Macon County Line


1h 29m 1974
Macon County Line

Brief Synopsis

A Georgia sheriff mistakes two young men as the murderers of his wife.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Action
Crime
Release Date
1974
Production Company
American International Pictures; Glen Glenn Sound Company
Distribution Company
American International Pictures; Nelson Entertainment

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

A Georgia sheriff mistakes two young men as the murderers of his wife.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Drama
Action
Crime
Release Date
1974
Production Company
American International Pictures; Glen Glenn Sound Company
Distribution Company
American International Pictures; Nelson Entertainment

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Articles

Macon County Line


Though drive-ins were popular all over the United States, they flourished like nowhere else in the American South. Since the 1950s, audiences rolled in at night for double and triple features packed with as many thrills and spills as possible, so it was just a matter of time before filmmakers decided to zoom in specifically on the South as a major part of the film itself. The big studio breakthrough of John Boorman's Deliverance (1972) singled out Georgia as a particularly effective setting, with its lush greenery and beautiful vistas also carrying a sinister quality for outsiders who might not know what they've stumbled into. Soon Georgia was all over screens with fast cars, cranky cops and psychopathic hillbillies running amuck, with one particular success, Gy Waldron's Moonrunners (1975), even spawning the hit TV series, The Dukes of Hazzard. Studios took notice of the trend, too, with Hal Needham and company cashing in big time with Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and a slew of imitators.

However, the most profitable story out of this entire Georgia craze has to be a little underdog film called Macon County Line (1974). The title refers to the border of Macon County, a region that exists in three separate states (Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee) and is never specified in the actual film. However, the one in central Georgia named after esteemed North Carolina Congressman General Nathaniel Macon seems to fit the bill most closely given the look and tone of the film as well as the automatic associations with the town of Macon, Georgia, which (weirdly enough) is in a totally different county. Best known as Jethro Bodine from TV's The Beverly Hillbillies, actor Max Baer, Jr. found himself unemployed and decided to raise money himself to make a feature film. He teamed up with executive producer Roger Camras to put in $100,000 in cash for the $225,000 budget, with director Richard Compton brought in to helm the project and co-write the script. A discreet Roger Corman also managed to round up funds by hitting up his friends at his country club.

Baer also assumed the dark, memorable role of Sheriff Reed Morgan, who's prepping his son (played by regular actor and pop star heartthrob Leif Garrett) for hunting season thanks to a recent discharge from military school. Morgan turns out to be trouble for two brothers on their way to Air Force enlistment, Chris and Wayne Dixon (played by real-life brothers Jesse and Alan Vint), as well as a passenger they picked up along the way, Jenny (Cheryl Waters). A tragic case of mistaken identity ratchets up the stakes between the law and our heroes, which leads to a shocking ending that had audiences reeling out of the theater.

Compton wrangled up the cast himself from friends he knew who would be willing to work on a very low-budget film, a particularly big labor of love on Baer's part. Though shot during a particularly cold time in a five square-mile area around Sacramento, California, the film convincingly evokes the 1950s South by focusing on dusty, sparse roads and extensive nocturnal shooting. In keeping with the docudrama craze of the '70s, the filmmakers also cannily added a false claim at the beginning - "The story is true. Only the names and places have been changed." - when test audiences found some of the central plot points too coincidental to be plausible. Of course, even Fargo (1996) and its TV spin-off continued to pull off the exact same trick decades later.

In keeping with the drive-in tradition set by Roger Corman, the film also featured a large roster of women working behind the scenes. Particularly significant among them was film editor Tina Hirsch, who was on vacation in the area and was brought in to cut a couple of scenes when the original editor had to leave. "I wouldn't pay money to go see this movie, and I'm working on it!" she reacted at first to the initial footage, but the film turned out to be a major calling card for her and led to three Corman films: Big Bad Mama (1974), Death Race 2000 (1975) and Eat My Dust (1976). Another Corman apprentice, trailer cutter and future director Joe Dante, took notice of her skills and brought her along to cut two of his biggest studio films, Gremlins (1984) and Explorers (1985). Amusingly, Hirsch herself would go back to Corman to direct a particularly absurd Gremlins imitation, 1987's Munchies. Jesse Vint also jumped to B-movie leading man status after this film and jumped on the Corman train with Black Oak Conspiracy (1977), Deathsport (1978) and Forbidden World (1982), with the late Alan Vint also following suit with The Lady in Red (1979) and becoming the head of Robert Urich Productions for television.

Released in June of 1974 by American International Pictures, the film ended up grossing around $35 million, the highest grosses at the time in the 21-year history of AIP and, in relation to budget, the most profitable film of the year. The film also spawned a less successful sequel without Baer but directed by Compton, Return to Macon County (1975), which went in a more upbeat direction but had nowhere near the years-long staying power of this heartfelt success story.

By Nathaniel Thompson
Macon County Line

Macon County Line

Though drive-ins were popular all over the United States, they flourished like nowhere else in the American South. Since the 1950s, audiences rolled in at night for double and triple features packed with as many thrills and spills as possible, so it was just a matter of time before filmmakers decided to zoom in specifically on the South as a major part of the film itself. The big studio breakthrough of John Boorman's Deliverance (1972) singled out Georgia as a particularly effective setting, with its lush greenery and beautiful vistas also carrying a sinister quality for outsiders who might not know what they've stumbled into. Soon Georgia was all over screens with fast cars, cranky cops and psychopathic hillbillies running amuck, with one particular success, Gy Waldron's Moonrunners (1975), even spawning the hit TV series, The Dukes of Hazzard. Studios took notice of the trend, too, with Hal Needham and company cashing in big time with Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and a slew of imitators. However, the most profitable story out of this entire Georgia craze has to be a little underdog film called Macon County Line (1974). The title refers to the border of Macon County, a region that exists in three separate states (Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee) and is never specified in the actual film. However, the one in central Georgia named after esteemed North Carolina Congressman General Nathaniel Macon seems to fit the bill most closely given the look and tone of the film as well as the automatic associations with the town of Macon, Georgia, which (weirdly enough) is in a totally different county. Best known as Jethro Bodine from TV's The Beverly Hillbillies, actor Max Baer, Jr. found himself unemployed and decided to raise money himself to make a feature film. He teamed up with executive producer Roger Camras to put in $100,000 in cash for the $225,000 budget, with director Richard Compton brought in to helm the project and co-write the script. A discreet Roger Corman also managed to round up funds by hitting up his friends at his country club. Baer also assumed the dark, memorable role of Sheriff Reed Morgan, who's prepping his son (played by regular actor and pop star heartthrob Leif Garrett) for hunting season thanks to a recent discharge from military school. Morgan turns out to be trouble for two brothers on their way to Air Force enlistment, Chris and Wayne Dixon (played by real-life brothers Jesse and Alan Vint), as well as a passenger they picked up along the way, Jenny (Cheryl Waters). A tragic case of mistaken identity ratchets up the stakes between the law and our heroes, which leads to a shocking ending that had audiences reeling out of the theater. Compton wrangled up the cast himself from friends he knew who would be willing to work on a very low-budget film, a particularly big labor of love on Baer's part. Though shot during a particularly cold time in a five square-mile area around Sacramento, California, the film convincingly evokes the 1950s South by focusing on dusty, sparse roads and extensive nocturnal shooting. In keeping with the docudrama craze of the '70s, the filmmakers also cannily added a false claim at the beginning - "The story is true. Only the names and places have been changed." - when test audiences found some of the central plot points too coincidental to be plausible. Of course, even Fargo (1996) and its TV spin-off continued to pull off the exact same trick decades later. In keeping with the drive-in tradition set by Roger Corman, the film also featured a large roster of women working behind the scenes. Particularly significant among them was film editor Tina Hirsch, who was on vacation in the area and was brought in to cut a couple of scenes when the original editor had to leave. "I wouldn't pay money to go see this movie, and I'm working on it!" she reacted at first to the initial footage, but the film turned out to be a major calling card for her and led to three Corman films: Big Bad Mama (1974), Death Race 2000 (1975) and Eat My Dust (1976). Another Corman apprentice, trailer cutter and future director Joe Dante, took notice of her skills and brought her along to cut two of his biggest studio films, Gremlins (1984) and Explorers (1985). Amusingly, Hirsch herself would go back to Corman to direct a particularly absurd Gremlins imitation, 1987's Munchies. Jesse Vint also jumped to B-movie leading man status after this film and jumped on the Corman train with Black Oak Conspiracy (1977), Deathsport (1978) and Forbidden World (1982), with the late Alan Vint also following suit with The Lady in Red (1979) and becoming the head of Robert Urich Productions for television. Released in June of 1974 by American International Pictures, the film ended up grossing around $35 million, the highest grosses at the time in the 21-year history of AIP and, in relation to budget, the most profitable film of the year. The film also spawned a less successful sequel without Baer but directed by Compton, Return to Macon County (1975), which went in a more upbeat direction but had nowhere near the years-long staying power of this heartfelt success story. By Nathaniel Thompson

Macon County Line - MACON COUNTY LINE - 1974 Drive-in Classic on DVD


In Men, Women and Chainsaws, her landmark feminist study of the horror genre, author Carol Clover traces a strain of "urbanoia" in 70s fear films set within a hostile rural environment (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes) to fallout from the Vietnam War. The transition in these films from an urban setting to the country, Clover argues, is like "going from village to deep, dark forest in traditional fairy tales". Actually, that strain goes back even farther, from the leering innocuity of the once-popular traveling salesman jokes (in which a Northern merchant has an unpleasant but non-fatal experience when spending the night at a rural farmhouse and sharing a bed with the farmer's daughter) to Hershell Gordon Lewis' Two Thousand Maniacs (1964), a blood-soaked piss-take on Brigadoon in which a carload of Northern vacationers suffers the wrath of Southern ghosts still angry about losing the Civil War. The gory particulars of that blackest of comedies found their true crime counterparts that same year with the horrific murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, James Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The youths' abduction, torture and killing at the hands of several prominent local men on June 21, 1964, prompted then-President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act (pushed through congress between the time of the killings and the discovery of the bodies six weeks later) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These ghastly events directly inspired three feature films (the best known, 1988's Mississippi Burning) and indirectly informed an exploitation film subgenre concerned with the dark secrets of sleepy Southern towns and the grim prospects of Yankees who trespass there.

With its release in the summer of 1974, Macon County Line became the highest grossing feature of that year (relative to cost). Even a full generation after the fact, the film holds a special place in the hearts of those who prize 70s exploitation pictures, especially the ones who first saw this at a drive-in, where the soundtrack of squealing car tires and shotgun reports mixed with the chirruping of crickets and the lonely passage of wind in the treetops. Macon County Line has all the requisite urbanoiac ingredients – two brothers from Chicago are doing their On the Road thang prior to joining the Air Force when they pass through a no-name Louisiana town and find they've become suspects in the rape and murder of the deputy sheriff's beautiful wife – and its success led to a slew of like-minded rural actioners, among them A Small Town in Texas (1976), Jackson County Jail (1976) and its own sequel, Return to Macon County (1975), an early film for Nick Nolte. (Following much later, 1990's Macon County War with Dan Haggarty and 1997's Macon County Jail with David Carradine and Ally Sheedy are not sequels, direct or indirect, but rather cash-in copycat-come-latelys.) Macon County Line was the brainchild of Max Baer, Jr., a boyishly beefy actor who had enjoyed unexpected success playing the perpetually stupefied Jethro Bodine on the long-running CBS sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. As if inspired by the popularity of Deliverance (1972), American Graffiti (1973) and Walking Tall (1973), Baer's original story hits their profitable talking points of nostalgia and menace. His investment of a little more than $200,000 was handsomely repaid with a $30 million return – but more interesting than the payoff of Baer's gamble is the triumph of his original screenplay (credit for which he shares with director Richard Compton), which avoids clichés and pat resolutions to deliver an uncommonly thoughtful (yet nonetheless disturbing) treatise on misplaced suspicion and the wages of vengeance.

In subsequent films of this ilk, the passers-through are invariably the good guys and the locals invariably the villains; here, easy associations are thwarted by atypical characterizations. The Dixon Brothers, Chris and Wayne (played by real life brothers Alan and Jesse Vint, who appeared together that same year in Earthquake) are handsome and amusing but essentially amoral, stealing the purse from a New Orleans prostitute who serviced the both of them, skipping out on the check at a roadside diner and destroying a police cruiser to cover their escape. They are reckless, rootless and without purpose, although their encounter with runaway Jenny Scott (Cheryl Walters) does soften and humanize them a little. Chance (and, it should be said, contrivance) puts them into the jurisdiction of small town deputy sheriff Reed Morgan (Baer, throwing a surprising amount of shade), who is struggling to make ends meet (there is a lot of haggling and bartering among the residents of Macon County) and resents the presence of Northern hotrodders with no visible means of support. Reed is the film's most interesting character, a bona fide son of the South for whom tradition and procedure are paramount and for whom rigid boundaries are a bulwark against disorder. Reed is not wrong to suspect Chris and Wayne of stirring up trouble but in focusing on them so squarely he misses the arrival of the habitual criminals (Timothy Scott and James Gammon) who will bring horror and heartache into his life and precipitate an unexpected and shattering climax.

Macon County Line was first issued on DVD in 2000 by Anchor Bay Entertainment, who sweetened the deal with a director audio commentary by Richard Compton and the 8-minute featurette Macon County Line: 25 Years Down the Road, featuring Compton, Baer, producer Roger Camras and actors Jesse Vint and Geoffrey Lewis. Even better, the two-sided disc allowed viewers the option of watching the feature letterboxed or standard frame. With that disc long out of print (used copies sell on eBay for around $50), Warner Brothers Home Video's 2008 reissue is welcome but a disappointment all around. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer appears to be the same as that used in 2000 (which is to say a decent and colorful presentation of a low budget film made over thirty years ago) except that now there are absolutely no extras – not even the film's theatrical trailer ("It shouldn't have happened... it couldn't have happened... but it did"), not even a menu of chapter stops! English and French subtitles are optional. On the plus side, the disc is reasonably priced at $12.98 with many online retailers bettering the SRP by as much as a third.

For more information about Macon County Line, visit Warner Video. To order Macon County Line, go to TCM Shopping

by Richard Harland Smith

Macon County Line - MACON COUNTY LINE - 1974 Drive-in Classic on DVD

In Men, Women and Chainsaws, her landmark feminist study of the horror genre, author Carol Clover traces a strain of "urbanoia" in 70s fear films set within a hostile rural environment (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes) to fallout from the Vietnam War. The transition in these films from an urban setting to the country, Clover argues, is like "going from village to deep, dark forest in traditional fairy tales". Actually, that strain goes back even farther, from the leering innocuity of the once-popular traveling salesman jokes (in which a Northern merchant has an unpleasant but non-fatal experience when spending the night at a rural farmhouse and sharing a bed with the farmer's daughter) to Hershell Gordon Lewis' Two Thousand Maniacs (1964), a blood-soaked piss-take on Brigadoon in which a carload of Northern vacationers suffers the wrath of Southern ghosts still angry about losing the Civil War. The gory particulars of that blackest of comedies found their true crime counterparts that same year with the horrific murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, James Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The youths' abduction, torture and killing at the hands of several prominent local men on June 21, 1964, prompted then-President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Civil Rights Act (pushed through congress between the time of the killings and the discovery of the bodies six weeks later) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These ghastly events directly inspired three feature films (the best known, 1988's Mississippi Burning) and indirectly informed an exploitation film subgenre concerned with the dark secrets of sleepy Southern towns and the grim prospects of Yankees who trespass there. With its release in the summer of 1974, Macon County Line became the highest grossing feature of that year (relative to cost). Even a full generation after the fact, the film holds a special place in the hearts of those who prize 70s exploitation pictures, especially the ones who first saw this at a drive-in, where the soundtrack of squealing car tires and shotgun reports mixed with the chirruping of crickets and the lonely passage of wind in the treetops. Macon County Line has all the requisite urbanoiac ingredients – two brothers from Chicago are doing their On the Road thang prior to joining the Air Force when they pass through a no-name Louisiana town and find they've become suspects in the rape and murder of the deputy sheriff's beautiful wife – and its success led to a slew of like-minded rural actioners, among them A Small Town in Texas (1976), Jackson County Jail (1976) and its own sequel, Return to Macon County (1975), an early film for Nick Nolte. (Following much later, 1990's Macon County War with Dan Haggarty and 1997's Macon County Jail with David Carradine and Ally Sheedy are not sequels, direct or indirect, but rather cash-in copycat-come-latelys.) Macon County Line was the brainchild of Max Baer, Jr., a boyishly beefy actor who had enjoyed unexpected success playing the perpetually stupefied Jethro Bodine on the long-running CBS sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. As if inspired by the popularity of Deliverance (1972), American Graffiti (1973) and Walking Tall (1973), Baer's original story hits their profitable talking points of nostalgia and menace. His investment of a little more than $200,000 was handsomely repaid with a $30 million return – but more interesting than the payoff of Baer's gamble is the triumph of his original screenplay (credit for which he shares with director Richard Compton), which avoids clichés and pat resolutions to deliver an uncommonly thoughtful (yet nonetheless disturbing) treatise on misplaced suspicion and the wages of vengeance. In subsequent films of this ilk, the passers-through are invariably the good guys and the locals invariably the villains; here, easy associations are thwarted by atypical characterizations. The Dixon Brothers, Chris and Wayne (played by real life brothers Alan and Jesse Vint, who appeared together that same year in Earthquake) are handsome and amusing but essentially amoral, stealing the purse from a New Orleans prostitute who serviced the both of them, skipping out on the check at a roadside diner and destroying a police cruiser to cover their escape. They are reckless, rootless and without purpose, although their encounter with runaway Jenny Scott (Cheryl Walters) does soften and humanize them a little. Chance (and, it should be said, contrivance) puts them into the jurisdiction of small town deputy sheriff Reed Morgan (Baer, throwing a surprising amount of shade), who is struggling to make ends meet (there is a lot of haggling and bartering among the residents of Macon County) and resents the presence of Northern hotrodders with no visible means of support. Reed is the film's most interesting character, a bona fide son of the South for whom tradition and procedure are paramount and for whom rigid boundaries are a bulwark against disorder. Reed is not wrong to suspect Chris and Wayne of stirring up trouble but in focusing on them so squarely he misses the arrival of the habitual criminals (Timothy Scott and James Gammon) who will bring horror and heartache into his life and precipitate an unexpected and shattering climax. Macon County Line was first issued on DVD in 2000 by Anchor Bay Entertainment, who sweetened the deal with a director audio commentary by Richard Compton and the 8-minute featurette Macon County Line: 25 Years Down the Road, featuring Compton, Baer, producer Roger Camras and actors Jesse Vint and Geoffrey Lewis. Even better, the two-sided disc allowed viewers the option of watching the feature letterboxed or standard frame. With that disc long out of print (used copies sell on eBay for around $50), Warner Brothers Home Video's 2008 reissue is welcome but a disappointment all around. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer appears to be the same as that used in 2000 (which is to say a decent and colorful presentation of a low budget film made over thirty years ago) except that now there are absolutely no extras – not even the film's theatrical trailer ("It shouldn't have happened... it couldn't have happened... but it did"), not even a menu of chapter stops! English and French subtitles are optional. On the plus side, the disc is reasonably priced at $12.98 with many online retailers bettering the SRP by as much as a third. For more information about Macon County Line, visit Warner Video. To order Macon County Line, go to TCM Shopping by Richard Harland Smith

Quotes

Trivia

It was one of the highest grossing independently financed movies of 1974. The success of the film inspired the sequel Return to Macon County (1975).

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video April 27, 1988

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1974

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1974

Released in United States on Video April 27, 1988