Weirdly marketed as a right-wing screed upon its initial release in 1973, Walking Tall is really a tragic, shockingly violent post-noir film based on various legends surrounding real-life Southern sheriff Buford Pusser. Jo... more »e Don Baker (The Natural) gives a powerful performance as Pusser, who took on determined forces of crime and corruption in his town at great personal expense. Directed with an intentionally crude force by Phil Karlson (Kansas City Confidential), one of the toughest filmmakers of the 1950s, the film's grimness does not let up, but in the end it is more likely to break hearts than turn stomachs. --Tom Keogh« less
"This movie is certainly one of the bloodiest true stories ever filmed. Even though many of the scenes in the film are fictionalized for dramatic effect, there are many scenes in this film that did happen to Buford Pusser in real life and that is what makes so many scenes in the film shocking.Joe Don Baker gives his best performance as Buford Pusser, a retired wrestler who after being brutally beaten in a local nightclub, exacts revenge on the very same people who did it. Pusser is arrested by the corrupt town sheriff and is taken to court for his actions. Thanks to a sympathetic jury, Pusser is rightly found not guilty and takes up his friend's plan to run for town sheriff against his wife's wishes.While serving his term as sheriff, he is constantly followed, shot at, lied to, and eventually in one of the bloodiest scenes ever put on film, ambushed while driving with his wife, Pauline (played by Elizabeth Hartman). Pauline is brutally murdered and Buford Pusser is severely wounded when he is shot in the face several times with a machine gun.Director Phil Karlson managed to make a terrific biographical action film with just one serious flaw. People who love spotting bloopers will find more than their fair share in this film. There are at least seven scenes in this movie where the boom mic comes into the frame or the shadow of the boom mic operator is seen along the wall.If you can get by that, you will be left with a terrific movie.Parents: Don't let children younger than 14 watch this film. There are numerous scenes of graphic, extreme violence (eg: Pusser's many beatings and gunfights) and coarse language."
Hollywood vs. Reality
A. Wolverton | Crofton, MD United States | 07/10/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Walking Tall" is the story of Buford Pusser, the tall, no-nonsense Tennessee sheriff who fought a tremendous up-hill battle to clean up his hometown. The movie is (sometimes loosely) based on several events which happened to the real Sheriff Pusser in his pursuit of justice. The film seeks to describe (sometimes graphically) the personal price that Pusser paid to rid his town of corruption, not just at the gambling house, but in the courtroom as well. I was surprised how well the film has held up 20+ years later. While definitely not a great film, the story is an exciting, but violent tale of corruption and the man trying to stop it. The film will probably lead a lot of people to find out more about Buford Pusser, especially to learn which parts of the film are true and which are fiction.I was fortunate enough to hear Pusser speak just months before he died. If you can imagine it, the real Pusser was even tougher looking and larger than the actor (Joe Don Baker) who portrayed him. He looked like he could take apart a pro football player without halfway trying. In his speech, Pusser was quick to point out what was accurate and inaccurate in the film, what he was pleased with and what he was disappointed with. He pretty much stuck to the facts and didn't try to play on the emotions of the crowd. But he had one of those faces that you could look into and tell that he had been through all the hell that you see in the film and more, and was still walking tall. He left me with the feeling that he was still not going to turn away as corruption was taking over his town. He knew the cost and he was willing to do whatever it takes. One reviewer (probably rightfully so) mentioned that Pusser's methods WERE often out of line. His behavior may have been wrong, but his intent was not."
Movie fantastic, DVD transfer poor
Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 03/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the 1960s a man emerged who wasn't afraid to stand up and face down organized crime. He was a former marine turned wrestler turned sheriff who decided to clean up his little corner of Tennessee the best way he knew how: with a very big pine stick and a whole lot of gumption. He swept through the county like a firestorm, blowing up illegal liquor stills and closing down dens of iniquity without batting an eye. The decent people loved him and supported his actions, but the targets of his raids wouldn't go down without a fight. They shot this man on at least eight different occasions, stabbed him, attacked his home and his family, and eventually killed his wife. Still, he wouldn't back down. Of course I'm talking about legendary lawman and American tough guy Buford Pusser, and the movie is the just as legendary "Walking Tall." They "remade" this picture a year or two ago into a laughable PG-13 kiddie version starring a professional wrestler, but if you want to see the real deal you need to check out the DVD version of the original 1973 masterpiece starring Joe Don Baker. Here's a film that redefines the term "gritty."
The film opens with Pusser, his wife Pauline (Elizabeth Hartman), and two kids (one played by Leif Garrett!) heading back to Buford's childhood home to settle down for good. Life on the road working as a professional wrestler apparently isn't all its cracked up to be, what with having to jump when others say jump and throw a match when told to do so. Right from the start we learn that Buford Pusser is his own man, or at least he desperately wants to be. So he acquires the property of a deceased moonshiner with the help of his father Carl (Noah Beery Jr.) and sets about earning a living running a timber mill. His wife is ecstatic, Buford is just as cheery, and his parents are happy to have their boy home. Then tragedy--the first in what will soon be a long string of them--hits with the subtlety of a knee to the crotch. Buford hooks up with a childhood friend named Lutie McVeigh (Ed Call) for an afternoon of fun. It soon becomes apparent that the town is quite different from the place Pusser fondly remembers. A saloon called the Lucky Spot now sits on the outskirts of town, a saloon with gambling tables in the back and scads of mobile homes outside packed with harridans openly plying their trade. Pusser doesn't like the looks of things, and likes it even less when a he's nearly killed after a fight breaks out over a gambling cheat.
What follows moves as fast as a swallow of moonshine through your digestive tract. Pusser engages in a war of attrition with the folks running the saloon, runs into trouble with crooked sheriff Al Thurman (Gene Evans) and the even more corrupt judge R.W. Clarke (Douglas Fowley), and eventually ends up running for county sheriff on a campaign to clean up the town. Needless to say he wins the election and immediately begins to crack skulls. There are a few problems at first, such as learning that you need warrants before walking onto someone's property and busting them, but Pusser slowly learns what he needs to know. He even strong arms Judge Clarke into giving him the authority to raid the crime dens in a hilarious scene that by itself provides enough reason for watching the movie. Beyond this humorous sequence there is little to laugh about in "Walking Tall." The movie is loaded with bloody fight scenes, car chases, murders, a dead dog, and lots of genuine southern atmosphere. Some call "Walking Tall" a prime example of hicksploitation; I call it a blast of a film that holds up well over thirty years after it played in theaters. Its impact will last a heckuva lot longer than the version starring The Rock.
Apparently the filmmakers took some liberties with certain details of Buford Pusser's real life. Probably so, but who cares? Call it dramatic license. Whatever the case, "Walking Tall" is a film loaded with great performances. Joe Don Baker makes you want to stand up and cheer as he cracks heads, breaks bones, and generally sticks it to the bad guys every chance he gets. He's authentic, brutal, and likable all at the same time. In fact, every actor and actress in this film does a great job, even the ones who didn't go on to do anything else. That's quite rare for the world of low budget filmmaking when you consider most actors in these things have all the allure of cigar store Indians. But even better than the performances are the actions sequences. The stuff we see in "Walking Tall" is downright brutal. When people take a punch or a kick they actually bleed and end up wearing bandages or casts. Pusser spends a significant portion of the film recuperating from the various injuries he receives in his battles. This realism makes the movie far more appealing than many potboiler actioners.
It's important to make a few comments about the DVD version of this film. First, there are no extras on the disc: no commentary tracks, no trailers, no behind the scenes footage or featurettes, nothing to add depth to the viewing experience. That stinks. Second, and far worse, is the picture transfer. It looks like the company responsible for bringing this classic to disc merely copped the picture from a second generation VHS dupe. The most notable problem is color fading, but the whole movie looks quite poor. "Walking Tall" is a classic fully deserving of an in-depth restoration, and I for one hope it receives this treatment soon. Nevertheless, it's still worth watching if you haven't seen it. Go out and rent it today. "
Somewhat dated? Perhaps...but still significant
Robert Morris | Dallas, Texas | 10/09/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As I watched this film again recently, I reacted to it almost the same way I did when I first saw it 30 years ago: Joe Don Baker's performance as sheriff Buford Pusser dominates it from beginning to end. There really are no "gray" cats in the small town in Tennessee's "alley" as Pusser reacts creatively, at times violently to the widespread corruption around him. Because he is such a serious threat to those responsible for the corruption (within and beyond the town), he is constantly in harm's way, as are his loved ones and the honest men who "walk tall" with him. This time around, however, I appreciated even more Elizabeth Hartman's understated (hence more credible) performance as Pusser's wife Pauline. This is one of the most influential of modern (i.e. post 1960) Good Guys versus Bad Guys films. There is absolutely no confusion about who is which. Like Willie Stark in an earlier film, All the King's Men (1949), Pusser gains public office to oppose more effectively the evil he observes around him. Unlike Stark, he is uncorrupted by it. Director Phil Karlson manages to walk a fine line between drama and melodrama (at least most of the time), allowing Baker's commanding presence to guide the narrative to its powerful conclusion. This time around, however, I found the quiet moments in the film to have much greater impact. For example, the scenes in which the Pussers has a family picnic, later when Pusser meets briefly with Callie Hacker (Rosemary Murphy) before she leaves town, and then when his son walks through the hospital hallway to Pusser's room. It remains for others far better qualified than I to comment on this film's historical authenticity. (Although delighted by the attention which the film attracted to him, the real Buford Pusser was reportedly very upset by how Matt Briskin's screenplay portrays him.) Then (1973) and now, I think Walking Tall makes some important statements about what a determined and principled person can accomplish, whatever the cost may prove to be. If some consider this film "corny," so be it. I do not."
Inspiring story about a true hero - but shame on the DVD
Manfred Zeichmann | Austria | 04/12/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Based on true events WALKING TALL's story concerns former marine and wrestler Buford PUSSER (great performance by Joe Don BAKER) returning to his rural Tennessee hometown with his wife and two kids. Soon after his arrival PUSSER runs into serious troubles, when an argument at the local watering hole/gambling joint/brothel over cheating at a dice game escalates and the baddies beat him to a pulp, use a switchblade on him, steal his station wagon and leave him for dead beside a country road. PUSSER is a very tough guy, though, and survives. Because the corrupt sheriff is not much help, he takes law into his own hands. Armed with a long thick wooden stick he returns to the baddies' establishment and deals out some good old DIY justice very generously. After being aquitted for assault charges and fed up with the corrupt local authorities he decides to run for sheriff to fight the backwood gangsters more efficiently. Our hero has to stand his ground, deal with an incompetent county judge and a traitor in the police force, survive several assassination attempts, find moonshine bootleggers (whose poisonous booze killed several thirsty blacks) and blow up their backyard distillery, while the local mob gets ever more ferocious at this brave man whom they can neither bribe nor kill...
An oldfashioned film in the best sense of the word WALKING TALL makes for compelling viewing. It is amazing that it is based on true facts! If only half of what I've read about the real Buford PUSSER is true his exploits surpass those of Bruce WILLIS' character in the DIE HARD movies! The real sheriff PUSSER was beaten to a pulp, shot, stabbed and run over by a car several times. Like in the movies his weapon of choice was a big wooden stick he used with bone-crunching results on the local backwood baddies! (Admittedly - and I do not want to mock either the real sheriff PUSSER or the movie - it looks a bit odd to see the lawman walking around with his big club, almost a little caveman-like. Additionally, the plaster Joe Don BAKER is wearing on his face in the last scenes of the movie is also a bit unintentionally funny. It does not distract too much however.) Personally I found this story of a man who could not take it any longer and who stood up against the crime and the filth in his community against overwhelming odds and with little regard for the risks, very entertaining and inspiring. The film is also at times very touching, like when PUSSER and his family cry over the loss of their family pet dog (which was shot during a shoot-out with a mob hitman). Acting is uniformly very good, particularly Joe Don BAKER - this man always has a great screen presence. Despite the violence (and make no mistake: this is not the sanitized fun comic book violence of Hollywood's contemporary output) it is a good movie to watch with the whole family.
Shame on the DVD however! While overall perfectly watchable and admittedly cheap, it suffers from its fullscreen presentation. Several times microphones are clearly visible, which could have been avoided, were the film presented matted. The DVD cover artwork is exceptionally ugly. More annoying still is the complete lack of extra features. There is not even a theatrical trailer! It would have been great to see a special edition with documentaries about the real Buford T. PUSSER!"