The movie of course is not based on Andy Taylor -- Andy Griffith's character in The Andy Griffith Show -- but there are a fair share of similarities between the TV sitcom character and the main star here, Gregory Peck. Directed by John Frankenheimer, 'Line' jumps right into the premise of small-town life in the south is like where big-city life seems like a far off thing and the excitement is minimal. But what if something came along -- for one person at least -- that livened things up even for a little bit? Would you embrace it or pass it up? So goes Pecks' dilemma.
As the peace officer in a small Tennessee town, Sheriff Tawes (Peck) just doesn't have much to do. His home life is quiet without much in the way of fireworks (good or bad), and he spends his days patrolling back roads and making sure everything is up to snuff. One day he pulls over a truck driving wildly down the road and meets Alma McClain (Tuesday Weld), a teenage girl who is lively and exciting in a way little else is in his life. They quickly start seeing each other -- secretly of course, this is the South -- only to have Alma's moonshiner father (Ralph Meeker) blackmail Tawes for protection so his moonshining business can keep going. As long as the sheriff gets to see Alma, he doesn't seem to care, but his hushed up affair becomes an issue when an FBI agent (Lonny Chapman) shows up with orders to clean out any moonshiners in the area.
This performance for Peck is quite a departure from his usual roles where he usually played stout men of principles where good was good and bad was bad. Frankenheimer wisely doesn't paint Tawes as a hero or as a bad guy, instead just showing him as a man who's frustrated with the path his life has took. Through Weld's Alma, Tawes sees a chance to be happy, to be young again. Peck pulls this all off perfectly, like a man about to explode. With anything involving an older man and a younger woman (Alma's age is never specified, 19, 20 maybe?), there's a certain element of creepiness, but for the most part it is kept to a minimum. Give Peck credit, he goes right up to that line of crazy, obsession love without going over...just barely.
Making his obsession fully understandable is Tuesday Weld because, well, she looks like she does. The 27-year old actress is playing a part that is slightly younger than her, but this bubbly blond with the huge smile makes it easy to understand why a middle-aged man would feel the way he does about her. What I liked about the character was the question of if she was playing Tawes for his protection or because she was genuinely interested in him, had real feelings for him. Her motives are established late, leading to an ending that surprised me, but it certainly works as a "real" ending. Also worth mentioning in the cast is Meeker in a smaller part as Alma's father Carl (subtle creepy incest hinted at), and Charles Durning as Hunnicutt, Tawes' deputy who always sticks his nose where it doesn't belong.
My biggest issue isn't in what we do see, but what we don't see. Tawes gets involved with Alma very quickly without much in the way of character background. It's obvious he is bored to death by his job, family and life in general, but there's only one scene that even shows it, a dinner scene with his wife (Estelle Parsons), their daughter and Tawes' father. The peaceable sheriff looks like he's about to kill them all in a fit of rage. I'm not looking for 30 minutes of mind-killing boredom where we saw Tawes and his descent, but even a little more background would have been interesting.
One review I read accurately identified 'Line' as a movie that feels like a folk song, a country ballad, and he's dead-on. Singer Johnny Cash handles the soundtrack (including title song "I Walk the Line"), helping the movie move along in the montage sequences as Tawes and Alma sneak off to be together. Frankenheimer filmed in Tennessee, giving the story a sense of being separated from the rest of the world in this tiny backroads town. It feels like you're there with them and not some movie studio set. For an underrated, different movie, give this a try. Watch it at Youtube starting here with Part 1 of 10.
I Walk the Line <---TCM trailer (1970): ** 1/2 /****