It may not be a classic, but "Li'l Abner" is a lively movie with a convoluted storyline that does credit to its creator, the late Al Capp. All the characters are here: Hairless Joe and Lonesome Polecat, brewers extraordinaire of Kickapoo Joy Juice; Moonbeam McSwine (Carmen Alvarez), who sings that "sleepin' out with pigs is my line;" Earthquake McGoon (Bern Hoffman), the "world's champeen dirty rassler," who is so besotted with the beautiful Daisy Mae (Parrish) that he conspires with Senator Jack S. Phogbound (Ted Thurston) to get Dogpatch evacuated and destroyed so its inhabitants will be forced to give up their cherished tradition of Sadie Hawkins Day, under which no man can marry a girl unless she first catches him in the annual race (Daisy, of course, has eyes only for Li'l Abner); Available Jones (William Lanteau), the avaricious storekeeper, and his cousin, the statuesque Stupefyin' (Julie Newmar), whose body can stop any red-blooded male dead in his tracks; General Bullmoose (Howard St. John), the world's richest man, who dreams of owning "all the money in the world," and his "executive secretary," the redheaded Appassionatta Von Climax (Stella Stevens), who plot to gain control of the formula for Yokumberry Tonic (even unto planning Abner's murder); Evil-Eye Fleagle (Al Nesor), the scurrying Brooklynite with an arsenal of "whammies," who hires out to further their plan; "mystical" and "pugilistical" Mammy Yokum (Billie Hayes), who originated the tonic, and her henpecked husband Pappy (Joe E. Marks); Marryin' Sam (Kaye), who returns "home" to Dogpatch every year to unite the Sadie Hawkins victors and their captives in holy matrimony; and, of course, the devoted Daisy and her reluctant swain, naïve and patriotic Abner (Palmer). Adapted by Melvin Frank (who also directed) and Norman Panama (who produced) from their stage version, it turns upon the efforts of the Dogpatchers to save their town by finding "something valuable"--which seems at first blush to be Mammy's tonic, brewed from the fruits of the world's only Yokumberry tree. This tonic, which makes men youthful and physically perfect, is instantly coveted by the government and General Bullmoose alike--but it has the unfortunate side-effect of making the user completely disinclined to romance, hence Abner's stiff resistance to being "caught" by Daisy Mae, even though he is fond of her. In the end, Daisy is willing to sacrifice herself (as Earthquake's bride) to gain her suitor's help for her beloved Abner, but it's Pappy Yokum who saves the day with shrewd psychology. And Dogpatch is saved too, by a most unexpected revelation.
Casting and makeup are to be commended for creating an assortment of characters that match Capp's vision uncannily (as do Alvin Colt's costumes); I'm always particularly impressed at the size difference between Li'l Abner and his parents. Michael Kidd offers several dance numbers of great verve in "Don't That Take the Rag Offen the Bush," "Jubilation T. Cornpone," and "The Matrimonial Stomp." The cartoonist's satirical tone is echoed in Palmer and Kaye's duet, "The Country's in the Very Best of Hands," and Palmer and Parrish's two numbers, "Namely Me" (a frequent catchphrase from the strip) and "Otherwise," deserve to be better known. The entire movie was, of course, shot on sound stages, but considering its previous incarnation on Broadway that should be little distraction. Its broadly portrayed "hillbillies" and occasional '50's chauvinism are far from politically correct, but it should appeal to kids (who will probably miss the double entendres and the sharp pokes at government, big biz, and the like, and just enjoy the laughs) and adults alike.