Great Balls of Fire
Great Balls of Fire! (1989) is an American biographical film, directed by Jim McBride and features Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis. It was written by McBride and Jack Baran, based on an autobiography by Myra Lewis and Murray M. Silver Jr.
The picture executive producers were Michael Grais, Mark Victor, and Art Levinson, and was produced by Adam Fields.
The early life of Jerry Lee Lewis when he became a teen idol and married his 13-year-old cousin Myra is depicted in this film. Many thought Lewis would supplant Elvis Presley as the “King of Rock and Roll” in the 1950s.
Great Balls of Fire Plot Summary
Television host Steve Allen and “The Killer”The film tells the story of Jerry Lee Lewis (Dennis Quaid), nicknamed “The Killer”, during the early years of rock and roll, 1956-1958. Lewis is shown as a man with many different sides: a skilled performer with little discipline, an alcoholic, and a loving husband who sometimes beats his wife.
As Lewis rises to the top of the charts with such hits as “Crazy Arms,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and “Great Balls of Fire!” he falls in love with his 13-year-old second cousin Myra (Winona Ryder), and eventually marries her.
There is a sub-plot of Lewis’ relationship with another cousin, the preacher Jimmy Swaggart (Alec Baldwin). Swaggart’s career keeps him in constant conflict with his cousin’s wild life of rock and roll, and brings out some uncomfortable exchanges. The financially successful Lewis buys a new car and a short time later gives it to his cousin, and when Swaggart praises the Lord for this gift, Lewis replies: “Don’t thank Jesus, thank Jerry Lee Lewis!”
When a British reporter (Peter Cook) discovers he is married to his teenage cousin, Lewis is condemned as a child molester and a pervert by the public.
Great Balls of Fire ends after Lewis learns he is about to become a father, as his 13-year-old wife tells him she has become pregnant.
The closing title card reads: “Jerry Lee Lewis is playing his heart out somewhere in America tonight.”
The story was co-written by Myra Gail Lewis (her autobiography Great Balls of Fire!), the former wife of Jerry Lee Lewis, with Murray Silver. Despite this, co-writer Silver was upset by the lack of accuracy in the film, claiming it was “phoney”. Director Jim McBride admitted that it was never his intention to tie his film to the facts, and stated “This movie does not represent itself in any way to be a historical documentary. We use the book as a jumping-off point.”
Jerry Lee Lewis has openly stated that he hates the film and the book it was based on.