I recently saw an amazing stage production of Million Dollar Quartet, which gives a fictionalized account of the night Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis all jammed together at Sun Records in 1956.
The gentleman playing Jerry Lee Lewis, Nat Zegree, was awe-inspiring in his performance…absolutely breath taking.
This prompted me to want to revisit the 1989 film Great Balls of Fire! for a more in-depth look at the life of “The Killer”.
The film stars Dennis Quaid as Lewis and Winona Rider as his 13-year old cousin/bride Myra Gail Brown.
I now realize why I haven’t been tempted to revisit the movie since seeing it in the theater in 1989. It is truly awful.
The film is based on the biography of Myra Lewis, Jerry Lee Lewis’ child bride. However, she has denounced the film for being historically inaccurate. In her book, Myra paints Jerry Lee as a dangerous man who has had two of his seven wives die in unusual circumstances. In the film he is more like a harmless comic book character.
Director Jim McBride admitted he never intended to offer an authentic view of Jerry Lee Lewis, preferring instead to employ Jerry Lee as a consultant on the film and creating a white washed romantic comedy.
Rider actually does do a great job as Myra. In fact, most of the actors turn in fine performances. However, it is Quaid the ruins the movie.
Let me be clear, I am a Dennis Quaid fan. So, it pains me to criticize his performance. But there is just no way around the fact that his cartoonish over acting ruins the film.
This portrayal might have worked if the rest of the cast also played their characters as cartoons. But with Quaid the only one chewing the scenery, the stark contrast in acting approaches is obvious.
I would love to see a movie about Jerry Lee Lewis that sticks closer to the facts of his troublesome life. I hope that when a producer eventually decides to make a new and accurate movie about The Killer, they won’t make the mistake of just doing a remake of Great Balls of Fire.
Lewis was a great musician in his time, but he was no hero when it comes to how he treated other.
I invite you to listen to some of Lewis’ early recordings like Whole Lotta Shaking Going On, Great Balls of Fire, and High School Confidential. But when it comes to the Dennis Quaid movie, you can do without.
Peace. Love. Trust.