Retro Film Report #4: Harper Valley PTA

I saw Harper Valley P.T.A. in the theater as a kid and don't remember being particularly impressed. Re-watching it as an adult, I discovered this movie could be surprisingly disturbing. At certain points, I was reminded of far darker films like Deliverance and I Spit On Your Grave. Think I'm crazy? Read on.

Keep in mind that Retrospace movie reviews are from a different perspective than most reviews. This is a site that views Smokey & the Bandit as the pinnacle of human achievement. The bottom line is this movie kept me highly entertained - it starts as a fairly tame enactment of the well known Jeannie C. Riley song, but once it extends beyond the song's storyline at the 16 minute mark, it begins a rapid descent into the maelstrom. Let me walk you through it...

Chapter 1
Harper Valley P.T.A. - starring Barbara Eden and Hudepohl beer cans

The beginning of the film establishes Stella Johnson (Barbara Eden) as a drunkard and party girl by having her surrounded by empty beer cans. Some major product placement is going on here by Hudepohl beer. Notice the labels are almost all facing the camera. The beer gets so much screen time in this movie, it just about deserves acting credit.

Chapter 2
Stella Makes Ad Hominem Attacks on the P.T.A.
Stella's daughter receives an expulsion notice by the P.T.A. because her mother wore short skirts and so forth. Stella then proceeds to point out the sins of each member of the P.T.A. (just like in the song). Although I agree completely with Stella, she is using a logical fallacy: pointing out the hypocrisy of others does not refute their argument. Stella chooses an ad hominem attack rather than argue the point directly like: Why should a mother's short skirt preclude a child from an education? But I digress.

Chapter 3
Oh Crap. The Song is Over and We're Only 16 Minutes Into the Movie.

This is where the Jeannie C. Riley song ends - with the daughter stating that her mom "socked it to the Harper Valley P.T.A." I'm highly concerned at this point because we're only 16 minutes into a film that is 1 hr and 41 minutes long. What the hell is going to happen for the remaining 85 minutes? I guess I shouldn't be too worried considering they made an entire TV series based on the song!

Also, in the song the daughter is happy and ecstatic that her mom socked it to the P.T.A. Here we see the daughter absolutely mortified by her mother's performance. WTF? Stick to the song dammit!

Chapter 4
I Can Never Watch Winnie the Pooh with My Children Again

At Kelly's Bar, one of the P.T.A. members, Bobby, starts coming on to her. He's unbelievably disturbing and demented. "I got a pistol I took off a dead gook. Shot 'em right in the ear with it. Heh, heh, heh." The problem is, this raging perverted madman is John Fiedler, the voice of Piglet on Walt Disney's Winnie the Pooh! The cartoon is forever ruined for me.

Then comes the truly disturbing part... Stella lures Bobby to a hotel room where they both strip. Then she kicks his bare ass out and disposes of his clothes. Second only to the Ned Beatty rape in Deliverance, this is perhaps one of the most disturbing scenes in cinema history. John Fiedler's nude scene will forever be burned on my retina. It will most assuredly haunt my dreams for many years to come. Damn you Fiedler!

Chapter 5
The Hudepohl Beer Logo Steals Scenes Worse than Al Pacino
This would make a great drinking game: Every time you see the Hudepohl logo, you have to take a drink. I guarantee you will be wasted and throwing up violently before the film is halfway through.

Here's another fun game: How many Hudepohl logos are in the picture above? If you answered "Who cares? Focus on the movie and stop nitpicking it to death!" you are correct.

Chapter 6
This Movie Is Starting to Freak Me Out

When you think about it, this movie isn't that different than any other revenge movie of the 1970's like I Spit on Your Grave, They Call Her One Eye, Coffy, or Last House on the Left. 99.99% of Harper Valley P.T.A. consists of Stella getting even with her accusers in surprisingly vengeful ways that would make Quentin Tarantino proud.

In this scene, the kids are being shown a sex education film (note the strange twins on the front row - WTF?). Little does the teacher/P.T.A. member know, but Stella has actually spliced footage of the teacher having rough sex with the mailman into the film! I'm amazed at this scene because Stella's daughter is in the class, and thus had to watch her teacher making dirty sweaty love to Mr. McFeely! Thanks mom.

Chapter 7
Movie Loses Any Connection to the Song On Which It Was Based

Funny, I don't remember Jeannie C. Riley singing about Stella stealing a circus elephant, painting it pink, and having it bust through a P.T.A. member's home. I must have forgotten that verse.

Chapter 8
Stella's Reign of Terror Escalates

I'm reminded of Kill Bill, where Uma pays back each of her would-be assassins with relentless violence. Or even First Blood where Sly Stallone gets even by making the entire town his bitch. In this scene, Stella sends an Oriental friend to pay a visit to a P.T.A. member. When he tries to make the moves on her, she goes medieval on his ass. After she has beaten him to a pulp, she tears her own dress and frames him for rape!

Do not cross Stella Johnson. She will have you assaulted and framed for rape.

Chapter 9
Things Are Officially Out of Control and I Like It

You know what? I'm not even going to attempt to explain the image above. Things have gotten so unbelievably strange and f****ed up beyond all recognition at this point, that I don't think I could explain it to you if I wanted to.

Suffice it to say this scene is followed by a requisite car chase -which is a big plus. This film is really beginning to earn my respect. All it's lacking is some zombies and lightsabers and it's a contender for cinematic greatness.

I'll refrain from giving away the ending. Let's just cut to the chase and mathematically evaluate this flick.

  • kung fu fighting +15
  • one car chase +10
  • two rampaging circus elephants +20
  • John Fiedler naked -15
  • a smoking hot babe (Barbara Eden) +20
  • tons of hostile revenge +20
  • lots of bad 70's fashions +10
  • TOTAL SCORE = 80


  1. I vaguely remember the TV series but never saw the movie. I just checked with Netflix and they do have it in case anybody else is interested.

  2. ...or better yet, buy it via my Amazon ad. :-)

  3. For years I've been begging the editors at "Mr Skin" to include a John Fiedler gallery...

  4. Great piece! that's my friemd Bob Hastings being roughed up by the nuns! The pic was financed and shot locally by some folks I met a few years later. Here's some real trivia for you! There's a brief scene in a bar with a drunk guy wearing a big mustache. That guy is Michael Schlesinger who later went to hollywood to be a screenwriter (he did NOT write HARPER VALLEY)and is currently an executive at SonyPictures!

  5. plaidstallions - That's funny, for years I've been pushing for a Tom Bosley gallery.

    booksteve - You are a vast and mighty reservoir of entertainment trivia indeed. Please keep bringing your pop-culture super powers to retrospace!

  6. I wasn't aware that Hudepohl is a real beer. I watched this a few years ago and, like you, I was pretty amazed at the viciousness of the revenge. I'm not sure this movie could have been made anytime but the 1970s. Death Wish and all that.

  7. I think I might have watched the tv show a time or so. I've never seen the movie. I remember the song more than anything. Great post though.

  8. Thanks for the compliment, Gill! Oh and yes Hudepohl is (or was. I haven't seen it in decades) a real and very popular German beer here in the Ohio River Valley.

  9. My understanding is that Hudepohl was bought out by Sam Adams and the brewery (which is over 100 years old) is still vacant. The good news is that it will be returning with original recipe around 2010. I lived in Dayton for a while in the 70s/early 80s and remember the beer well.

  10. The picture under chapter 9, the guy getting beaten up...that's not Roger Moore, is it? I mean, it looks like 007. Please tell me it ain't so. 007 being whupped by a couple of nuns?

  11. When HARPER VALLEY P.T.A. made its broadcast TV debut in February 1980, it wound up the most popular program of the week, easily beating its competition....the "Miracle on Ice" U.S.-U.S.S.R. Olympic hockey game (on tape delay(.

  12. I remember both the song , and the movie . The TV Show watered down the viciousness considerably !! Did you know that Jeannie C. Reily sang a sequel song to " Harper Valley PTA " years later ?? Sheb Wooley also released a parody song called " Harper Valley PTA -- The Next Day . "