A married backwoods Tennessee sheriff falls in love with a teenager whose father is a moonshiner. The sheriff becomes involved in the illicit operations, making sure his men and federal agents stay clear of the stills. When a deputy stumbles upon the still and is killed, this makes the sheriff an accomplice to the crime.
Definitely not to be confused with 2005's much-honored Walk the Line
, director John Frankenheimer's 1970 film I Walk the Line
uses the music of Johnny Cash to tell a very different story. Gregory Peck is Henry Tawes, the sheriff of a depressed and depressing rural backwater whose life goes pretty much straight into the outhouse once he lays eyes on Alma McCain (Tuesday Weld), daughter of a local moonshiner. Bored with his job and his home life alike, Tawes may not suffer fools, but he's only too willing to become one once Alma, an irresistible and much
younger Tennessee tart (Peck was in his mid-fifties at the time; Weld was nearly three decades behind him), starts pulling his strings at the behest of her pa (Ralph Meeker), who's using his daughter to help, uh, persuade the sheriff to overlook his criminal activities. It's obvious from the git-go that none of this will turn out well for our hero, and while Frankenheimer (who directed the original Manchurian Candidate
) and screenwriter Alvin Sargent (a future Oscar winner for Ordinary People
) do a decent job of keeping the tension mounting, the film never quite catches fire. Part of that is due to the measured, laconic performance delivered by Peck, who has a certain dignity that keeps him from really inhabiting his role; much more convincing is Charles Durning as his deputy, a donut-eating, law-bending Southern slug. On the other hand, it's always nice to hear Cash delivering the classic title song, even if his several other tunes featured in I Walk the Line
fall somewhat short of that standard. --Sam Graham