Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Macon County Line

Macon County Line (1974) was a primary entry in a genre of films that emphasized the South as a place of violence, vigilante justice, and hostility to people from outside the region. In such films as Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) and 2001 Maniacs (2005) and in such more reputable films as Easy Rider (1969) and Deliverance (1972) down-home Southerners were portrayed as depraved and vicious.

In Macon County Line two hipsters on their way to enlist in the army pick up a Southern girl on her way to Dallas. The hipsters—college-age boys—the girl is 20—have little money. Their car breaks down in a small town that is apparently Macon, Georgia. While it is being repaired, they meet the local deputy sheriff, Reed Morgan (Max Baer), who is hostile but who after some intimidation lets them go their way. Later, their car breaks down again—ironically—just in front of Deputy Morgan's house. His wife has just been raped and murdered by two hoodlums. When Deputy Morgan discovers the crime and sees the car, he assumes the boys and their female friend committed the crime. With his ten-year-old son in tow, he chases them down. Murders ensue.

Though this is a poorly made low-grade film, Deputy Morgan is not as simple as one would think. He wears a Confederate flag shoulder patch on his uniform. He is pretty much a product of his times. He loves his wife and is kind to her. He buys an expensive gun (a 12-gauge shotgun) for his son, Luke, whom he loves. He imagines giving the shotgun to his son and then going hunting with him. When his son explains that he would rather play baseball with friends, Deputy Morgan finally agrees to delay their hunting trip until later. Morgan sees his son talking to some black kids and explains that the roles of society dictate that blacks and whites do not spend time together—they live and go to school separately.

What the film seeks to demonstrate—above and beyond the fact of the South's savage violence—is that a violent heritage breeds violence. The deputy sends his son to a military school and wants to instill in him the same racial values and love of hunting that he holds. His idea of an expression of love is a 12-gauge shotgun. At the end of the film, as he hunts the people he believes have killed his wife, his son makes good on that heritage by shooting and killing the girl and one of the boys. At the beginning of the film, an ominous message on the screen suggests that the story about to be told is based on true events. At the end, a similar message informs us that Luke at the age of 29 still resides in a mental institution, where he will remain for the rest of his life. It is as if the supposedly factual basis of the film is somehow meant to justify the exploitative nature of the violence in the film.

There is little suspense or pacing in the film, which fundamentally lacks excitement. The best scene involves a romantic tryst in a watering trough.

Despite the deputy sheriff's lecture to his son about race relations, and despite the incompetence and corruption that pervades local law enforcement, the film curiously avoids any commentary on contemporary Southern affairs—it is set back in the early 1950s--1954, to be exact. We see the deputy's wife watching the Joe McCarthy hearings shortly before she is raped and murdered. McCarthy himself was a public official who like Deputy Reed ran amuck and became besotted with power. I doubt Max Baer intended this film to be a commentary on McCarthyism.

Max Baer, of course, played Jethro Bodine for a decade on the popular 1960s The Beverly Hillbillies television series.

1 comment:

Thornbird Farms said...

Even though the film is a little slow, I think there are some ironies and had the potential to add more "morals to the story". There was some talk about a remake. If this were so, I would certainly add more excitement and substance. I am still a little unclear on who shot Morgan in the end...was it the boy or the kids?