Walking Tall (1973 film)

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Walking Tall
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPhil Karlson
Written byMort Briskin
Stephen Downing (uncredited)
John Michael Hayes (uncredited)
Produced byMort Briskin
StarringJoe Don Baker
Elizabeth Hartman
CinematographyJack A. Marta
Edited byHarry W. Gerstad
Music byWalter Scharf
Distributed byCinerama Releasing Corporation
Release date
  • February 22, 1973 (1973-02-22)
Running time
125 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$40 million[1]

Walking Tall is a 1973 American neo-noir biographical vigilante action thriller film based on the life of Buford Pusser, a professional wrestler-turned-lawman in McNairy County, Tennessee, played by Joe Don Baker. The film was directed by Phil Karlson.[2] It has become a cult film with two direct sequels of its own, a TV movie, a brief TV series, and a remake that had its own two sequels.


Buford 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 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 father'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 who left him for dead. The next day, Pusser is arrested; he represents himself at trial. At one point, he rips off his shirt and shows the jury his scars. He informs them, "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. The campaign is contentious against the incumbent sheriff, who is killed trying to run Pusser off the road. Pusser is elected, and becomes famous for being incorruptible and 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 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 betrayed by one of his deputies, and is attacked several times. Finally, Pauline and he 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. 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.



Box office[edit]

Walking Tall was a box-office smash. Produced on a budget of $500,000, the film grossed over $40 million,[1] earning $10 million in theatrical rentals in the United States and Canada.[3] The film played in rural areas before moving to larger cities, starting off slowly, but becoming a success through word-of-mouth.[1]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 75% based on reviews from 12 critics.[4] On Metacritic, it has a score of 60% based on reviews from seven critics.[5]

Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice wrote: "Like it or not, Walking Tall is saying something very important to many people, and it is saying it with accomplished artistry.[6] Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that, despite disliking the film, whose final scene he likened to "a nice KKK bonfire," he could "admire the manner in which it manipulates its audience through various notable clichés."[7] Judith Crist of New York Magazine wrote: "Walking Tall grabs you where trash and violence invariably do, with excellent performers, shrewd plotting, and pacing."[8] Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club writing in 2002, describes the film as "an ultraviolent revenge fantasy" and "a masterpiece of over-the-top unintentional hilarity" and highly recommends the film, calling it an "unconscionably good time".[9]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


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 television movie titled A Real American Hero: Buford Pusser, starring Brian Dennehy as the title character. The film is set in 1967 and focused on real-life Sheriff Buford Pusser, who goes after a criminal who has killed young people with his illegal moonshine.

In 2004, a remake starring professional wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was made. Although it used 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 semirural Kitsap County, Washington, although it was filmed in Squamish, British Columbia, 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "'Walking Tall' To Deposit Counter". Variety. May 29, 1974. p. 4.
  2. ^ Vincent Canby (February 9, 1974). "'Walking Tall':Film Depicts Violence in a Small Town". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 8, 2014.
  3. ^ Cohn, Lawrence (October 15, 1990). "All-Time Film Rental Champs". Variety. p. M194.
  4. ^ "Walking Tall". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  5. ^ "Walking Tall (1973)". Metacritic. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  6. ^ Andrew Sarris The Village Voice 21 Feb 1974, p.61
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 9, 1974). "Screen: 'Walking Tall'". The New York Times. Retrieved December 11, 2021.
  8. ^ Judith Crist of New York Magazine 18 Feb 1974, p.74
  9. ^ "Walking Tall".
  10. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 6, 2016.

External links[edit]