Andy Crocker (Lee Majors) is a earnest young Texan who enlists in Vietnam, is injured in a firefight, and returns home with a purple heart. Upon landing in California, he discovers that America has changed. A group of hippies (led by Stuart Margolin, who also wrote this film’s script and the folk-style song that’s played throughout the action) taunts him for wearing his uniform. After Andy steals a motorcycle from them and makes his way back down to Dallas, he discovers that his girlfriend, Lisa (Joey Heatherton), has left him for another man and that his best friend (played by singer Jimmy Dean) has sold Andy’s business. Lisa’s mother (Agnes Moorehead) orders Andy to stay away from her family while she’s skeet shooting. Even though everyone tells him how proud they are of him, no one seems to want Andy around. Finally, Andy ends up back in California without any direction home.
This made-for-television movie (which was produced by Aaron Spelling) was important in that it was the first film to attempt to explore the issues that would face servicemen as they returned home after serving in an unpopular war. It was actually meant to be a pilot for a series called Corporal Crocker, which would have followed Andy Crocker as he traveled across the country, Route 66-style. Since the series wasn’t picked up, The Ballad of Andy Crocker instead becomes a downbeat look at a man discovering that he no longer has any place in the world. It’s only 72-minutes long so it doesn’t examine any issues in depth but it’s still sincere in its intentions and Lee Majors gives a good performance in the lead role. Andy Crocker is an interesting character. Despite the fact that he just returned from fighting in it, he doesn’t seem to have any strong opinion about the war in Vietnam. He’s hardly a pacifist and he does steal a motorcycle but, at the same time, he’s not a gung ho warrior either. He’s just an ordinary man who is trying to figure out where he fits in. By the end of the movie, he’s more scarred by society’s indifference than he has been by the war.
Keep an eye out for Marvin Gaye, who has a small role as Crocker’s best friend from Vietnam.