Li'l Abner (1959 film)

Li'l Abner is a 1959 musical film based on the comic strip of the same name created by Al Capp and the successful Broadway musical of the same name that opened in 1956. The movie was produced by Norman Panama and directed by Melvin Frank[2] (co-writers of the Broadway production). It was the second film to be based on the comic strip, the first being RKO's 1940 film, Li'l Abner.

Li'l Abner
Directed byMelvin Frank
Produced byNorman Panama
Written byAl Capp
Melvin Frank
StarringPeter Palmer
Leslie Parrish
Julie Newmar
Stella Stevens
Stubby Kaye
Billie Hayes
Music byGene De Paul
Joseph J. Lilley
Nelson Riddle
CinematographyDaniel L. Fapp
Edited byArthur P. Schmidt
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • December 11, 1959 (1959-12-11)
Running time
114 minutes
Box office$3,200,000 (US/ Canada)[1]


It's a "typical day" in Dogpatch, U. S. A., a hillbilly town where Abner Yokum lives with his parents. Mammy Yokum insists on giving Abner his daily dose of "Yokumberry tonic," although he is fully-grown. He has a crush on Daisy Mae Scragg (although he resists marrying her) and she on him; Abner's rival for her affections is the World's Dirtiest Rassler, Earthquake McGoon.

Sadie Hawkins Day is approaching. On this day the "girls chase the men and marries whomstever [sic] they catches," as Senator Jack S. Phogbound puts it. However, the citizens of Dogpatch find out that their town has been declared the most unnecessary place in the country—and will be the target of an atom bomb, since the nuclear testing site near Las Vegas is allegedly spoiling things for the wealthy gamblers there.

Dogpatch people at first are pleased about leaving. They change their minds when Mammy Yokum points out some of the horrible, awful customs they'll have to adapt to, like regular bathing and (worst of all) going to work for a living. Now anxious to remain, the Dogpatchers try to muster something necessary about their town to save it. The government scientist in charge of the bomb testing, Dr. Rasmussen T. Finsdale, rejects all of their suggestions. However, Mammy brings forth her "Yokumberry Tonic," the substance that has made Abner the handsome, muscular, strapping specimen that he is. The only tree in the whole world that grows Yokumberries exists in the Yokums' front yard. Thus, the town of Dogpatch will become "indispensable" to the outside world.

Meanwhile, a greedy business magnate named General Bullmoose covets the tonic as well, since he could market it (as "Yoka-Cola," he tells Abner) and uses his wiles to get the tonic dishonestly. This involves Appassionata von Climax, the general's mistress. He cooks up a scheme to get Ms. von Climax to marry Li'l Abner, after which Abner would be killed and von Climax would become owner of the tonic, "by community property" , and turn it over to Bullmoose.

He orders von Climax to enter the race on Sadie Hawkins Day. She catches Li'l Abner (with help from Evil Eye Fleegle) and Daisy Mae ends up heartbroken. But then Daisy, Mammy, Pappy and Marryin' Sam discover (through Mammy's "Conjurin' Power") what General Bullmoose is up to; Daisy promises to marry McGoon if he helps them to save Abner's life. McGoon agrees, and rounds up practically everyone in Dogpatch to go to Washington on the rescue mission.

McGoon and the other Dogpatchers disrupt the society party at which Abner is supposed to drink a toast as a prelude to suffering the whammy—and the whammy-giver, Evil Eye Fleagle, says it won't work unless the subject has drunk liquor. So Bullmoose calls for a champagne toast. Fleagle strikes with his 'Truth Whammy' but McGoon deflects the whammy with a silver platter—and the whammy hits Bullmoose, who confesses his scheme.

Yokumberry Tonic is a failure: although it made the subjects healthy and muscular, they don't care about their wives' chagrin. (This also explains why Abner has resisted marrying Daisy for so long.) Back at Dogpatch — with the tonic rejected, the bombing is on again — the wedding of McGoon and Daisy Mae is on; Romeo Scragg and his kin are armed to keep Marryin' Sam from stalling. Daisy Mae has a plan of her own—she shows McGoon the rest of her Scragg relatives (including "Priceless and Liceless" Scragg, and the "Bar Harbor Scraggs," who've been "barred from every harbor in the country") and he backs out.

Dr. Finsdale orders the wedding stopped in order to evacuate. Pappy Yokum and some of the other Dogpatchers start to pull down an equestrian statue of Jubilation T. Cornpone (the town's founder) from a tall pedestal, claiming they won't leave without it. A stone tablet falls, and it turns out to carry an inscription ordered by Abraham Lincoln, who has declared the city of Dogpatch a "National Shrine" because of Cornpone's incompetence as a Confederate General. Abner points out "You can't bomb a national shrine" and Finsdale relents, cancelling the bombing and leaving Abner and Daisy free to marry.


Actor Role
Peter Palmer Li'l Abner Yokum
Leslie Parrish Daisy Mae
Stubby Kaye Marryin' Sam
Howard St. John General Bullmoose
Stella Stevens Appassionata von Climax
Julie Newmar Stupefyin' Jones
Billie Hayes Mammy Yokum
Joe E. Marks Pappy Yokum
Bern Hoffman Earthquake McGoon
Al Nesor Evil Eye Fleagle
Robert Strauss Romeo Scragg
William Lanteau Available Jones
Ted Thurston Senator Jack S. Phogbound
Carmen Alvarez Moonbeam McSwine
Alan Carney Mayor Dawgmeat
Stanley Simmonds Dr. Rasmussen T. Finsdale
Diki Lerner Lonesome Polecat
Joe Ploski Hairless Joe
Jerry Lewis Itchy McRabbit
Donna Douglas Lovelie
Lesley-Marie Colburn Young Dogpatch Girl
Valerie Harper Luke's Wife
Beth Howland Clem's Wife
Brad Harris Muscleman Luke
Gordon Mitchell Muscleman Rufe



Almost every major character in the movie was portrayed by the same performer who appeared in the role on Broadway. Notable exceptions are Daisy Mae (played by Edie Adams on Broadway), Appassionata von Climax (played on stage by Tina Louise) and Mammy Yokum (played on stage by Charlotte Rae).[lower-alpha 1] Jerry Lewis appears in a brief cameo as Itchy McRabbit.[6]


Several songs, with music by Gene De Paul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, were adapted directly from the Broadway production, but the original portions of the motion picture score were written and conducted by Nelson Riddle and Joseph J. Lilley, which earned them an Oscar nomination for Best Score in 1960 and earned Riddle a Grammy nomination for Best Soundtrack Album. The movie was released on December 11, 1959 by Paramount Pictures.


Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "Unless you are thoroughly allergic to bad grammar and cartoon repartee, you should have a good time at 'Li'l Abner,' especially if you're a kid."[7] Variety stated, "The musical is lively, colorful and tuneful, done with smart showmanship in every department."[8] John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times described the film as "delightful nonsense" with dance numbers that "are explosions of energy that set one's feet to twitching."[9] Harrison's Reports wrote that the film "slows down appreciably when it dips into complicated plot," but "the tunes by Johnny Mercer are sprightly if not memorable and the dances staged by Dee Dee Wood are pure delight."[10]Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post declared, "'Li'l Abner' is broad, colorful fun and I should think even Al Capp would be pleased with it."[11] The Monthly Film Bulletin said, "The dancing is fresh and energetic but, like the whole film, is unhappily served by the flat, hamfisted direction. Panama and Frank attempt no more than a straight VistaVision record of their Broadway musical, and show a complete indifference to the possibilities of staging such an attractive number as If I Had My Druthers."[12] John McCarten of The New Yorker wrote, "On Broadway the show was primitive; in the movies it is Neanderthal."[13]

Home media

The film was released on DVD on April 19, 2005, by Paramount Home Entertainment.[14]

See also


Informational notes

  1. Billie Hayes, who plays Mammy Yokum in this film, appeared in the Broadway production as a replacement for Charlotte Rae in the role;[4] Hayes also reprised the role in a 1971 TV production of Li'l Abner.[5]


  1. "Rental Potentials of 1960", Variety, 4 January 1961 p 47. Please note figures are rentals as opposed to total gross.
  2. "Li'l Abner". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
  3. Li'l Abner (1959), retrieved 2018-08-16
  4. Li'l Abner Broadway cast - replacements at IBDB
  5. Li'l Abner (1971 TV production). on IMDb
  6. Evanier, Mark. "Li'l Abner in Hollywood". Retrieved 2015-01-12.
  7. Crowther, Bosley (December 12, 1959). "The Screen: 'Li'l Abner'". The New York Times. 19.
  8. "Film Reviews: Li'l Abner". Variety. November 4, 1959. 6.
  9. Scott, John L. (December 17, 1959). "'Li'l Abner' Lively Dogpatch Hoe-Down". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 10.
  10. "'Li'l Abner' with Peter Palmer, Leslie Parrish and Stubby Kaye". Harrison's Reports. November 7, 1959. 178.
  11. Coe, Richard L. (December 19, 1959). "Abner Is in Best of Hands". The Washington Post. C14.
  12. "Li'l Abner". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 27 (317): 80. June 1960.
  13. McCarten, John (December 19, 1959). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. p. 126.
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