I Walk the Line
Before the movie Walk the Line about Johnny Cash’s life came along, there was a movie titled I Walk the Line featuring a sound track by Johnny Cash. Filmed around Gainesville, Tennessee in the early 1970s, it starred Gregory Peck & Tuesday Weld.
The late Bill Littleton, a longtime Nashville journalist who I would meet in the late 1970s, had a small part in the movie as Pollard, Gregory Peck’s deputy. I love my hillbilly roots, so it is no surprise that I loved the authentic rural Tennesee setting for this movie. More than anything else, I loved Johnny Cash’s music & the artful way Director John Frankenheimer wove Cash’s songs into this intense drama, that almost no one ever saw.
Frankenheimer’s movies tend to be intense, often dark, dramas. His 1962 film, Manchurian Candidate, for instance almost stopped my heart few times the first time I saw it. Some other Frankenheimer movies are Birdman of Alcatraz, Grand Prix, Black Sunday, and Andersonville. These are not the fluffy “Doris Day/Rock Hudson” style of romantic comedies.
I Walk the Line is the story of a married, middle aged, straight-arrow sheriff, (Gregory Peck,) in a small country community, who becomes obsessed with a moonshiner’s way-too-young daughter, (Tuesday Weld.) Even the most naive viewers can see right away that this can’t end well.
It must have been a courageous move for Frankenheimer to choose a county singer such as Cash to do the sound track. That genre of music was not utilized much in movies of that era.
Even though this movie followed Peck’s Oscar winning performance in To Kill a Mockingbird, some critics said this was Peck’s best acting performance ever. In fact, all the characters were given high marks for their performances, for which Frankenheimer surely deserves some of the credit.
It has been more than 4 decades since I first saw I Walk the Line, yet I still remember it as an outstanding movie . Frankenheimer’s skillful weaving of Cash’s music into the plot has a lot to do with that.