I Walk the Line (film)

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For the Johnny Cash song, see I Walk the Line. For the biographical film about Johnny Cash, see Walk the Line.
I Walk the Line
I Walk the Line 1970 film poster.jpg
Film poster.
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Produced by Harold D. Cohen
Edward Lewis
Written by Alvin Sargent
Madison Jones (novel)
Starring Gregory Peck
Tuesday Weld
Cinematography David M. Walsh
Edited by Henry Berman
Harold F. Kress
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • November 18, 1970 (1970-11-18)
Running time
95 min.
Country United States
Language English

I Walk the Line is a 1970 film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld. The film is the story of Sheriff Henry Tawes (Peck) who develops a relationship with town girl Alma McCain (Weld).

The screenplay is an adaptation of An Exile by Madison Jones. The I Walk the Line soundtrack is by Johnny Cash; it features his 1956 hit song of the same name.


Henry Tawes is an aging sheriff in small-town Tennessee who is becoming bored with his wife Ellen and his life. He meets young Alma McCain and is drawn to her, even though she isn't even half his age.

Alma seduces him, then persuades Tawes to provide protection for her father Carl McCain, who makes moonshine whiskey with an illegal still. Tawes obliges her until a federal agent, Bascomb, turns up. He obeys orders and destroys the still.

A deputy, Hunnicutt, suspects that Tawes and the young woman are romantically involved. When he tries to take Alma by force, Hunnicutt is killed by the McCains.

Tawes helps dispose of the deputy's body. He decides to take off with Alma and start a new life in California, but finds to his surprise that she and her family have already left. Tawes pursues them, assuming Alma still wants to be with him, but she has other ideas.



Frankenheimer spent 1968 traveling with Robert F. Kennedy during Kennedy's presidential campaign; Frankenheimer was a close friend of Kennedy: right before his assassination, Kennedy stayed at Frankenheimer's home in Malibu, then gave him a ride to the Ambassador Hotel, the site of the assassination.[1]

According to Frankenheimer, "if you want to date a moment when things started to turn [for the worse], it was after that night. I went through sheer hell. I went to Europe, and I just lost interest. I got burned out. I was really left very disillusioned and went through a period of deep depression. It took a long time to get it back."[1] After the assassination, Frankenheimer spent five years in France, "taking cooking classes and directing sporadically."[1] One of those films was I Walk the Line, originally titled September Country.

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.[2] 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.[2]


In a December 1970 review, Time magazine summarized the film's main characters:[3]

  • "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."[4]

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"; across to Jones, "Peck himself said there was a good movie lying on the cutting room floor."[5]

Soundtrack album[edit]

Cash re-recorded the title song for the film, and ended up with enough material for a soundtrack album. One of the songs from the film, "Flesh and Blood," even became a number one country hit in 1971.[2]


  1. ^ a b c "John Frankenheimer Is Dead at 72; Resilient Director of Feature Films and TV Movies". The New York Times. July 8, 2002. Retrieved 2010-09-12. 
  2. ^ a b c "I Walk the Line". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2010-09-12. 
  3. ^ "Cinema: Autumn Passion". Time. December 14, 1970. Retrieved 2010-09-12. 
  4. ^ "I Walk The Line: Review". TV Guide. Retrieved 2010-09-12. 
  5. ^ "Meeting Madison Jones". TheWarEagleReader.com. October 26, 2009. Retrieved 2010-09-12. 

External links[edit]