Walking Tall (1973 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Phil Karlson|
|Written by||Mort Briskin
John Michael Hayes (uncredited)
|Starring||Joe Don Baker
|Music by||Walter Scharf|
|Edited by||Harry W. Gerstad|
|Distributed by||Cinerama Releasing Corporation|
|Box office||$23 million|
Walking Tall is a 1973 American action semi-biopic film of Sheriff Buford Pusser, a former professional wrestler-turned-lawman in McNairy County, Tennessee. It starred Joe Don Baker as Pusser. The film was directed by Phil Karlson. 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 TV series and a remake.
Pusser, at his wife Pauline's behest, retires from the professional wrestling ring and moves back to Tennessee to start a logging business with his father, Carl Pusser. With a friend, he visits a gambling and prostitution establishment, the Lucky Spot, and is beaten up after catching them 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, Pusser 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, and 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. He is admitted to the hospital after being shot and while still in a neck and face cast, attends his wife's funeral with his family. Afterward 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.
While the film is considered one of several so-called “drive-in” films (portrayed as a true story although it isn't - i.e. 1972's The Legend of Boggy Creek; 1974's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre; 1975's Macon County Line and 1976's The Town That Dreaded Sundown and Jackson County Jail), this film is based on true events.
The original Walking Tall was a hit, but the sequels, Walking Tall Part 2 (September 28, 1975), and Walking Tall: Final Chapter (August 10, 1977), both starring Bo Svenson, were far less profitable. On December 9, 1978, CBS aired A Real American Hero, with Brian Dennehy as Buford Pusser.
In 1978, CBS aired a television movie titled A Real American Hero: Budford Pusser, starring Brian Dennehy as the title character. The film is set in 1967 and focused on the real-life sheriff Buford Pusser who goes after a criminal who has killed young people with his illegal moonshine. Although it utilized many elements from Pusser's life and the original Walking Tall, many things were changed. For instance, Dennehy's character is raising his children on his own with the help of his father and the mother is never mentioned.
In 2004, a remake starring professional wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was made. Although it utilized many elements from Pusser's life and the original Walking Tall, many things were changed. Johnson's character's name was now Chris Vaughn, the sheriff is trying to stop the selling of illegal drugs instead of illegal moonshine, and the film's setting became semi-rural Kitsap County, Washington, although it was filmed in Squamish, B.C., Canada. Two sequels to the remake were produced, and released in 2007: Walking Tall: The Payback and Walking Tall: Lone Justice, both made in Dallas, Texas and released directly to DVD. These sequels starred Kevin Sorbo as Nick Prescott, the son of the town's sheriff who takes the law into his own hands when his father is killed in a suspicious car accident.
- 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
- Felton Perry as Obra Eaker
- Pepper Martin as Zolan Dicks
- Ted Jordan as Virgil Button
- Red West as Sheriff Tanner
- Brenda Benet as Luan Paxton (as Brenda Benét)
- 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
- "Walking Tall, Worldwide Box Office". Worldwide Box Office. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
- Vincent Canby (1974-02-09). "'Walking Tall':Film Depicts Violence in a Small Town". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
- "'Walking Tall'". Retrieved 2013-07-02.
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974, pg 19.