‘Murder in Coweta County‘ is a television film that aired on CBS in 1983. It is directed by Gary Nelson and based on a book of the same name by writer Margaret Anne Barnes.
John Wallace (Andy Griffith) is a wealthy Georgia landowner who controls Meriwether County with an iron fist, running moonshine in what is known as “The Kingdom.” Even the local sheriff (Danny Nelson) is in his pocket. However, when his lackey Wilson Turner (Robert Schenkkan) betrays him, Turner is chased into neighboring Coweta County where Wallace and his thugs beat him to death in front of many witnesses. This earns the attention of Sheriff Lamar Potts (Johnny Cash), a no-nonsense lawman. He is determined to catch the landowner and bring him to justice, but Wallace seems to be one step ahead of Potts, destroying evidence, intimidating witnesses, and fabricating alibis in order to keep his kingdom from crumbling beneath him.
While the movie is based on a true story, my understanding is that the film took several liberties with the plot to make it more compatible with television viewing. That makes sense and it often happens. In this case, it is about a man so powerful he thought he could get away with anything and the dogged lawman who is determined to see him brought to justice. It is interesting and keeps you hooked with its plot about how the rich and powerful keep the poor under their nose, especially for this time period.
Now some of the production values are a bit dated. The awkward fade-outs, the melodramatic music, and quick transitions definitely show its age, but that does not deter the film at all.
I found both Andy Griffith and Johnny Cash to be excellent in their respective roles. It is always jarring to see Griffith in particular play against type. In The Andy Griffith Show, he plays the wise and quick-witted Sheriff while in Matlock, he plays the lawyer with Southern charm. Here is a cruel, mean, and loathsome villain who will do whatever it takes to maintain his power. Johnny Cash was already a talented singer and this movie showed off his acting skills. The rest of the cast did their jobs well, including June Carter Cash who has a cameo in the film.
Bottom line, Murder in Coweta County is one of those feature films that you are expecting to like, but come away glad you caught it. The plot and the sheer talent of its two stars keep you hooked from beginning to end.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Foul language including racial, Violence
FAVORITE QUOTE: Looks like the kingdom is beginnin’ to crumble.
Check out the trailer below:
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