Two families in rural Tennessee, headed by patriarchs Laban Feather (Rod Steiger) and Pap Gutshall (Robert Ryan) are at odds with each other. The sons of the two families play harmless tricks on each other but soon the Feather boys decide to kidnap a girl, escalating the rivalry. She turns out to be innocent bystander Roonie Gill (Season Hubley), not the made-up girlfriend "Lolly Madonna." As events escalate, Zack Feather (Jeff Bridges) and Roonie fall in love and try to bring the others to their senses.
Sue Grafton's novel, The Lolly-Madonna War, has been handsomely and sensitively filmed. Excellent performances abound by older and younger players in a mountain-country clan feud story which mixes extraordinary human compassion with raw but discreet violence.