Alice's Restaurant (1969) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

In this case, I started with Tuna's review on built on it, so it's a joint effort. Some words are mine, some his, but it stands as a position I will defend completely, even if it isn't completely mine.
You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant (1969). So begins Arlo Guthrie's autobiographical song, The Alice's Restaurant Massacre, which was adapted into a screenplay. It is explicitly the story of how Arlo (son of legendary Woody Guthrie) got out of the draft by having been arrested and convicted of dumping in an unauthorized place (aka littering).

The film goes into more detail about Ray and Alice, the church they live in, and the assortment of late 60's hippies that Ray and Alice call family. Contrary to popular myth, you can remember the 60s even if you were there, and this film is complete nostalgia for me. The attitudes, language, dress, and public reaction to those who looked a little "funky" really bring those moments back.


The exposure was from a young groupie who wanted to sleep with Arlo after an open mike gig, because she thought he would "be an album some day." The groupie was played by Shelley Plimpton, probably best known as mother of Martha Plimpton, but also known for her appearance in the Broadway version of Hair singing the song "Frank Mills."

Tina Chen also flashed a breast briefly

It isn't a great movie even now, but in many ways this is a better film now than it was in 1969, because it has now additional value as a historical record written contemporaneously. Back then, we didn't need anybody to pictorialize popular culture for us. We knew about it already. We were there. So the movie was just a movie. Now the movie works both as a movie and as a documentation of the customs and mores of a sweet, forgotten time.

Most of us old farts, like me and Tuna, have great nostalgia for the gentle idealism of that time. When I look back on it, I regret that the whole thing turned into an exploitation fest for the media, or for people who were just hanging out for the sex and drugs, but it is good to remember the idealism of one's youth, and there was genuine idealism. There were plenty of people in The Movement who just wanted to build a better, less commercialized world, one with greater and more genuine equality among its population. And even now, the sound of an acoustic guitar strummin' those gentle 60's folk tunes evokes powerful memories and feelings.

It isn't a real slick movie. Production values can be shabby and acting can be poorly timed. But you have to realize that a slick movie would have been insincere. It would have been everything that this generation stood against at the time. To his great credit, the Hollywood director Arthur Penn made a decidedly un-Hollywood movie with a starkly powerful ending that will leave your eyes misted over, and you won't really know why, except maybe that you saw, like Alice, how something which could have been beautiful came to the wrong conclusion. The ending is completely inconsistent with the lighthearted storytellin' tone of the narrative.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1, includes footage never seen before. The DVD transfer is done by Image Entertainment, which is always good news. While there are still some dirt and lint artifacts from what was obviously a weak original, they did their usual great job.

  • The full-length commentary by Arlo Guthrie himself is reason enough to own the film.

Arlo Guthrie played himself in the film, as did his antagonist, Officer Obie. Obie said "if somebody's gonna make a fool of me, it might as well be me".

Arlo Guthrie also did a full-length commentary, and he mentioned that his duet with Pete Seeger in this film marked the first time they had ever sung together, and they kept their act up for thirty years. (The scene was supposed to be re-enacting a scene at Woody Guthrie's bedside, which never really happened.)

That scene was a real treasure, even with Arlo playing the harmonica off-key (they gave him the wrong harmonica, and they just left the scene as is). Hell, I would have watched an entire 90 minutes of Seeger and Arlo singing Woody's songs!

If you lived the 60s, or are curious about them, get in your red VW microbus and head to Alice's - not the restaurant, the church - for a Thanksgiving dinner that can't be beat.

Steer clear of Officer Obie.

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.0, with the grades proportionate to the age of the grader. (People over 45 liked it best)
  • With their dollars ... it took in $6 million domestic back in 1969, when a new VW cost $1873, so it was a moderate success.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Great appeal for an audience interested in and sympathetic to the hippie era. Not much to hold your interest if you don't care.

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