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Country Goes to the Movies, part VII: I Walk the Line

By Robert Loy, November 1997

I know, I know, I promised this time around we'd be looking at "You Light Up My Life," but, um, my dog ate that video...yeah, that's it. So it'll have to wait till next time. But don't fret, "I Walk the Line" is even better - no, not better in terms of acting, plot or cinematography, but it does have some great Johnny Cash tunes on the soundtrack.

Gregory Peck plays the dissatisfied middle-aged sheriff of a small Southern town full of rusty old cars and "Deliverance"-looking hillpeople. It's sort of like Mayberry, only more menacing.

One day he spots Tuesday Weld joy-riding in a prehistoric truck with her 10-year-old brother Buddy. He chases them, the truck runs into a ditch, Buddy takes off.

Sheriff Peck says to Tuesday, "There was a boy driving this truck, and you're sure not a boy, are you?" (Nothing gets by this great investigator.) He's too busy checking out Tuesday's ta-tas to notice the truck is full of white lightning.

Back at the homestead that night, Peck is pensive, but whether he's thinking of Tuesday Weld or remembering the old days when he got good roles like Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird" is unclear. You can tell what a warm person Peck is at home by the way both his wife and daughter call him "Sheriff."

Tuesday's Pa has a lot on his mind too. "How do you know he smelled you most? How you know he ain't smell whiskey most?" he asked his daughter. "If we lose that still, we ain't got nothin'." Actually they ain't got nothin' now except a run-down shack, a broke-down truck and unidentified frying objects for dinner.

Soon Tuesday heads down to the courthouse to see the sheriff. He buys her a Dr. Pepper, which she chokes on and snorts out her nose.

Naturally Peck cannot resist this coquettish behavior, and soon they're parked on a dirt road, fogging up the windows in the squad car.

At home, Peck continues to brood. (He doesn't say 10 words to his family during the whole movie.) He always tries to schedule his trysts with Tuesday for when her Pa and brothers are out, but they know about the affair. Dad's all for it, as a matter of fact. It could be worse, he reckons, if they lived in Los Angeles she might have gotten involved with detective Joe Friday, married him and become Tuesday Friday. Plus Pa figures as long as Peck is doing Tuesday the white lightning biz is safe.

Which probably would be true, except that there's a federal revenue agent in town, looking for stills. And Deputy Charles Durning, who has been spending his days eating pastry and reading pornography is suddenly jealous of Peck's teenybopper tootsie, so he's not so anxious to turn a blind eye to illegal whiskey-making. Peck has a feeling that things are going to go bad for his girlfriend and her family. He considers offering her a job as his girl Tuesday - er, Friday - but instead asks her to run away with him. She thinks he's kidding. So does her Pa. "If he's gonna run off with you, he better get us a new cook first." (preferably one who can deep fat fry everything including salad).

Tuesday's family's idea of a big night on the town is to take the truck to the drive-in to see the new Jerry Lewis movie. Peck and his family are there too. But they're not laughing and hollering - probably because they're drinking store-bought beverages not homemade ones.

"You're a good man," Tuesday tells Peck, but his wife (who looks enough like the deputy that Durning might be playing a dual role, a la Max Baer's Jethro/Jethrene) might not agree, since every time her husband hears Johnny Cash sing "Flesh and blood needs flesh and blood," he takes off for a taste of Tuesday.

Actually his wife is pretty understanding. She says that the Reader's Digest told her that a man of Peck's age and limited acting range will occasionally seek out young girls who look sort of like Deana Carter. Still Peck won't talk to her.

Peck does show emotion though. When he finds out Tuesday has a husband in prison, he gets mad and slaps her. He is upset and surprised to find out that this adulterous unlicensed-driving moonshiner may not be a model of morality. A quick roll in the hay and he feels better. He knows, however, that it's just a matter of time before the Dep and the Fed find the still.

"Go home and pack your bags," he tells her. "Meet me tomorrow morning, after the family goes to work."

Tuesday is uncertain, and not just because she's never heard the sheriff say more than four words in a row.

The deputy comes to see Tuesday. He knows about the sheriff's affair, and he's obviously hoping to horn in on the action. But this tobacco-spitting deputy is no ladies man. Oh, he tries; tells her what a pretty girl she is, and brags about his cousin who judges the Miss Knoxville contest. He implies he can get her the crown and maybe a trip to Atlantic City, which he says is in "Vermont someplace."

Tuesday declines; she may not be particularly picky, but a man's got to know a little more about geography than that.

So he shoots her watchdog - a surefire way to win a woman.Unfortunately, Pa and the boys are watching, and dog-despising Deputy Durning meets a dastardly death.

Tuesday runs off to pack up her frying pans (that may take a while) as her family digs a new domicile for the deceased deputy. Peck comes upon this operation and takes over. He throws Durning's body in the river and then heads back to pick up his girlfriend.

He searches all through the house where they were supposed to meet but in the immortal words of Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Tuesday's Gone." He adds speeding to his long list of crimes, chases after Tuesday, shoots her brother and punches out her father before she finally gets it through that thick head of his that she is not going anywhere with him.

How does she do this? Well, let's just say that Tuesday is proficient with other kitchen tools besides frying pans - sharper tools - and that Peck's flesh and blood now needs a doctor a lot more than it needs a girlfriend.