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Troubled Waters

Insatiable film lover that I am, I’ve been catching up on hidden gems missed in my decades-long career of movie watching. I recently caught Macon County Line, the brainchild of Max Baer and one of the most successful indies ever made. Baer became a household name playing Jethro Bodine in the ‘60s hit sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies, and when the show ran its course, he was so typecast he couldn’t find work. Baer fought back by writing a screenplay, casting himself in a supporting role, putting on his producer’s hat and beating Hollywood at its own game. Made for a little over $100,000, Macon County Line was a cult smash that eventually earned over $35 million in movie houses and rentals. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

Released in 1974, the film remains one of the most profitable indies in history and retains a cult following to this day.

Released in 1974, the film remains one of the most profitable indies in history and retains a cult following to this day.

Admittedly, the shoestring budget is sometimes distracting and, yes, you’ll think you’ve seen it all before as a couple of Southern good old boys (real-life brothers Alan and Jesse Vint) booze, brawl, whore and carouse their way across Louisiana before reporting for military duty.  In classic road movie fashion, they pick up a pretty hitchhiker (Cheryl Waters) to provide romantic interest as they encounter misadventures at every turn. Their enthusiasm was so contagious I couldn’t help rooting for them and enjoying their footloose journey. It was destined to turn treacherous, of course, and those bayou waters get troubled soon after they meet the Sheriff of Macon County (Baer).

Sheriff Max Baer warns Alan (left) and Jess Vint and Cheryl Waters about the penalty for vagrants in Macon County.

Sheriff Max Baer warns Alan (left) and Jess Vint and Cheryl Waters about the penalty for vagrants in Macon County.

What sets Macon County Line apart from other low-budget road movies is that it deftly dodges the worst of the deep-fried, redneck clichés and delivers a climactic plot knot you won’t see coming. I won’t rank it with the Big Reveals of Fight Club or The Sixth Sense, but it not only packs a wallop forty years later but is more relevant today than ever. What Baer put out was a cautionary twist that revisits the senseless shootings in Santa Barbara, New Town, Columbine, etc. and is an unsettling reminder that the sad cry  for sane gun control remains unheard. Macon County Line haunted me long after Bobbie Gentry (remember her?) finished singing over those disturbing final credits.

3 Comments

  1. Karen Derderian
    Jul 7, 2014

    oooooh, this critique is so good. Had no idea about the many hats Max Baer wore. I never did see this movie and will put it at the top of my Netflix queue. Thanks for the memories and yes, I remember, loved and even bought the 45 single for Bobbie Gentry’s song!

  2. Karen Derderian
    Jul 7, 2014

    Michael, I just played Ode to Billy Joe on You Tube. It still is as great a song now as it was then.

  3. Liz
    Jul 15, 2014

    Michael, I’m late coming to this party, but better late than never…

    Now I really want to see this movie! I’ll be on the lookout for it. Thanks for the tip.
    XOXO

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