Mayhem, Murder, and Mistaken Identities on the MACON COUNTY LINE (1974)

AIP’s Cult Classic arrives on Blu-ray from Shout Select

It seems most synopses of Macon County Line focus on the redneck Sheriff (Max Baer) and his quest for vengeance when his wife is butchered by a couple of drifters, launching an attack on a pair of brothers that he mistakes for the murderers.

That’s not entirely inaccurate; technically it sums up the film’s plot — but it takes about 45 minutes to get there, and therein lies my point of frustration with the film.

Macon County Line’s back half is a riveting mistaken-identity action-thriller with a brilliant concept. Three young road trippers — two brothers and a female hitchhiker they pick up — are targeted by an outraged sheriff who thinks they are the transients who murdered his wife. They’re innocent of the crime but on the wrong side of the law, and the law isn’t taking any prisoners.

Unfortunately, as a whole the film isn’t nearly as incredible. The plot is dependent on empathizing with the trio, yet the film’s entire first half is spent establishing what utterly unlikable assholes the brothers are – a pair of idiot goons on a destructive joyride of stealing, pranking, and just generally being rude jerks to everyone they encounter. There’s a vileness to their hellraising, unlike the good-natured antics of, say, your typical Burt Reynolds character. Ultimately you still take their side because they don’t deserve to die for their crimes (and certainly not for someone else’s), but it’s a weird narrative choice that made the film far less enjoyable for me.

Faring only slightly better is Max Baer’s country sheriff — he’s a loving father and seemingly decent cop, but gets openly aggressive and suspicious with any outsiders who visit his community, and is revealed to be a closeted racist to boot. While his instincts about the outsiders in town aren’t far off, his prejudices make him quick to jump to conclusions with disastrous consequences.

In fact, the only truly innocent character in the film is the Sheriff’s young son, a sensitive and disciplined boy who seems destined to grow up into the racism and ignorance of his parents — and even his innocence is lost.

When Macon County Line gets going it really cooks, leading up to a killer finish, but the characters – on all sides – are such a menagerie of deplorables that it’s a challenge to get invested. Anyone going in expecting an light-hearted, chase-filled actioner based on the poster or typical genre trends will likely be disappointed; this is a meaner and more serious story than your typical southern-fried road movie.

The Package

Macon County Line arrived on Blu-ray this week as Spine #39 in Shout! Factory’s Shout Select line, touting DTS-HD Master Mono, English subtitles, and a number of special features.

Picture quality fares well — it’s not exactly a visually-oriented film but close-ups reveal a good level of detail and there’s even some interesting cinematography at play that gets highlighted nicely.

Special Features and Extras

  • NEW “Cutting The Line” (21:43)
    Interview With Editor Tina Hirsch, who describes cutting her teeth as a new editor, a position which on the small production involved wearing many more hats than the title normally suggests.
  • Audio Commentary With Director Richard Compton
  • “Macon County Line: 25 Years Down The Road” (7:56)
    Vintage retrospective featurette with interviews of cast and crew: director Richard Compton, executive producer Roger Camras, and stars Max Baer, Jesse Vint, and Geoffrey Lewis. Produced and directed by Bill Lustig!
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:58)
    Just my guess but this appears to be a new reassembly of the original trailer using new HD materials.

  • Radio Spot (1:01)
  • Image Gallery (1:15)

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have slight compression inherent to file formats. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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