Review: Macon County Line

[Originally published in Movietone News 35, August 1974]

Macon County Line has no special meaning in Macon County Line, but that’s the least of the film’s sins against form and sense, not to mention—and I shall mention—decency. A headnote assures us that this is a true story, one that happened in Louisiana in 1954. Louisiana is a lucky break; 1954 is a lucky break. 1954 means that the first few minutes of the film may be devoted to a sort of Lords of Underbrush tapping of the nostalgia vein. Louisiana means that it’s redneck-paranoia time on the open road, and all the Stars-and-Bars, gun-cult, male-chauvinist, white-supremacist hobgoblins are at the filmmakers’ beck and call whenever they feel the need. Stir in two fun-loving ripoff artists from Chicago, enjoying their last days of freedom before forced enlistment in the Army (it’s that or serve time in the pokey), and you’ve got the makings of a confrontation. Top with one slightly cynical but also fun-loving blonde hitching a ride between two meaningless stopovers, and flash kinescopes of Joe McCarthy on a handy TV screen, just for pseudo-intellectual seasoning. And I haven’t even got to the barrel-chested cop who doesn’t notice his wife would appreciate a midafternoon lay, so wrapped up is he with the shotgun he’s bought for his disturbingly liberalminded nine-year-old son in military school, or the … well, that’ll do for now.

Before half this arsenal of dangerous potentiality has been introduced, we know very well that circumstances are going to set everything off with a series of explosions that, however neatly contrived, wave the validation of that historical headnote. Something grisly occurs—several somethings—and in shaking one’s head over the lumbering machinery of the narrative one may fail to anticipate the ultimate twist—quite a bloodcurdler, as a matter of fact … assuming again that it is a matter of fact. I don’t deny that a legitimately disturbing and usefully perceptive account of this bizarre adventure—and I’m not going to tip that twist—might have been realized cinematically. But as it stands, Macon County Line is a reprehensibly opportunistic piece of trash that blatantly caters to those very tastes and muddled convictions it pretends to set forth in horror, and that “it really happened” somehow makes everything worse.

Not that the film, as film, could be much worse. Richard Compton fails to find anything like a style appropriate to the subject, one minute turning a pretentiously impressionistic eye toward a whorehouse-red light bulb, the next framing a heartland-America horizon shot at sunrise. He lets his actors do ‘most anything they please; the amateurs are amateurish, the pros are wearily professional (good old Emile Meyer) or self-indulgently slumming (Geoffrey Lewis worrying the role of a rube gas-station attendant like a precocious terrier with an innocent rat). Jesse Vint looks like Scott Wilson and is content with that; Alan Vint looks like the guy who captured Martin Sheen in Badlands, and he is. Max Baer’s name (which used to be Max Baer Jr.) is all over the movie, and so is he as the primary cop. He and the Vints, mainly Alan, have the one adequately felt-through scene in the picture, a single, casually framed take during which he makes it clear to these luckless travelers in his district that he could arrest them right into the ground if he decided to bother, and he just might decide to bother.

RTJ

MACON COUNTY LINE
Direction: Richard Compton. Screenplay: Max Baer and Richard Compton, after a story by Baer. Cinematography: Daniel Lacambre. Music: Stu Phillips. Production: Baer.
The Players: Alan Vint, Jesse Vint, Cheryl Waters, Max Baer, Geoffrey Lewis, Joan Blackman.

Copyright © 1974 Richard T. Jameson