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The Buddy Holly Story: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

The Buddy Holly Story (1978) movie poster The Buddy Holly Story

Theatrical Release: May 18, 1978 / Running Time: 114 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Steve Rash / Writers: Robert Gittler (screenplay), Alan Swyer (story), John Goldrosen (source material Buddy Holly: His Life and Music)

Cast: Gary Busey (Buddy Holly/Charles Hardin Holley), Don Stroud (Jesse Charles), Charles Martin Smith (Ray Bob Simmons), Conrad Janis (Ross Turner), William Jordan (Riley Randolph), Maria Richwine (Marνa Elena Santiago/Holly), Amy Johnston (Cindy Lou), Dick O'Neill (Sol Gittler), Fred Travalena (Madman Mancuso), Neva Patterson (Mrs. Holly), Arch Johnson (Mr. Holly), John Goff (T.J.), Gloria Irizarry (Mrs. Santiago), Jody Berry (Engineer Sam), Richard Kennedy (Preacher), Jim Beach (Wilson), Gailard Sartain (The Big Bopper), Albert Popwell (Eddie), Paul Mooney (Sam Cooke), Freeman King (Apollo M.C.), Stymie Beard (Luther)

Songs: "True Love Ways", "Rave On", "It's So Easy", "That'll Be the Day", "Oh Boy!", "Peggy Sue", "Maybe Baby", "I'm Gonna Love you Too", "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On", "Well... All Right", "Listen to Me", "Everyday", "Rock Around with Ollie Vee", "Mockin' Bird Hill", "Words of Love", "Not Fade Away", "You Send Me", "Chantilly Lace", "Corrina Corrina"

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For 35 years now, Gary Busey has been able to be called an Academy Award-nominated actor. That distinction is rarely invoked,
perhaps because Busey's projects, his roles, and the public persona he has conveyed in reality television would lead the typical person to question such a claim. Gary Busey, an Academy Award nominee? The bad guy from Lethal Weapon and Under Siege? The crazy Vietnam vet from Black Sheep? The star of direct-to-video religious thrillers and dog movies? The man who once threatened on camera to pull the endocrine system out of someone's body and make a hat out of it? The guy who seems to provide unintentional amusement every time he opens his mouth?

Yes, the same Gary Busey of all the aforementioned earned an Oscar nomination for Best Lead Actor half a lifetime ago for his performance in 1978's The Buddy Holly Story, which recently came to Blu-ray Disc in The Limited Edition Series of specialty label Twilight Time.

Singing solo, Buddy Holly is a big hit at the February 1959 Clear Lake, Iowa show that would be his final performance.

The film opens with Holly (Busey) and his band performing at a roller rink in their small hometown of Lubbock, Texas in the 1950s. Holly, a year removed from his high school graduation (an age, par for the genre, the 33-year-old Busey is a bit long in the tooth to play), is being broadcast on the radio. At the station, the DJ gets an upset call from a sponsor who doesn't approve of Holly's band unconventional sound. The reaction inside the rink is quite different, with youths flocking in to listen and not even caring about roller skating.
The next morning at church, Buddy and his parents are surprised to hear the preacher decrying the "jungle rhythm" as an "Un-Christian and Un-American" threat to morals and society. It is humorous that such seemingly harmless music could be perceived as threatening and controversial, but such a sentiment already seems obvious in the late '70s and the film doesn't belabor the kneejerk opposition.

Holly's three-piece band (condensed from what in real life was four pieces) is invited to record in Nashville, but the studio producer disapproves of their every effort. Informing them they don't record Negro albums, he insists on Holly and his bandmates (Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith) adopting the country sound that is currently accepted and appreciated by many. Holly storms out, but not before punching that producer. The band, since renamed Buddy Holly and the Crickets after a recording session intruder who lends a chirp, gets another shot at success in New York from a record label that has been selling the unsigned band's demos to some success. Expecting a Negro group, the executive is surprised to instead get three very white small-town boys. He reluctantly accepts Holly's insistence to be his own producer and signs the band to a contract.

Holly and company enjoy success, even getting booked sight unseen as the first white act to play at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The blacks in attendance quickly approve of Holly's rhythm and blues-infused rock, getting out of their seats and dancing.

The movie only gives us as much of Holly's personal life as it has to. At the record label, Holly doesn't just find stardom but love in the form of Puerto Rican receptionist Maria Elena Santiago (Maria Richwine). Buddy takes the trouble of buttering up Maria's aunt with a formal house call and his birth name, hoping to overcome her no-dating-musicians rule for Maria. Holly and Maria are happily married and have their first child on the way when Buddy reluctantly agrees to a 5-week nationwide winter tour to improve soft record sales in the States.

You don't need to be a music historian to know how Holly's story ends (knowing the subject of Don McLean's "American Pie" would suffice). The movie takes the obvious choice of ending on that fateful February night, building up to it melodramatically but stopping with the lively final performance of Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, before revealing what awaits them on that plane rented after the tour bus broke down.

Buddy Holly (Gary Busey) makes a smart move by asking Mrs. Santiago (Gloria Irizarry) permission to date her niece. New York DJ Madman Mancuso (Fred Travalena) attempts to play Buddy Holly's song for 24 straight hours, a move that amounts to welcome publicity.

The Buddy Holly Story looks and feels like a television movie. Obviously, it was released theatrically and garnered a total of three Oscar nominations, including Busey's aforementioned nod, winning for Best Adapted Score. One senses that Columbia Pictures big screen distribution was not the plan from the outset. But it's passable cinema whose strongest asset is the fascinating life story it tells.

This marked the film debut for most of the creative personnel, including director Steve Rash, screenwriter Robert Gittler, and story man Alan Swyer. Gittler was never heard from again. Swyer resurfaced in the late '80s as a writer, producer, and director of "Baywatch", TV movies, and sports documentaries. Rash has arguably had the most productive career, though it diminishes from this to '90s theatrical comedies like Pauly Shore's Son in Law and Whoopi Goldberg's Eddie to direct-to-video sequels in the Road Trip, American Pie, and Bring It On franchises. Rash did secure himself a spot in '80s pop culture history by directing direct the Patrick Dempsey teen comedy Can't Buy Me Love, a fondly-remembered minor classic.

For some reason, this inexperienced core crew brings a small screen sensibility to this project, shooting, scoring, and dressing Buddy Holly like something that might pre-empt "Happy Days" and "Laverne & Shirley." The film suffers from its lacking production values and acting talent. Busey perhaps impresses more with his singing than his acting (all the actors did their own music and were recorded live). Even the mix of the two isn't enough to make it less than ludicrous that Busey was competing against Robert De Niro, Laurence Olivier, Warren Beatty, and winner Jon Voight for the Oscar.

While this may not be as polished and gritty as its late '70s contemporaries, the movie does kind of establish the archetype for musician biopics. While others from The Glenn Miller Story to Lady Sings the Blues came earlier, this one seems to have established the mold that films like La Bamba, Ray, and Walk the Line have filled. If the makers of the on-target spoof Walk Hard didn't watch this for inspiration, they nonetheless captured certain aspects from its lineage.

Marring the picture's credibility, Buddy Holly Story relies heavily on made-up names, composite characters, and invented events, like the bit about the cricket in the recording studio. Some of that is due to the fact that Holly's bandmates signed the right to their story away to an earlier film project (one that cast Busey in the supporting role of drummer Jerry Allison) that was eventually shelved amidst pressure from this film's producer Fred Bauer.

The Buddy Holly Story: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Screen Archives Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English), 5.1 DTS-HD MA (Isolated Score)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: August 12, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Still available on DVD ($14.99 SRP; September 7, 1999), in DVD Double Feature with La Bamba ($14.99 SRP; September 13, 2005), and Amazon Instant Video


The Buddy Holly Story was one of the unlucky movies saddled with a fullscreen-only DVD release. That occurred in 1999, but though the film was repackaged alongside La Bamba in a double feature claiming both films were in widescreen, it never received a DVD transfer in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. It fares better on Blu-ray, with Twilight Time making the film look its best. The close-enough 1.78:1 widescreen presentation has that late-'70s look to it.
It also features some grain, which can be heavy at times (but is heaviest on the clearly licensed older location footage used in a number of establishing shots). By and large, though, the movie looks as good as it can in 1080p with today's technology and most should find that plenty good.

The soundtrack also offers an upgrade over the two and four-channel Surround tracks the movie got on DVD. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is clearly a remix, with channel separation unable to hide the thinness of the recordings. Ironically, given that Best Sound was one of the three Oscars this vied for, the dialogue recordings often aren't very good and at times are absolutely terrible given the relative youth of the film. Fortunately, the many song performances stand above the rest, unearthing depth and vitality that is otherwise lacking. On the whole, this mix is satisfactory, and subpar original recordings, not Twilight Time neglect, seem more culpable for the track's shortcomings.

The Buddy Holly Story's trailer ends with a white title against a blue screen. The silhouette cover art image is also used as the Blu-ray's top menu.


Twilight Time's Blu-ray comes with three bonus features on the disc,
the first two of which are found in Set Up and accompany playback of the film.

First up is an audio commentary by Gary Busey and director Steve Rash, recorded in 1999 for the film's original DVD. They speak passionately with regards to what's onscreen and surprisingly their 20-year-old memories of the film are quite vivid. Rash recalls unplanned bits that made it into the film, notices mistakes he made, and remembers insisting upon casting a Hispanic actress to play Maria, only to hire someone who changed her last name before release. Busey grabs your attention from time to time with some comments on his then-newfound devotion to Christ and music's role in intergalactic communications, a sporadic sing-along mode (doubtfully okay from a legal standpoint), jokes that two child actors are young Chris Farley and David Spade, his agreement with Rash that he should have won the Oscar (but promises one is coming), and diagnosis of PMS. Presumably the actor's only commentary and dating back to a time when commentaries were still a novelty, this is a noteworthy track that also fesses up to some of the many liberties taken.

Another way to experience the film is with an isolated music track, a standard feature of Twilight Time discs that has all but disappeared from the rest of the home video industry. Contrary to what you'd think, this has less value here than on other movies, since the movie is already so music-driven. The differences between the film's default soundtrack and this secondary 5.1 DTS-HD master audio one are often minor. For instance, you lose the crowd cheers of concert performances.

Finally, we get The Buddy Holly Story's routine original theatrical trailer (2:37), presented in high definition.

As usual, the static menu screen is adapted from the cover art. The complete Twilight Time catalogue through September 2014 is shown over a number of pages. The Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks, but does let you resume unfinished playback.

The final extra is found inside the blue keepcase. It's a booklet devoting four of its eight pages to an essay from in-house historian Julie Kirgo that acknowledges the many artistic licenses taken, sings the praises of Busey's lead turn, and marvels at Holly's many contributions to rock music in his limited time.

Producers just don't understand what Buddy Holly (Gary Busey) and the Crickets (Don Stroud and Charles Martin Smith) are going for in "The Buddy Holly Story."


The Buddy Holly Story is kind of square and unreliable as far as musician biopics go, but the influential life it depicts is fascinating enough for you not to mind the deficiencies. The low-budget presentation seems better suited to television than the big screen, but the well-done musical performances and Gary Busey's impressive turn keep it entertaining and agreeable.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray at last provides the widescreen presentation the movie never got on DVD. The pleasing video/audio and worthwhile handful of extras make this platter easy to recommend for those fond of this film or admiring enough of Holly not to mind the fictions taken.

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Related Reviews:
Gary Busey: The Firm • Thunderbolt and Lightfoot • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas • Scrubs: The Complete Fifth Season
Charles Martin Smith: Never Cry Wolf • No Deposit, No Return • Herbie Goes Bananas | Don Stroud: Slacker
Ragamuffin • Nashville • A Hard Day's Night • Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music • That Thing You Do! • Inside Llewyn Davis
Love Story • Not Fade Away • Rocky • Greetings from Tim Buckley

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Reviewed August 29, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1978 Columbia Pictures, Innovisions-ECA, and 2014 Twilight Time, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.