Harper Valley P.T.A first appeared on the scene as a notorious country cross-over tune written by veteran songwriter Tom T. Hall and sung by Jeannie C. Riley. The song details the exploits of the comely widowed Mrs. Johnson, whose teenage daughter is sent home with a letter chastising her mother’s behavior which includes “wearing her dresses too high” and “running around with men and going wild”. Mrs. Johnson in turn “socks” it to the P.T.A by listing all of their sins and outing Harper Valley as a “little Peyton Place”. It’s a power punch of a song that was considered scandalous upon it’s release in 1965.
Unfortunately, the attempt to turn the tale into a feature film couldn’t have been more misguided. On the celluloid screen, we have I Dream of Jeannie star Barbara Eden as the free-spirited Mrs. Stella Johnson and right away she’s steaming over that letter from the P.T.A., which threatens to go so far as to expel the girl if her mother’s behavior doesn’t shape up.
Stella’s best friend, Alice, the town hair dresser, tries to calm her down, but the shapely widow will have none of it. When Alice mentions that she knows quite a few secrets about her fellow Harper Valley citizens, Mrs. Johnson hatches a plan. With her ugly ducking daughter Dee in tow, Stella marches into the school board meeting and lists all the bad behaviors of the various members in public. Safe to say, the P.T.A is left speechless, horribly embarrassed and plotting their revenge.
The next day Stella awakens to find that her home has been tee peed. She laughs it off as harmless kids’ tricks, even though her shy daughter is mortified. However, things turn ugly when a rock with a nasty note is crashes through the window during dinner that night. It’s too much for Stella to ignore and she promises to bring down the small-minded P.T.A. What commences is a bunch of crude stunts that attempt to pass for screwball comedy.
Stella seduces one of the board members, a mousy man, into removing his clothes in a hotel room. Once he does, she pushes him naked into the hallway. Another board member, a woman with a gambling problem, ends up covered in horse manure.
But those kind of high jinx aren’t enough. Stella, encouraged by the one understanding member of the board (who just happens to be young and attractive) to run for P.T.A. president and take control of the whole board.
When the current members of the P.T.A get wind of this plot, they arrange to have a voter, who could swing the election in Stella’s favor, removed to a monastery. Let’s just say nun’s costumes and high speed chases bring the film to a predictable ending. At least is thankfully, it does end.
Barbara Eden does bring some humor to the low-grade script and Susan Swift is sympathetic as the daughter who transforms from plain to pretty during the course of the film, but it’s not enough.
While the song was an ode to a strong woman fighting for the right to do as she pleases, Harper Valley P.T.A. the film drags Mrs. Johnson further down into the mud than the P.T.A. could ever have imagined.
Skip the film and add the song to your itunes library!