Monday, December 3, 2007

Macon County Line

Price: 75 cents
Year: 1974
Length: 89 minutes
Director: Richard Compton
Cast: Alan Vint, Jesse Vint, Cheryl Waters, Max Baer, Geoffrey Lewis, Leif Garrett, Doodles Weaver, Joan Blackman

Macon County Line is the type of weird, shaggy, ramblingly ingratiating film that the 1970's found incredibly easy to shit out. Pitched somewhere between accidental art film and subtle exploitation picture, MCL deals with so many shades of gray in regards to its characters that it might as well be a Walker Evans photograph (because his pictures are old and in black and white and I couldn't think of a better metaphor on the fly, dig?).

It opens with our ostensible heroes , Chris and Wayne Dixon (played by real life siblings Alan and Jesse Vint respectively) doing a bunch of rascally shit like stealing money from hookers, ditching out on paying for meals, and destroying some police cars in the process. Eventually they pick up a female hitchhiker (Cheryl "100% Pure Love" Waters) and then they kind of amble about trying to get their car fixed or whatever.

The vhs box and above trailer told me that this was a movie about a crazed sheriff (played by Max "Jethro Bodine from the Beverly Hillbillies" Baer Jr., who also produced and co-scripted) who falsely accuses some kids of killing his wife and chases them all over the place. Well, we don't even meet this sheriff till a solid half hour into the movie and his wife doesn't get murk'd till a solid hour of this movie's 90 minutes and Jethro doesn't even find her till another ten minutes later, so basically all the plot of this bad boy is smooched into the last 15 or so minutes, which is fine by me because what results here is inevitably better than the simple revenge fest that a more focused attempt would have shaped up as.

For one, all the actors in this, including Jethro, are pretty fucking good; delivering naturalistic and muted performances that would be more at home in a Malick or Hellman pic (Alan Vint did just that, by the way, with turns as "Man in Roadhouse" in Hellman's TWO-LANE BLACKTOP and as "Deputy" in Malick's BADLANDS). Both of those films are good reference points for where this movie leans structurally and tonally, but unlike the pastoral naivety of BADLANDS and the stoned existentialism of TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, MCL never forgets that at its heart it is nothing more than an exploitation flick geared to rack up big bucks on the drive-in circuit. The rambling fuck all nature of the plotting is more reminiscent of the slice of life waggling around of the Pacino-Hackman-when-they-still-cared gem SCARECROW, in that nothing plotwise happens for the first hour or so, then something kinda plotty happens, then we just get a downbeat, tragic ending to kinda bum us out on our way out because it's the 70's and a movie can't be good unless it has the downbeat ending and the 70's were right. Needless to say, this is the kind of film that Tarantino seemed to take particularly to heart when crafting his semi-misunderstood half of GRINDHOUSE (and he apparently forced his actors to watch this movie to prepare for their own roles appropriately enough).

What's more weird than how weirdly surprising this movie is, is that it apparently was a HUGE hit on the drive-in circuit, officially bringing in over $20 million on a $225,000 budget and warranting a snarky Vincent Canby review in the New York Times a whole nine months after first premiering across the southern drive-in circuit. Baer made a mint on it as producer and whiled away the 70's honing his technique on other seemingly just as aimless and successful follow-ups, while Compton quickly pumped out a RETURN TO MACON COUNTY the next year starring both a young Nick Nolte and a baby faced Don Johnson.

While this movie certainly isn't a patch on either TWO-LANE or BADLANDS, which are two of my favorite movies ever it should be noted, it is certainly better than it has any right to be and is suggested follow-up material for fans of either of those films who long for a trashier, muddier, more authentic surrogate to those revered art-house pastiches. All that I can say is that it's good enough that I didn't even mention until now that a young pre-cocaine Leif Garrett plays Jethro Baer's son. And that's more than I could say for THE LONG SHOT KIDS (also recommended as it's about foosball). Oh yeah, and Doodles Weaver, the George W. Bush by way of Jerry Lewis linchpin of the previously reviewed ROAD TO NASHVILLE, also makes a memorable appearance as old man befuddled by the stupid guy at gas station, who is memorably played by the old country music star guy in the previously reviwed THE DEVIL'S REJECTS. Oh yeah, and Richard Compton, the director, also directed one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is close enough to the previously reviewed STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER for me to link to it without shame or remorse.

Make It So.

1 comment:

A Man and A Mouse said...

'Crystal' Waters is a black singer and musician; she is not the actress in this movie. That'll cost you $1.

; >