Walking Tall is a 1973 DeLuxe Color American action semi-biopic film about Sheriff Buford Pusser, a former professional wrestler-turned-lawman in McNairy County, Tennessee, starring Joe Don Baker in the lead role.
The film was directed by Phil Karlson and released on February 22, 1973.
Based on Pusser's true story, it was a combination of very loosely based fact and Hollywood revisionism. It has since become a well known cult classic with two direct sequels of its own, a TV movie, a brief television series and a remake that had it's own two sequels.
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the entire movie.
Buford Pusser (Joe Don Baker), at his wife Pauline's (Elizabeth Hartman) behest, retires from the professional wrestling ring and moves back to Tennessee to start a logging business with his father, Carl Pusser (Noah Beery, Jr.).
With a friend, he visits a gambling and prostitution establishment, the Lucky Spot, and is beaten up after catching the house cheating at craps. Pusser is seriously injured with a knife and receives over 200 stitches.
He complains to the sheriff but is ignored, and soon becomes aware of the rampant corruption in McNairy County. Later, working at his dad's lumber mill, Pusser makes a club out of a tree branch. Late one night, he waits until after the Lucky Spot is closed, and beats up the same thugs that left him for dead.
The next day, Pusser is arrested and represents himself at trial. At one point, he rips off his shirt and shows the jury his scars. He informs them that "If you let them do this to me and get away with it, then you're giving them the eternal right to do the same damn thing to any one of you!"
The jury finds Pusser not guilty & he decides to clean up the county and runs for sheriff. Buford Pusser wins, and becomes famous for being incorruptible, intolerant of crime and for his array of four-foot hickory clubs which he uses to great effect in dispatching criminals and destroying their clandestine gambling dens and illegal distilleries.
Some residents praise Buford Pusser as an honest cop in a crooked town; others denounce him as a bully willing to break some laws to uphold others. Pusser is attacked several times, and finally he and Pauline are ambushed in their car. Pauline is killed and Pusser is seriously injured.
Pusser is admitted to the hospital after being shot and while still in a neck & face cast, he attends his wife's funeral with his family. Afterwards, he rams a sheriff cruiser through the front doors of the Lucky Spot, killing two of his would-be assassins.
As he leaves with two deputies, the townspeople arrive and begin throwing the gambling tables out into the parking lot. They light a bonfire as an overwhelmed Pusser wipes tears from his eyes.
- Joe Don Baker as Buford Pusser
- Elizabeth Hartman as Pauline Pusser
- Lurene Tuttle as Helen Pusser
- Noah Beery, Jr. as Carl Pusser
- Dawn Lyn as Dwana Pusser
- Leif Garrett as Mike Pusser
- Felton Perry as Obrah Eaker
- Logan Ramsey as John Witter
- Rosemary Murphy as Callie Hacker
- Gene Evans as Sheriff Al Thurman
- Bruce Glover as Grady Coker
- Kenneth Tobey as Augie Mccullah
- Don Keefer as Dr. Lamar Stivers
- Douglas Fowley as Judge Clarke
- Pepper Martin as Zolan Dicks
- Ted Jordan as Virgil Button
- Red West as Sheriff Tanner
- Brenda Benet (Brenda Benét) as Luan Paxton
- Arch Johnson as Buel Jaggers
- Russell Thorson as Ferrin Meaks
- Gil Perkins as 1st Bouncer
- Carey Loftin as Dice Player
- Warner Venetz as Stickman
- Gene LeBell as 2nd Bouncer
- Del Monroe as Otie Doss
The original "Walking Tall" was a hit, but the sequels "Walking Tall Part 2" (which was released on September 28, 1975) & "Walking Tall: Final Chapter "(which was released on August 10, 1977) that both starred Bo Svenson were far less profitable.
On December 9, 1978, the CBS network aired "A Real American Hero" with Brian Dennehy as Buford Pusser.
The elected officials of McNairy County, Tennessee (which was the setting of the movie) were so embarrassed by the national attention brought to the corrupt county that they refused to allow the movie to be shot there. It was consequently shot in neighboring Chester County.
The short-sighted officials didn't realize the amount of money it would bring into McNairy County, one of the poorest counties in Tennessee.
However when the 2004 remake, "Walking Tall" was announced, the county aggressively "courted" the filmmakers, trying to get the movie made in McNairy County, but to no avail, as the remake was shot in Vancouver, BC.
Many of the residents of McNairy County were upset and turned their back on Sheriff Buford Pusser when "Walking Tall" was shot in neighboring Chester County, shutting them out of the money being spent by the production. Pusser subsequently lost the re-election for Sheriff.
Two of the actresses associated with this film went on to commit suicide: Elizabeth Hartman jumped from the 5th floor of a Pittsburgh apartment building in June of 1987 and Brenda Benet (the former wife of Bill Bixby) took her life in April of 1982.
"Walking Tall" was a box office smash. Produced on a budget of $500,000, it grossed $23 million domestically, earning an estimated $8.5 million in North American theatrical rentals in 1973.
The film holds a 75% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.
In AllMovie's review of the film: "Looked at from a modern viewpoint, it's easy to understand why critics of the early '70s had problems with Walking Tall. Its politics support knee-jerk vigilante justice, the technical credits are hit-and-miss (note the frequent boom shots), the plot rewrites the real events that inspired the story to manipulate its audience, and it wallows in brutal violence. However, it also remains easy to see why this film clicked with the audiences of the day. It is exciting, it milks its gritty premise for all the action and drama it can muster, and it is driven by an unforgettable, star-making lead performance from Joe Don Baker."
The New York Times' Vincent Canby wrote in his review: "The film is a relentlessly violent, small-town American melodrama, smashingly directed by Phil Karlson, that cannily allows its audiences to have it both ways."
Pauline Kael from The New Yorker wrote: "Director Phil Karlson makes his points. "Walking Tall" isn't afraid to pull out all the stops. The film is a heartbreaker as well as a gut-cruncher."