Victory over VHS oblivion! After 42 weeks among CineSchlock-O-Rama's Most Wanted, the unyielding vigilance of all CineSchlockers has been rewarded with our first capture! Yes, that grand experiment in casting against type, Murder in Coweta County (1983, 96 minutes), has finally received its digital due thanks to the cinematic Samaritans at Sterling Entertainment. This made-for-CBS breakthrough was directed by Gary Nelson and based on true events first popularized in Margaret Anne Barnes' book. The story itself is compelling enough, but what broadens the flick's appeal is beholding Mayberry's finest Andy Griffith seethe pure EVIL as a 1940s Southern land baron, while legendary country-music outlaw Johnny Cash sets aside his Man in Black persona as a Man in Blue determined to see justice prevail.
The movie: John Wallace (Griffith) is a mean ol' son of a gun. Only beloved by the people of Meriwether County for fear of what'd happen to 'em if they didn't. Take this typical Sunday morning, John is overseeing the timely shipment of moonshine, before heading off to the church house, when Sheriff Collier (Danny Nelson) rolls up. Not to bust him, but to deliver a fella accused of stealing from Wallace. As the trembling man futilely blubbers his innocence, John snarls at him to place his hand against an open car door jam, an order punctuated by the business end of Wallace's ever-present sidearm. SLAM! Case closed. This is justice in "The Kingdom." That is until John's one-man judge 'n' jury show foolishly crosses into Coweta County and witnesses stand aghast as Wallace ruthlessly pistol whips a wayward sharecropper's skull wide open (Robert Schenkkan as Wilson Turner). Certain they've seen a murder, and with little doubt who done the killin', folks call in Coweta's Sheriff Lamar Potts (Cash). Thus begins our story as Wallace defiantly dares anyone to lift a finger against him. A bold challenge answered by a singularly determined lawman who does exactly that -- and then some. CineSchlocker's should note that this was actually the second of THREE collaborations between Nelson and Cash. First, was CineSchlocker fave The Pride of Jesse Hallam with Johnny as an illiterate widower from farm country struggling to provide for his two children in the cold, cruel city. And the third, was The Baron and the Kid with Cash as a pool shark who has an unexpected family reunion.
Notables: No breasts. Two corpses. Multiple N-words. Moonshining. Old-timey car chase. Guernsey stealing. Pistol to the brainpan. One "Deep Throat" informant. Soothsaying. Sucker punch.
Quotables: Wallace berates Turner while grinding a boot heel into his gut, "You got BOLD, boy! You got GREEDY!!! New truck. Store-bought clothes for your wife. Runnin' to the doctor ever time your baby gets a little bit sick. You're starting to act like you're SOMEBODY!!!" Potts doesn't cotton to Meriwether's sheriff on the take, "Let me make something clear, Collier. I have jurisdiction on this case. I didn't come here out of law. I came here out of manners!" and, later, while resisting the urge to ventilate the sniveling snake, "You sold that badge! The same badge I stand behind!"
Time codes: Proof straight-away of just how MEAN ol' Wallace is (2:11). Mr. Cash joins the picture (15:00). Somewhere beneath that army hat is Johnny's wife, June Carter Cash, as Mayhayley Lancaster the eccentric fortune teller (25:15). Griffith emotes (39:10). Johnny's piano man Earl Poole Ball plays star witness (42:31). Courtroom drama begins (1:12:40).
Audio/Video: Presented in fullframe as originally broadcast. Image quality exhibits improvement over previous VHS releases, although digital grain is evident in isolated scenes. This is seemingly acknowledged by a box cover note: "There may be some slight visual variances due to the state of the original master." Utilitarian Dolby Digital 2.0 track.
Extras: Quickie bios and filmographies with somewhat dubious trivia like "Rosanne Cash is Johnny's daughter" and "On May 9, 2000, Griffith underwent a quadruple bypass." Can't find the trailer? It's under "scene access," of course. Static menus without audio.
Final thought: Cash and Griffith deliver powerful performances that belie the low-budget nature of this bargain-bin jewel. Highly Recommended.
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G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.