which were mostly written by Harley Hatcher (WILD WHEELS). Topper (THE HARD RIDE), who also wrote and produced SOUL HUSTLER, was obviously working with little money, and he cuts a few corners showing the various transitions in Matthew's meteoric rise, but I liked his PG feature better than I thought I would. Casey Kasem, the legendary schlock disc jockey and voiceover artist, looks ridiculous in a curly-headed rug as Matthew's PR man.
SOUL HUSTLER originally released as THE DAY THE LORD GOT BUSTED; I have an original one-sheet in which the SOUL HUSTLER title was obviously pasted over the first. The Monterey Home Video tape is complete as far as I can tell. The picture and sound were pretty good--especially considering the tape's age--and the feature is followed by two previews for other Monterey releases: 1961's JOHNNY NOBODY with Aldo Ray and 1977's HUGHES AND HARLOW: ANGELS IN HELL, directed by Larry Buchanan!
An interesting double bill would schedule SOUL HUSTLER with 1976's NASHVILLE GIRL. I can imagine Southern drive-in audiences lapping up this New World release. Softcore actress Monica Gayle stars as jailbait Jamie, a product of a strict Baptist upbringing who runs away from her hillbilly home and hitches with a pair of truckers to Nashville to become a country-western star. The sloppy screenplay sure squeezes a lot of plot into less than 90 minutes. After her brothers beat up her rapist, 16-year-old Jamie reaches the big city, only to be pawed and groped by literally every man she meets. She meets a friend while showering at the YWCA, loses her, meets another while serving a prison sentence for prostitution, is pawed by a lesbian guard, gets paroled, bounces around from one record producer to another, loses her virginity to one sleazebag, and finally signs a personal contract with a country superstar played by Glenn Corbett (ROUTE 66) with a penchant for young girls.
Like many exploitation movies from the 1970's, rape and statutory rape are treated casually, and without the sleaze or nudity, NASHVILLE GIRL would probably fit well as a made-for-TV movie. Gayle appeared as the sinister Dagger Deb Patch in Jack Hill's SWITCHBLADE SISTERS the year before, and it's a testimony to her range as an actress that she pulls off the naïve country girl character of Jamie pretty well. Corbett, who usually played good guys on TV, probably relished the opportunity to do something edgier, and it's likely he enjoyed the close proximity to so many nude actresses. Singer Johnny Rodriguez and songwriters Rory Bourke, Gene Dobbins and John Wills give director Gus Trikonis' (THE SWINGING BARMAIDS) expose a stamp of approval, even though it's a roaring indictment of the music industry. The songs are pretty good, and I wonder if a NASHVILLE GIRL soundtrack album ever existed (MGM Records released one for THE DAY THE LORD GOT BUSTED). Drive-in fave Marcie Barkin (THE CAR) co-stars (in the nude), along with Maytag man Jesse White, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES' Roger Davis and Leo Gordon.
Marvel Comics writer Gary Friedrich penned a pornographic novelization of Peer J. Oppenheimer's script. I used to have one, but I gave it away to someone who collects books authored by comic book scribes. Trikonis, Goldie Hawn's ex-husband, did MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS next. NASHVILLE GIRL was also released as COUNTRY MUSIC DAUGHTER, probably to capitalize on the success of COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, and NEW GIRL IN TOWN, a title used in the northern U.S. so the Yankees wouldn't know the movie was about country music.