Jethro Growed Up

May 8, 2008 at 12:50 pm (Waxing Nostalgic)

I saw my first R-rated movie in a theater when I was about thirteen. It was Dillinger, starring Warren Oates. Lots of cool gunshots, a nice shot of Michelle Phillips’ legs, but not exactly scandalous.

My second R-rated movie? Macon County Line.

‘Road movies’ were popular in the early ’70s. Moonshine runners, cross-country races, RVs full of devil worshippers, the plots were related: Tell the story of a journey which leaves the viewer feeling like he’d had an adventure after leaving the theater.

I grew up in Sandy, which had a small independent movie theater. For a few years it was owned by a quirky man who reminded me of Ed Sullivan. He would come down in front of the screen and introduce the film each night. The two best things about his theater? 69-cent admission, and that he believed I was seventeen. (Going to see Dillinger, I kept saying internally, “1957, 1957, 1957…”)

When I’d already seen the movie of the week, I would con the parents into driving me to Gresham, where the film was different and usually more ‘grown up’. They never carded there, so this was where I saw most of the hot stuff. All mom needed to hear was ‘murder mystery’ and she needed no further info. “Go. Have fun!” Yesss!

The Hood Theater in Gresham will always hold fond memories for me. If it hasn’t been turned into a brewpub by now, it should be. Though I wasn’t into drugs at the time, I always felt like I was on them when I entered and left the auditorium. The round-and-round entrance, the glitter, it has a David Lynch-y feel to the memory. I got my little sister drunk for the first time during a showing of Little Big Man. It was three hours long, so she had time to sober up before facing mom.

I saw Macon County Line numerous times at both theaters, but the first time was the most memorable. I hadn’t seen many naked women at that time, so the skinny-dipping scenes were etched into my perverse juvenile mind. I loved the music, and bought 45 RPM singles of songs from the movie. (I collected a lot of vinyl soundtracks, MCL was not available.) I bought a red light so I could recreate the whorehouse look from the beginning of the film. I wanted an oversized white pocket-tee shirt like one of the antiheroes wore. When I finally got one, I discovered white made me look even fatter. They didn’t have big & tall stores back then, so it wasn’t really oversized. I just looked lumpy. Back to basic black, and so much for emulating heroes.

I won’t ruin the plot for those interested in seeing it, but there is a murder in the movie, and it was the scariest, bloodiest thing I’d ever seen. I had nightmares afterward. Then, after a few Dawn of the Dead‘s etc… I revisited and it didn’t seem so bad. I wondered, how has this movie held up over time? While I’d never consider it a classic, it was entertaining, and when I saw it being rereleased on Netflix, I had to look again.

The DVD treatment is glorious. The film seems brighter. (In style, not content.) The music, though sometimes overdramatic, was fun to listen to. (Despite Happy Days best efforts to prove otherwise, not all ’50s music sucked.) That violent scene? It could be shown on network TV these days.

The film didn’t shy away from issues of the ’50s. Segregation is shown, and it reinforces why one’s car breaking down in a small town in the south can be a scary thing indeed.

A selling point of the film back in the day was Max Baer, Jr. Yes, Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillies. He’d been trying to shed the Jethro image for a decade, and this was his bust-out. He played a redneck sheriff’s deputy who gives the antiheroes a hard time after their car breaks down. He also directed. While it wasn’t an Oscar contender, I’ll bet it caused a few out-of-wedlock babies to be conceived at the local drive-ins.

Max/Jethro went on to direct another southern teen movie, The McCullochs, starring Forrest Tucker of F-Troop fame. This was a sad, funny story of the Vietnam era in the south. It played with Macon County Line as a double feature when I saw it. There was also a sequel to MCL, called Return to Macon County. It stunk on ice, but had two future big name actors in it.

Now Max is working the Vegas/Reno scene, trying to build a casino. Last I heard.

Seeing it again made me nostalgic. Is the Hood Theater still there? I’d go look, but it’d require a bus ride to Gresham, something not as fun as it was in my youth. Revisiting my youth is fun, but in small doses. I was seriously depressed as a teen, and I feel those old feelings now and then when I see a trigger from that era.

Me and Jethro, with our seventh-grade educations. (“I gradjeated sixth grade!” said Jethro.) I made it to seventh, but he’s got more money. Maybe my dad should have spent more time huntin’ critters in the back yard. Then *I* could have my own cee-ment pond…

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