|I Walk the Line|
|Directed by||John Frankenheimer|
|Produced by||Harold D. Cohen|
|Screenplay by||Alvin Sargent|
|Based on||An Exile|
by Madison Jones
|Music by||Johnny Cash|
|Cinematography||David M. Walsh|
|Edited by||Henry Berman|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
I Walk the Line is a 1970 American neo noir drama film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld. It tells the story of Sheriff Henry Tawes (Peck) who develops a relationship with a girl in town, Alma McCain (Weld). The screenplay, written by Alvin Sargent, is an adaptation of Madison Jones' novel An Exile. The I Walk the Line soundtrack is by Johnny Cash; it features his 1956 hit song of the same name. The movie was filmed on location in Gainesboro, Jackson County, Tennessee and Center Hill Lake and Dam in Central Tennessee.
Henry Tawes is an aging sheriff in small-town of Gainesboro, Tennessee, who is becoming bored with his wife, Ellen, and his life. He meets young Alma McCain, oldest daughter and de facto housewife of a poor family led by her single parent father. Her age is ambiguous, but she is clearly far younger than Henry.
Henry and Alma become romantically and physically involved, meeting secretly at various points around their town, particularly an abandoned house. Her family quickly learns and is very accepting of the relationship, appearing also to take his forceful advice to destroy their still and all evidence it had existed before a visiting excise official named Bascomb returns and is likely to find it. Henry Tawes clearly doesn't see harm in the manufacture of moonshine but needs to balance his personal views and his role as county sheriff. The couple start to discuss running away together.
A deputy, Hunnicutt, starts taking an active interest in the McCains, ignoring warnings from Tawes to leave them alone. Henry's wife also starts to suspect that he is having an affair and confronts him about it, although she is apparently more concerned about pleasing him and protecting her family than his obvious infidelities. Against this background, Bascomb returns to the town and organizes a systematic search of the county, with the McCains being a family of particular interest because of prior history of the father; Henry also learns from him that Alma is married, her husband being in prison; at their next meeting he becomes angry with her about the fact she hadn't told him, but then they make love and he proposes that they run away together. She is reluctant, fearing the response of her family, but they arrange to meet and leave for California early the next day.
In the meantime, however, Deputy Hunicutt visits the McCain family, clearly looking for an illegal still, where he meets Alma. After an argument, the deputy draws his weapon and shoots dead the family dog in front of her, an act witnessed from a distance by her father and brothers.
The film cuts forward to scenes of Sheriff Henry Tawes being informed that his deputy is missing and the McCain family frantically packing up their still. Tawes visits the McCain family to find them disposing of Hunicutt's body. He tells them to "clear out", and with them gone, disposes of the deputy's body himself by weighting it and dropping it into a nearby reservoir. As he returns from disposing the deputy's body, he is met by Bascomb, who has found the remains of the McCains still. Believing she isn't with her family, Henry starts searching frantically for Alma as soon as he can. Unable to find her, he pursues the McCain family out of the county, finding her with them; he ends up fighting with her father and brother, shooting her father, but Alma attacks him with a farmer's hook. Neither injury is fatal. Leaving him in the road, alive and conscious but badly injured, the McCains drive off.
- Gregory Peck as Sheriff Tawes
- Tuesday Weld as Alma McCain
- Estelle Parsons as Ellen
- Ralph Meeker as Carl McCain
- Lonny Chapman as Bascomb
- Charles Durning as Hunnicutt
- Jeff Dalton as Clay McCain
- Freddie McCloud as Buddy McCain
- Jane Rose as Elsie
- J.C. Evans as Grandpa Tawes
- Margaret A. Morris as Sybil
- Bill Littleton as Pollard
- Leo Yates as Vogel
- Nora Denney as Darlene Hunnicutt (as Dodo Denney)
Frankenheimer wanted Gene Hackman to play the sheriff, but Columbia Pictures insisted that Peck be cast in the lead since he was under contract to them. Frankenheimer cast J.C. Evans, his wife's grandfather, who was eighty-two years old, to play the sheriff's father; the director called Evans "quite wonderful" but eventually had Will Geer dub his part. During the drive-in scene, the film playing is The Big Mouth, but the posters at the theater list it as Hook, Line & Sinker (both were Jerry Lewis movies). When Sony released it on DVD in 2006, the final shot was altered to show a freeze-frame of Peck's face. In the original version, Peck's face is never frozen, and his eyes are open. The scene showing Ralph Meeker's character shooting Charles Durning's deputy sheriff character from a distance with a rifle to protect his daughter is deleted in the video release.
In a December 1970 review, Time magazine summarized the film's main characters:
- "Tuesday Weld is an understandably desirable love object, a genuine Lolita, but she can make little sense of her rather muddy character"
- "Ralph Meeker, as the ruthless moonshiner, is all sinister smiles and barely repressed violence"
- "(Gregory) Peck succeeds in conveying the sheriff's vulnerability but never his passion"
According to TV Guide, "[t]he one reason to watch is the astonishing, unsung Weld, the modern Louise Brooks, who can suggest amorality, skewed innocence and ageless sensuality—she played nymphets through her thirties with infinite ease—that makes Bardot pale."
In an interview published in October 2009, Madison Jones, the author upon whose novel the film's screenplay was based, said Peck "didn’t really fit the role.... He didn’t really fit any role unless he is playing himself." According to Jones, "Peck himself said there was a good movie lying on the cutting-room floor."
Cash re-recorded the title song for the film, and ended up with enough material for a soundtrack album. One of the songs, "Flesh and Blood," even became a number one country hit in 1971. The soundtrack featured three songs not heard in the film ("This Town", "Face of Despair" and "The World's gonna Fall On You").