The Beverly Hillbillies

The Beverly Hillbillies. 20th Century Fox 1993.
The Beverly Hillbillies. 20th Century Fox 1993.

Before watching the movie:

While it was never really a favorite, more of something not disagreeable between other shows I did like, I recall there was a period in my youth when I watched a lot of The Beverly Hillbillies. Boy, those yokels who don’t know how they’re supposed to use egregious amounts of wealth, right? Actually I recall it using both extremes to mock the other. The Clampetts may have been walking stereotypes, but they were also people of simple tastes who highlighted just how absurd the excesses of wealthy Southern California can be. They bought a mansion in a nice neighborhood, but they still lived simply. I recently spent a lot of time thinking about what to do with a massive windfall, and I think it’s smart not to change much about one’s habits simply because smoking cigars wrapped in hundred-dollars bills on a yacht becomes an option.

I don’t know what to expect from a reboot movie made 20 or 30 years later. The show was made in a media landscape that believed in a simpler world than what the 90s accepted. The plots that stick strongly in my mind are the time Jed decided that the “billiard room” was the place to have Thanksgiving dinner because it had the nicest table in the house, and if possible he should serve a “billyard” (a rhino, like the head mounted on the wall in that room) on it, or when their banker turned out to be the last descendent of a family feud inspired by the Hatfields and McCoys, until Granny found out and revealed she was from the other family. When I try to imagine the 90s equivalent, I see a lot of manic slapstick. “From the director of Wayne’s World” being a selling point does not sound promising.

After watching the movie:

Jed Clampett, a poor mountaineer barely keeping his family fed, one day goes out shooting at some food, and up from the ground comes bubbling crude… oil. Next thing you know, Jed’s a billionaire, and all his kinfolk tell him with his newfound wealth, California is where he ought to be, so he loads up his truck and moves the whole family to Beverly… Hills. All of which causes me to abuse a classic theme song. Milburn Drysdale, the CEO of the bank Jed wires his money to, is so thrilled to have a billionaire’s account that he arranges for the sophisticated Clampett oil barons to live in the mansion right next to his own. He’s rather horrified by what the Clampetts are actually like, but he’ll do anything to keep their account, including setting Jed’s nephew Jethro up with a vice president position. Jed reveals that the only reason he moved the family out to California was to find a new wife who could help raise Elly May more like a girl, though she’s quite happy with herself the rough and tumble boyish way Jed’s brought her up in so far. Since Drysdale has offered to do anything to keep Jed’s money, Jed asks for the bank to help him find a wife. Scheming accountant Woodrow Tyler gets wind of this and sees a perfect opportunity for him and his con artist girlfriend Laura to steal a billion.

My memory of the show wasn’t strong enough to include Miss Jane Hathaway, but it turns out she’s not an original character. However, the version portrayed by Lilly Tomlin seems perhaps somewhat more crooked than her boss Drysdale rather than less, but she’s still a good guy. Laura and Woodrow are new of course, because the writers needed a villain I guess. I recall Drysdale doing some scheming to either provide some service to Jed that would get more of his money or to get rid of the Clampetts as neighbors, but he’s too sympathetic to be made an actual villain. However, as a result he doesn’t have much of anything to do but goggle at ridiculous goings-on. He doesn’t really have any plot relevance. You can’t do the Beverly Hillbillies without Mr. Drysdale, but they don’t actually have any use for him in this story.

There is a heaping helping of slapstick in the movie, but it’s a lot more restrained than I thought it would be.  The tone seems basically the same as the show, with the outsiders marveling/misunderstanding/dismissing how they do things in the city, and sometimes commentary on the absurdity of modern living, only modern living is the 90s now, and they do a sequence about all high schoolers having cell phones and the like. Part of the charm of the series is that they’re in the 60s, but modernizing can help keep a story in a relatable context. It’s much easier to see some of what they were going for in the 60s with the update because the world of the 90s is closer to my world, rather than the world of the 60s being something almost as foreign as rural Appalachia. It’s certainly weird to see Elly May in a modern high school wrestling match, but it makes sense if you put the character in a modern city setting.

I feel like the Clampett family’s ignorance is perhaps too often the butt of the joke, but I couldn’t say with certainty that it happens much more often than in the show. Maybe it has lower incidence, but higher insult density. Also, Jethrine, Jethro’s identical twin sister (as in played by the same actor as Jethro, just with a dress, wig, and makeup) who’s probably best forgotten, is not forgotten. Her appearances are minimal, but her advances are briefly used as punishment for a character who’s behaved badly, which really isn’t okay anymore, or shouldn’t be. Ah, 90s.

More or less, I felt like I was watching a pretty decent reboot of the Beverly Hillbillies. I didn’t really care for the plot they chose to drive it, but they didn’t need much of a plot with all the show-stopping comedy sequences. The flavor ended up pretty close to what I’d want from a modern retelling. Or at least a now-23 year old retelling.

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