Musical Monday: Your Cheatin’ Heart (1964)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:

Your Cheatin’ Heart – Musical #252

Your Cheatin Heart

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Gene Nelson

Starring:
George Hamilton, Susan Oliver, Red Buttons, Arthur O’Connell, Rex Ingram, Shary Williams, Chris Crosby

Plot:
A biographical film on the life and career of country singer Hank Williams.

Trivia:
• The son of Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr.,  dubbed George Hamilton’s singing. Hamilton hoped to do his own singing, but he knew the only way he’d get the role with Audrey Williams’s support was to agree to be dubbed.

• Elvis Presley was considered for the role, but Williams’s former wife Audrey opposed the idea, because he would be the focus of the film.

• Originally planned on a larger scale project starring Steve McQueen, but ended up being produced by Sam Katzman, according to Hank Williams’s biographer.

• George Hamilton said he went to Nashville to prepare for the role.

• Part of the film was filmed at Audrey Williams’s home.

• Hank Williams was married a second time to Billie Jean Horton not long before his death. She is not mentioned in the film and later sued MGM for the omission.

• Nick Adams turned down the leading role.

• The world premiere was held in Montgomery, Ala., which started with a concert featuring Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, Roy Acuff, and Hank Jr.

your cheatin heart

George Hamilton as Hank Williams in “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

Highlights:
• George Hamilton’s performance.

• The Hank Williams songs.

Notable Songs:
All songs are performed by George Hamilton, dubbed by Hank Williams, Jr.

• “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”

• “I Saw the Light”

• “I Can’t Help It”

• “Your Cheatin’ Heart”

• “Hey Good Lookin’”

• “Jambalaya”

hank-williams-and-audrey

My review:
When it comes to George Hamilton, we often think of his tan and sparkling personality. Most of his acting roles were preppy love interests or in soap operas (y’all have got to see him on “Dynasty” season 6. He is so good.). But in my opinion, Hamilton proves that he was a great actor who wasn’t given enough credit, and he shows that in this week’s Musical Monday. Hamilton plays country singer/songwriter Hank Williams who died at age 29 in the musical biographical film, YOUR CHEATIN’ HEART (1964), named for one of Williams’s hit songs.

The film shows Hank Williams’s rise to fame, the demons he battles and his relationship with his wife, Audrey, who drove his career and image.

It’s probably one of George Hamilton’s best films. I think he does a great job going from boyish and bashful in some scenes to desperate, troubled, violent and anguished in others.

“Forget the tuxedos and the debutantes and the polo ponies. This was a story I had to do,” Hamilton wrote in his autobiography.

Hamilton playing a southern country singer may seem like a stretch since he usually played suave characters, but as a native of Memphis, Tenn., he plays the part well.

“At the end of it all, I got some wonderful country outfits, I learned to play the guitar, and I got the best reviews of my career,” Hamilton wrote in his autobiography.

Son of Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr., dubs Hamilton’s singing voice. And somehow, it’s not distracting like other musical film dubbing is.

your cheatin heart3

Susan Oliver and George Hamilton in “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

Actress Susan Oliver plays the role of Audrey Williams, the wife of Hank Williams. The real Audrey Williams was also a driving force behind some of the production of this film. Oliver does an excellent job in the film. I love seeing Susan Oliver in films, and hate that these days, she’s mainly remembered for a role she played on an episode she of STAR TREK. Williams’s children, Hank Jr. and Lycrecia, were both confused why their mother agreed to be portrayed in a harsh light, but she said insisted that’s how it was. Oliver does a great job of playing the role of a tough and driving wife, while you also see some glimmers of vulnerability, like when she’s alone and pregnant in their huge mansion.

Red Buttons also appears in the film in a fairly brief and thankless role, though he’s important in helping keep Hank Williams sober. I also have to mention Rex Ingram, who has an incredibly small role at the start of the film. I was surprised and happy to see him, but his role was sadly much too short.

Kudos also has to go to Gene Nelson, former actor and dancer who turned to directing. With most of his directorial works I’ve seen (ex: Harem Scarum), I’ve been disappointed. I love Nelson as an actor and his talent didn’t seem to transition to behind the camera … except with YOUR CHEATIN’ HEART, which I think is his best directorial work.

There is an excellent scene where we first see Hank Williams drunk and about to miss a show. The camera is in his point of view as he walks up on stage, sees his bandmates and looks out at the crowd. The camera is not very steady, shaky and slightly out of focus. Then Nelson would give Hamilton an extreme, uncomfortable close-up, which gave you an uneasy feeling about Williams’s precarious state.

Some reviews say that the film glosses over some facts, while some family members feel like the drinking and fighting is over the top. This film is certainly fictional in areas, however, I like that it doesn’t pretend that Hank and Audrey had a loving, picture perfect marriage and life. It would be completely inappropriate for this to be a GLENN MILLER STORY of country music, with Hank Williams happily singing on stage and Audrey smiling from the audience. I think the film fictionalizes their lives enough for drama and included what the crumbling production code would allow.

I loved this movie when I first saw it as a teen, and I still really like it now.This has been called a small, B-musical and it was perhaps cheaply made. However, I think it deserves another look and George Hamilton needs more recognition for his acting.

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1 thought on “Musical Monday: Your Cheatin’ Heart (1964)

  1. Very good article… extremely thorough with plenty of very interetsing facts, et al. This article has given me a new incentive to revisit this film— and i will definitely be keeping your points in mind when i do. Congrats on another fine piece, Comet / Jessica!

    Liked by 1 person

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