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Roger Van Hool
Richly atmospheric, "Macon County Line" veritably drips 1950s backwoods Louisiana, in a story about two good-humored, shiftless dudes, both laid-back and basically decent, who joyride through the South, with no particular goal in mind. Along the way they pick up a young, attractive Southern belle. But a car problem puts them at the mercy of local hicks, including a White, bullying cop (Max Baer Jr.), prejudiced against Blacks and outsiders.
The plot starts out with some red-light hi-jinx, augmented by lush color visuals and great music, like the Black gospel song "Keep On Keeping On" which conveys the film's subtle theme. The slow-paced story fits the hot, lazy Southern weather. And as we get to know the main characters on their daytime journey, we sense something is going to happen. We just don't know what or when.
As night falls the tone turns ominous. Danger lurks in coincidence. And the story morphs into a kind of allegory that renders it timeless. Terrific suspense makes the last twenty minutes spellbinding ... human prey trying to escape a killer in the brushy backwoods at night, no music, just the natural sounds of frogs and crickets ... tense ... the killer is somewhere in the woods ... two people hear footsteps, a door opens, death is close at hand ... silence.
The film's visuals are grainy, which contributes to a nostalgic, dreamlike quality. Production design is authentic. Casting and acting are fine, and considerably better than one would expect for this genre of film.
I think people were surprised at the time by its success. Certainly, it could never be made today. And that probably ups its status now as a cult classic. "Macon County Line", in addition to being a fine Gothic story set in an atmospheric South, evokes nostalgia for an era and pace of life gone forever.
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