United Artists film was based on Arlo Guthrie's number 'Alice's Restaurant
Massacre', from his 1967 debut album 'Alice's Restaurant' (Reprise RLP 6267).
The number was 18 minutes and 20 seconds in length and took up the entire
first side of his album. It initially attracted attention when he performed
it at the Newport Folk Festival as a lengthy autobiographical number punctuated
with an equally lengthy monologue. The anti-Vietnam war number was based
on the story of Alice M. Brock who, in 1964, together with her husband Ray,
bought a deconsecrated church with $2,000 her mother had given to Alice.
The song is a talking blues number about Guthrie's experiences starting
on Thanksgiving Day 1965.
Arlo and friends join Alice and Ray for a Thanksgiving dinner at the church
and as a way of thanks, decide to take the garbage that has amassed for
several months around the building to a nearby dump. They arrive and find
that the town dump has been closed, but when they spot a pile of refuse
at the bottom of a short cliff, they decide to deposit the refuse there.
The next day they receive a call from the police chief and they agree to
pick up the refuse that they've dumped and meet him at the police station.
But as soon as they get to the station they are all arrested and then taken
to the dump where, as mentioned in the song: "there was five police officers
and three police cars, being the biggest crime in fifty years, and everybody
wanted to get in the newspaper story about it. And they was using all kinds
of cop equipment that they had hanging around the police officer's station.
They was taking plastic tyre tracks, footprints, dog smelling prints, and
they took 27 eight-by-ten colour glossy photographs with circles and arrows
and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining that each one was to
be used as evidence against us".
When the trial takes place the police chief is anxious to show the judge
the 27 photographs, but he is taken aback to discover that the judge is
blind and Chief 'Obie' is frustrated when the accused only receive a $50
fine and are set free as soon as they dispose of the refuse. When Arlo is
called up for the draft in New York and attends the induction centre he
finds that, because he has a criminal record for littering, he is sent to
a section where criminals have to wait and is then rejected as unfit for
the army. He comments in his song, "You want to know if I'm moral enough
to join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug".
Other incidents in the film include: Arlo leaves college after diving through
a plate glass window; Alice and Ray seem to have an open relationship; Arlo
visits his dying father, the famed folk singer Woody Guthrie, in hospital;
the police chief William 'Obie' Obanhein appears as himself; one of Arlo's
friends, Shelly, overdoses on drugs and dies.