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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: Return To Macon County (1975) review


Nick Nolte (Bo Hollinger), Don Johnson (Harley McKay), Robin Mattson (Junell), Robert Viharo (Sgt. Whittaker)

Directed by Richard Compton

The Short Version: Compton's sequel to his own MACON COUNTY LINE tries to fire on all cylinders but sputters every so often before finally running out of gas. The movie finds its way during the last twenty minutes picking up speed and ending with a nice touch of poetic justice, but with little direction outside of seeing two future major stars in early roles. Even with some nudity and a bit of violence, this is a relatively tame experience in MACON COUNTY.

Bo and Harley are on their way cross country from Georgia to California to enter into the Grand Nationals drag race. Along the way they meet Junell, a free spirited and unhinged young girl who plans to travel along with them on their trip. This includes getting into trouble with some drag racing hoodlums, causing a few accidents and riling police sergeant Whittaker who ignores his superiors and chases the three cross state lines. After an ugly altercation at a grocery store, things turn sour for the trio as Whittaker becomes more determined to catch them with the intent of putting them away, or killing them in the process.

Having directed the huge drive in success that was MACON COUNTY LINE, Compton returned for this AIP cash in that is nowhere near as suspenseful nor provocative. This being more of a chase picture, it's also lacking the characterizations and social subtext of the first film. It's not for a lack of trying, though, as there is a decent amount of exposition between the three main leads with the most complicated and threatening being that of Junell. Had she not tagged along, it's less likely Bo and Harley would have invited quite as much trouble as they do. Granted, none of the main participants are free of guilt, but Junell's pseudo psychotic tendencies put them all in a lot of danger. Sadly, the film isn't very successful in conveying much sympathy, or emotional response for these characters or for anyone else for that matter.

The most notable thing about this RETURN is seeing Nolte and Johnson in such early roles as two Georgia good ol' boys. Aside from that, there's little else of interest here in this disappointing sequel. The script (also by Compton) is obviously patterned after Compton's original, but erases the stark terror, isolation and grim atmosphere of that film and replaces it with car chases, races and a much lighter tone. If you found the first films slow build and social relevance boring, than you will probably find this sequel preferable. Being set in 1958, the soundtrack is loaded with 50s favorites so those with a penchant for oldies will get a charge out of the score.

The attempt at building the characters goes nowhere and when the film isn't firing off scenes of teen delinquency, it's sputtering on fumes. The entrance of the bad policeman isn't till late in the proceedings and his character isn't half as interesting or complex as Max Baer's in the original movie. It's just not that interesting a movie plain and simple. For a much better example of MACON COUNTY LINE take a trip to A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS (1976), another AIP movie, but a much more tense and successful version of Compton's smash hit.

The best sequence in the entire film and the only moment Compton shows any of the brilliance from his previous movie (and even his earlier WELCOME HOME, SOLDIER BOYS [1972]) is an hour into the flick during the grocery store scene. After a night of sex with a stranger in a car (Harley can't screw in a bed, you see), Harley realizes his wallet is missing. He finds it hidden in his boot while in a grocery store; his money all their and a note from the girl he had his fling with. They're elated, but meanwhile, Junell is attempting to get the grocery owners to donate $25 to contribute to the $300 entry fee for the California race. Needless to say, things go badly and problems are only exacerbated for our main characters. It's at this point where Bo and Harley regain sight of their plans and Junell seems to be oblivious to the real world around her. It's at this point an actual movie begins to take shape, but by the sixty minute mark, it's too late. The ending is also an intriguing bit of poetic justice, but this, too, loses some of its punch as the audience could care less for the crazed cop character--he's absent from much of the film and isn't given much exposition to begin with, nor enough reasoning for his obsession with killing the the trio aside from Bo beating him up earlier in the movie.

RETURN TO MACON COUNTY (1975) has yet to be released on DVD in America and I am unaware if it's on DVD in another country. However, it has been released on VHS and does turn up occasionally on cable. Gaining clearance for the sheer volume of songs would likely be problematic these days and probably not financially viable especially for an obscure movie such as this. Having more in common with DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY (1974) than the 'Danger In Dixie' movies that MACON COUNTY made popular, Compton's follow up may not be a direct RETURN to familiar territory, but it's worth a look for seeing two stars not yet in their prime. Aside from that, there's very little else of interest here. The rollicking tunes and occasional car chases don't hurt, but this is an anemic presentation when compared to the impressive first film.

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