Home Video Hovel: Macon County Line, by David Bax
“This story is true,” the opening titles of Richard Compton’s Macon County Line tell us. It’s not, actually; this is another film in the tradition of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Fargo that fakes verisimilitude for effect. But with Compton and his cast’s deft hand for human specifics and idiosyncrasies, Daniel Lacambre’s on-the-fly, documentary-like cinematography and those ever-present crickets on the soundtrack, you could swear you were actually there in the deep, rural south in the 1950s. And, if you’re not from there, you’ll know you’re not welcome.
Brothers Chris and Wayne (played by actual brothers Alan and Jesse Vint) have two weeks to kill before joining the Air Force and have decided to do so by driving across the south, disturbing the peace and staying one step ahead of getting caught. After they pick up hitchhiker Jenny (Cheryl Waters), they have some car trouble and must stay the night in a small town, which doesn’t sit well with Deputy Morgan (Max Baer Jr., who also cowrote the screenplay), especially when another set of drifters (Timothy Scott and James Gammon) commit a series of crimes, for which Morgan reflexively blames the young trio. With a terrific, countrified score by Stu Phillips and a theme song by Bobbie Gentry, Macon County Line only adds to its vital sense of time and place.
Baer Jr., known to most as Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies, provides a take on the good ol’ boy archetype that’s 180 degrees different from the cartoonish character he played on television. A standout scene (illustrating South Pacific‘s assertion that “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”) depicts a heart to heart between Morgan and his son (Leif Garrett) about why he shouldn’t be hanging around with the black kids at his school. It’s as tender as a “birds and the bees” talk and all the more chilling for how gently and paternally Morgan instructs his son how to hate.
This and other scenes work so well primarily because of Compton’s naturalistic direction. There’s an almost improvisational quality to the dialogue that fills out the uncompromising, anti-authoritarian bent of the whole thing. Macon County Line deserves a high placement on the list of great 1970s independent American cinema.
The transfer from Shout Selects is lovingly done, with a warm and filmic tone prevailing. The opening titles contain some dirt, possibly from a dirty gate on the optical printer. The mono audio also sounds incredible, with plenty of bass in the many great songs.
Special features include a new interview with editor Tina Hirsch, an audio commentary by Compton and a featurette made back when the film celebrated its 25th anniversary.