Alice's Restaurant is a 1969 movie adapted from a song by Arlo Guthrie. The song is Arlo Guthrie's most famous work, a talking blues based on a true story that began on Thanksgiving Day 1965. The movie reproduces the events of the song, in addition to other scenes.
The movie is directed and co-written by Arthur Penn and stars Guthrie as himself, Pat Quinn as Alice Brock and James Broderick as Ray Brock, with the real Alice making a cameo appearance. In the scene where Ray and friends are installing insulation, she is wearing a brown turtleneck top and has her hair pulled into a ponytail. In the Thanksgiving-dinner scene, she is wearing a bright pink blouse. In the wedding scene, she is wearing a Western-style dress.
Stockbridge police chief William Obanhein ("Officer Obie") played himself in the film version, explaining to Newsweek magazine that making himself look like a fool was preferable to having somebody else make him look like a fool.
The film also features the first film appearance of character actor M. Emmet Walsh, playing the Group W sergeant; and a cameo appearance by Lee Hays, American folksinger and songwriter, playing a reverend at an evangelical meeting. The movie version of "Alice's Restaurant" was released on August 19, 1969, a few days after Guthrie appeared at the Woodstock Festival.
The movie recounts a true but comically exaggerated Thanksgiving adventure.
Arlo Guthrie (as himself) is visiting his friends Alice (Pat Quinn) and Ray Brock (James Broderick) at their home, a deconsecrated church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Alice owns a restaurant, thus, "Alice's Restaurant", in nearby Stockbridge.
After a Thanksgiving dinner, Arlo and his friends decide to do Alice and Ray a favor and take several months worth of garbage from their house to the town dump. After loading up a red VW microbus with the garbage, and shovels, and rakes and implements of destruction, they head for the dump. Finding the dump closed for the holiday, they drive around and discover a pile of garbage at the bottom of a short cliff that someone else placed there.
At that point, as mentioned in the song, "...we decided that one big pile is better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up we decided to throw ours down."
The next morning they receive a phone call from "Officer Obie" (William Obanhein), who asks them about the garbage. After admitting to littering, they agree to pick up the garbage and to meet him at the police station. Loading up the red VW microbus with shovels and tools and implements of destruction, they head to the police station where they are immediately arrested.
As the song puts it, they are then driven to the "Scene of the Crime" where, "there was five police officers and three police cars, being the biggest crime of the last fifty years, and everybody wanted to get in the newspaper story about it. And they was using up all kinds of cop equipment that they had hanging around the police officer's station. They was taking plaster tire tracks, foot prints, dog smelling prints, and they took twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us."
At the trial, Officer Obie is anxiously awaiting the chance to show the judge the 27 photos of the "Crime of the Century", when the judge walks in with his seeing-eye dog. Officer Obie then begins crying with frustration because, "...it was a typical case of American blind justice, and there wasn't nothing he could do about it, and the judge wasn't going to look at the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures..."
The judge levies a $50 fine, orders them to pick up the garbage, then sets them free.
Later in the movie, Arlo is called up for the draft, and it shows a surreal bureaucracy at the New York City military induction center on Whitehall Street. Because of Guthrie's criminal record for littering, he is first sent to the Group W bench (where convicts wait), then outright rejected as unfit for military service. The irony being, as the song says, "you want to know if I'm moral enough join the Army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug."
Other scenes in the movie involve Arlo and singer Pete Seeger (as himself) visiting Arlo's father, Woody Guthrie (Joseph Boley), in the hospital. Woody Guthrie died in 1967 after a long struggle with Huntington's disease.