In Lousiana during 1954, two roguish brothers (Alan Vint and Jesse Vint) are driving through the South as a final exploit before enlisting in the Army. After picking up a hitchhiker (Cheryl Waters), their car breaks down and they are hanging around a garage waiting for it to be fixed when local Sheriff Morgan (Max Baer Jr) shows up and warns them to to stay out of trouble. Meanwhile, a couple of dangerous drifters are making their way across the state, leading to a deadly case of mistaken identity for the brothers.
When The Beverly Hillbillies ended its run on television, Max Baer Jr found himself out of work, so he devised this odd thriller instead. It proved to be a shrewd move, because Macon County Line was a big hit, especially at the drive-in; Baer produced, co-wrote (with the director Richard Compton) and starred in the film. A title at the start informs us that this is a true story (which it isn't), and only the names and places have been changed, but the strange atmosphere, which changes from easygoing comedy to dread and horror, has a feeling of authenticity anyway.
Even in the earlier stages, we're not sure how to take the Dixon brothers. When they pick up hitchhiking Jenny, they tell her that they are being forced to enlist or else they will have to serve three years in prison, but as they spin their tale it becomes more ridiculous and hard to believe. The mechanic (a great bit by Geoffrey Lewis) refuses any payment except cash, which the brothers don't have, so they respond by fetching a pump action shotgun from the car - we think, uh-oh, here's trouble, but all they want to do is trade it for the new part for their engine.
Although the brothers get up to their fair share of escapades, like cheating a diner waitress out of her money, when the two psychotic drifters appear the plot takes shape; you can tell it's heading for tragedy. Sheriff Morgan may be a pillar of the community, but he's not entirely admirable, as under that charm beats the heart of a racist and violent man. He is teaching his young son (Leif Garrett) to shoot hunting rifles, all the while warning him to stay away from the local black kids, and when the tragedy does indeed strike, he jumps to conclusions without stopping to ask questions.
The police aren't treated sympathetically, and the spirit of the times is evident when they hassle the Dixons: it's the youth against the powers that be all over again, more in keeping with a 1970s outlook than a 1950s one. When the drifters are picked up after causing mayhem, the arresting officer throws the lawbook out the window in the interrogation room, never mind that you may think the criminals deserve what they get (although they are shown to be unhinged). At the end, the innocent have suffered, and no one is left untouched by the night's events. By adeptly tying up the threads of the plot, Macon County Line does stand out as one of the better drive-in successes, despite feeling like two different movies joined together. Music by Stu Phillips, and the title song is sung by Bobbie Gentry.
American writer and director of low budget projects who scored his biggest hit with Macon County Line. Other seventies films include Angels Die Hard, Welcome Home Soldier Boys, Return to Macon County and Ransom. In the eighties he moved into directing television full time (Star Trek TNG, The X-Files, Babylon 5, etc). He is the husband of Veronica Cartwright.