Southern Movie 41: “Ellie” (1984)
If 1980s comedies are a genre all their own, then 1984’s Ellie fits right in. This movie is about as deep as a mud puddle. It is silly and zany and inappropriate and chock-full of ridiculous stereotypes. People fall over each other and scramble around haylofts. It has no-name actors. It even has the obligatory 1980s gratuitous-nudity scenes.
Ellie begins with a quick background narrative told in a folksy, comedic tone, as still photos pass over the pattern of red bandana. We learn that there is a pretty widow (played by an older Shelley Winters) with three twenty-something sons and a seedy, mustached brother, and that she has married an old farmer who has a pretty daughter named Ellie. The photos and storytelling let us into the scenario quickly: the sons are salacious, and the brother is a jailbird, but that Ellie is sweet and pure.
The scene then shifts to a rickety Southern farmhouse where a pretty young blonde woman comes out carrying a lamb. A country theme song plays as she walks around the homeplace. After dropping the lamb in the barn, she goes to feed the pigs where a handsome young man in a leather jacket – one of her stepbrothers – plays a shiny resonator on the fence then falls into the pigshit because he’s trying to look down her dress. Next, she is in a garden plot while another stepbrother, this one a big dummy in overalls and a red baseball cap, takes pictures of her when she leans over. Of course, he falls face-down in the dirt, too. Finally, Ellie is in the yard with the chickens as the stepmother and the sleazy brother look on, and he gets kicked off the porch when he leans forward to look too hard.
In the next scene, we see the elderly farmer and his chubby wife in the bedroom, which is decked out with gaudy curtains and bedding. He is trying to get some nookie, but she tells him that he’ll get nothing until he writes and signs a will that leaves her everything. We find out during her pleading that they met when the wife, whose name is Cora, came to their house selling magazines door-to-door. Of course, in the interest of getting some affection, he does what she asks.
The next day, the oddball blended family is outdoors at a picnic. The old farmer sits in a wheelchair beside his wife, who chows down on a plate of food, while her useless brother drinks beer in an inner tube on the ground. The farmer is fussing at his wife about how her sons and her brother Art look at Ellie, and about how Art never does any work, and it is then that we find out that Art has a heart condition. The sons we saw during the opening credits amble up; one rides up on a dirt bike. When Ellie comes over, her father tries to talk to her about how she has grown up and how her body is drawing the attention of young men, but she swears that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. After she leaves, though, the farmer’s time has come. His wife secretly lets loose the brake on his wheelchair and gives him a push down the hill and into the pond. However, he doesn’t drown right away, and the sons argue over who has to finish him off: “Aw Mom, I had to kill the last one,” one says. Cora gives up and does it herself.
At his funeral, where the widow Cora is dressed in black and flanked by her sons, a simpleton preacher rambles out a wobbly sermon to a few people in attendance. The sheriff is there, too, and he compliments the widow on her good looks, but when Ellie declares that her father’s death was no accident, a melee ensues! It is quick though and ends with Cora and her sons tripping over the coffin and falling into the grave as Ellie looks over the side and smiles at them.
That night, in a particularly bizarre scene, Cora is lying on the bed eating sweets and surrounded by her sons. One of them paints her toes, while the other two lounge . . . almost like lovers beside and on top of her. But the action is going on outside. Ellie is in the barn, and Art makes a go at her, informing her that her father is no longer there to protect her. He offers her some chewing gum while she points a pitchfork at him. He makes his move but she throws him off and then dumps water on him. Back in the bedroom, Art comes walking into the scene where the mother and her three sons are in the bed, and we find out that Art is not Cora’s brother at all. One of the sons calls him Uncle Art and he replies to “cut the crap.” Cora then shoos the young men and shimmies onto Art, who she has thrown onto the bed. Art, however, is having none of it, pleading about his heart, and we figure out then that Art’s condition is not just a way to get out of work— it’s also a way to keep the overweight, older woman off of him.
Meanwhile, outside by campfire, Ellie gives a tearful monologue about her situation. Given the style of the film, it’s not terribly convincing, but given the context of the girl’s situation, it moves the plot forward. She is alone and outnumbered by a group of shysters, and she must take action to save herself.
In the daylight, Ellie’s first target is the photographer-stepbrother in the overalls. He is big and goofy, wearing his red baseball cap backwards, probably the easiest to pick-off of the three. A good ol’ 1980s montage follows as we listen to some country music and watch the smiling pair have their impromptu photo shoot in the woods. When we come out of the montage, the goofy boy wants to take some naked photos. She resists playfully but also backs him onto a rock ledge and coaxes a confession out of him about who killed her father. Ellie pleads seductively, claiming that her father abused her and that she’s glad he’s gone. The boy falls for it and lets out of a few of the facts, but as she removes her dress, he backs over the rock ledge to his death.
After his funeral, which is in the same spot as the old farmer’s, Cora is at the sheriff’s office. She proclaims angrily that she wants him to pursue Ellie as a murderer, but the sheriff alludes slyly to the mysterious death of Cora’s husband not too far in the past. Instead of doing his duty, he does what any no-count, half-brained Southern sheriff would do in that situation: he attempts to have sex with the widow who is accusing her stepdaughter of murdering her son. But Cora is having none of it.
Later, Ellie is seen hanging out of the hayloft of the barn while another of her stepbrothers is practicing his riflery nearby. She asks him to come up there to help her with a rat, but he replies that he’s been told by his mother to stay away from her. Of course, he can’t resist ultimately, and he climbs up there and finds her in her stripped down to her bra and panties. As this goes on, Cora returns in her convertible, but in the dark barn, her son has stripped too – having dropped his rifle to do so – then another bizarre tidbit follows. For some reason, they begin playing a kinky game of toreador with Ellie’s skirt, which has the young man in his tighty-whiteys putting bull horns on his head with his fingers. But that was part of the ruse. Ellie maneuvers him around with the game, and Cora gets to see from ground level her near-naked son catapults himself out of the hayloft and to his death. At the funeral, the skinny old sheriff attempts once again to gain Cora’s affection, but fails . . . Over by the cars, Cora proclaims that she has a “craving for a certain young lady’s blood,” but Art just stands by, chewing his gum.
Now, only one stepbrother remains – the guitar player – and Ellie has a plan for him, too. We see her down by the pond, sawing off the depth marker by the small pier. Now that Ellie has disposed of one stepbrother in the woods and another in the hayloft, the only stereotypical place left for the last one is the honky-tonk. Ellie dolls herself up in her ramshackle bedroom and goes the red-tinted barroom where she knows he will be. (While this is going on, we see Cora and Art stumbling through the woods with a box and discussing how Ellie is to be disposed of.) As she did with the other stepbrothers, she cozies up to this one, too, and before long, they are riding his motorcycle to the pond where we’ve just seen Ellie. The two make out a bit and shed a few clothing items, then – right after we see Cora and Art dump what he know to be snake under Ellie’s bedsheets – Ellie says, “Dive for me” to her stepbrother.
The problem is: he doesn’t fall for it. They tussle, and she runs, her clothes first half-stripped then completely. He gets on his motorcycle and chases her back to her little bedroom. Meanwhile, Art and Cora are in the honky-tonk, finding out that the two young people were there and left together. And of course, as the young man tries to force himself on Ellie in her bed, the snake gets him. And we have funeral number three.
That night, as Cora soaks in the bath and sips whiskey, Art suggests that they sell the farm and leave, but Cora wants revenge. Art reminds her that the sheriff warned them that, if there were any more “accidents,” he’d have to investigate. Which wouldn’t seem like much a threat coming from a skinny, ineffective lawman like this, but a plot twist comes next.
We see the sheriff striding across a town street and into a store. After warning the effeminate little storekeeper that it’d better be good to wake him from his nap, the storekeeper shows him photos that photographer-stepson took of Cora drowning her husband! The sheriff still isn’t convinced, and the little man purses his lips out of chagrin. The sheriff leaves, and Ellie meets him on the sidewalk. The sheriff starts to show her to the pictures, but then doesn’t, and Art pulls up in the car, with a big grin on her face. Ellie says, “What do you want?”
The pair drive back out to the farm, where Cora is waiting on the porch. They have brought Ellie back to the house to look through some of her father’s things before the place is sold. She is sent to the attic, and after she goes in the house, Art and Cora discuss their plan to kill her. Art is hesitant, but Cora reminds him of his past crimes (which she could call the law about) and of his need for heart medicine (which the money will pay for). Art agrees. Up in the attic, he attempts to overtake Ellie to stab her with a switchblade knife, but Ellie asks to say her prayers before she dies.
As Ellie is half-praying, half-influencing Art, a Mercedes Benz pulls up the dirt driveway and a citified woman gets out, blathering about how the house is exactly what she wants! As Art tries to decide whether to go through with the murder, the woman and her husband in a three-piece suit come up to the house, wanting to look it over for purchase. Cora tries to keep them out of the house, knowing that Art may be committing murder upstairs, but the pushy woman just keeps on. Upstairs, Ellie is stripping down, supposedly giving in to Art’s suggestion that he deflower her before she dies, but the city couple is worming their way up there. What follows is an another very strange scene, where Art and Ellie are wrapped up in some kind of kinky naked wrestling match, while the city woman gets turned on by their primal noises. But, as we knew would happen, the ultimate result is Art’s death . . . by heart attack. He declares, “What a way to go!” as he falls naked down the stairs at Cora’s feet.
By now, Cora is ready to just do it herself. She begins to chase Ellie with a shotgun, blasting away. Yet, success will evade her . . . sort of. Eventually, the sheriff drives up and puts a stop to it. And resolves the situation in his own way: he takes Cora away in handcuffs then marries her, with Ellie as the maid of honor. With the trio standing outside the little church, the country music plays, and the credits roll.
Filmed on location in Maypearl, Texas, which is south of Dallas/Fort Worth, Ellie shares quite a few similarities with other low-budget Southern comedies from the 1970s and ’80s. Stirring together a blend of shameless lawbreaking, sexual chicanery, and outright stupidity, we get these “Southern-fried” films that seems to be either knock-offs of or half-rate attempts at what The Dukes of Hazzard or Smokey and the Bandit did reasonably well. One commenter on IMDb tried to peg this movie as a recasting of the Electra-Clytemnestra story from Greek tragedy, but I wouldn’t give it that much credit, even if the storylines are similar. What Ellie is is simple enough: a silly sex comedy, set in the South, that bases its characters and story on the lowest Erskine Caldwell-style stereotypes.
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