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Walking Tall
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Reviews & Ratings for
Walking Tall More at IMDbPro »

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

A compelling,intense,fictionalized account of Sheriff Buford Pusser

7/10
Author: Joe O'Brien from Virginia Beach, Virginia
27 April 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I first saw "Walking Tall" in the theater when it first came out way back in 1973,back when tickets were only $1.50.I was only 17 at the time and I was very impressed with the movie.Saw it at least 3 more times within that year with various family members and friends whom I insisted go see it."Walking Tall" became a big sleeper hit making around 40 million at the box-office.Adjusted for inflation that translates to around 100 million in today's dollars.That's considered a legitimate blockbuster by Hollywood's standards.Not bad for a low budget movie with no big stars from a small independent studio.That studio called Cinerama Releasing unfortunately went out of business in 1974.The late Phil Karlson did a good job directing the dramatic scenes and intense action sequences.Joe Don Baker,who hails from Texas and attended the acclaimed Actor's Studio,is a fine actor and gave an emotionally charged performance.He really didn't look like the real guy.By comparison,Buford Pusser at 6 foot 6 inches tall with short,light hair and Joe Don Baker at 6 ft. 2 in. with longer dark hair. Anyway,there are some spoilers ahead.Anyone who wants to know more about Buford Pusser read on.

Late in 1973,Buford Pusser said in an interview in NEWSWEEK magazine,"That the film was about 80 percent accurate." He served three two year terms as sheriff from 1964 to 1970.In another interview he said,"That his only criticism of "Walking Tall" was that it wasn't violent enough." The film mentions in the opening and closing credits that this was a fictionalized account of certain events in the life of Buford Pusser.In the book "Reeling" by Pauline Kael,who was the film reviewer for THE NEW YORKER magazine for around 25 years that I know of,it included a review of "Walking Tall",along with reviews of many other films from that time.Ms.Kael had published several books of her movie reviews.She was considered by many to be one of the foremost film critics.She retired in 1991.She passed away in late 2001 from complications from Parkinson's disease. In Ms.Kael's review of "Walking Tall" she shed some light on the facts.For instance Pusser was never in the Marines.The crooked Sheriff Thurman,(played by the late Gene Evans),whom Pusser said to,"Thurman!I'voe known you since I was a kid.I always thought you walked tall.But,it looks like you done learned how to crawl!",was killed in car accident,but not by trying to run Pusser over,as it was depicted in the movie.Also,his father,(played by the late Noah Beery,Jr.),was a former sheriff of the county.Also,he had many deputies but never a black deputy,(in the movie well played by the actor Felton Perry.Mr.Perry was also very good in "Magnum Force" that same year,where he played the partner of Inspector Harry Callahan,(Clint Eastwood).Remember this was the segregated South of the 1960's.The filmmakers understandably wanted to appeal to the black audience.Also,he didn't have a young son.His wife had a son by a previous marriage but he was a few years older than the young boy portrayed here.And,Kael mentions in her review that he wasn't reelected sheriff.It seems he developed a reputation of being a big bully when it came to arresting suspects.He was accused of excessive use of force.The candidate who won the election for sheriff,in his platform asked the voters"Who would you rather have arrest your son? Evidently the voters didn't want him arresting their sons any longer.I found "Reeling" to be a good book.Although I didn't agree with some of her reviews.I think the book is out of print now.

Some footnotes,Mort Briskin,the producer and writer of the film,decided to do it after seeing a 10 minute interview with Sheriff Pusser with Roger Mudd on the CBS television network in 1969.Red West,who was one of Elvis Presley's bodyguards,had a small role in the film as a sheriff from Alabama.West was one the bodyguards Mr.Presley fired for being a bit too rough on certain fans.There were fears of lawsuits for assault.Also,it is known the Mr.Presley sent an anonymous donation to Sheriff Pusser when his home was badly damaged by certain criminal elements to help with the rebuilding.They both lived in the same neck of the woods.Mr.Presley was a very nice guy.Actress Elizabeth Hartman,who played Pusser's wife,this was her last film role.Ms.Hartman died in 1987 from a suicide.She suffered from manic-depression or bi-polar disorder.And,the actress Brenda Benet,who played the kindly prostitute who helped the sheriff out by being an informer,died in the early '80's from a suicide.She had been recently divorced from the actor Bill Bixby and she had been very despondent over the death of her young son after a long illness.How sad.I saw Buford Pusser in a television interview in 1974 talking about going to Hollywood for a screen test for Part 2 Walking Tall.But,he never got the chance because of his death later that year when someone or some people,presumably the criminal element,planted a bomb in his Corvette.He was killed driving home late one night.His demolished car was found on the side of some lonesome road.May he rest in peace.

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

The Story of Sheriff Buford Pusser

10/10
Author: Hollywood_Yoda from Outside Hollywood
2 November 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The film is set in McNairy County, Tennessee in the early 1960's (where the actual events took place). And with all films made in Hollywood, names, events, and facts are changed to make it the film you see. And a good job they do. The famed sheriff who tried to take down the Dixie mafia, is portrayed by Joe Don Baker in this great retelling of history through the eyes of the Pusser family.

After several near death experiences, Buford is still not ready to give up his hunt for the bad guys. Especially after they have killed his beloved wife. They went too far, and Buford is out to get them back for all the wrongs they've done.

If he wasn't crazy to begin with, he sure has a right to be crazy by the end of the film. Unfortunately, Sheriff Buford Pusser was tragically killed in an automobile accident in 1974, shortly before work on "Walking Tall, Part 2" started. It was deemed an accident by authorities, but many have their doubts.

This film is worthy of a 10 out of 10 rating.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Extremely effective as visceral entertainment.

7/10
Author: Scott LeBrun (Hey_Sweden) from Canada
22 April 2012

"Walking Tall" is certainly one of the most ass kicking movies ever made. It's a fictionalization of the true story of Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser, played here with conviction and intensity by Joe Don Baker. Buford has retired from life as a wrestler, hoping to settle down to a quiet life in his hometown, but he finds out that everything has gotten crooked, with local bigwigs running the show. Soon enraged at a system that does little to nothing to help the common man, he wages a personal war on corruption, using any method necessary. The movie does its job as far as manipulating its audience. It doesn't take long for viewers to get their blood lust up, and loudly cheer on our swaggering hero as he gives the assorted sleazy cretins their just desserts. And it doesn't hold back in the violence department, either; even if the blood is typically bright red movie blood that looks more like paint than anything, there's a lot of it that flows before the movie is over. And we can also definitely take interest in a story of a regular Joe who fumes at the injustices of the world, and refuses to live in a place where the big shots can have their way at any time. When Pusser puts a pompous, ineffective judge (Douglas Fowley) in his place, or humiliates a rat by having them crawl on all fours, it's not hard to pump one's fist in the air and yell, "YEAH!" All of the bad people are one dimensional, sleazy, selfish jerks; even though they may disagree with one another on methods used, they all look out for number one and enjoy their hold on the community. Provided one can take the brutality, and doesn't mind having their buttons pushed so obviously, "Walking Tall" is gripping. A superb cast really helps in the selling of the material, with Elizabeth Hartman as the troubled but loyal wife, Gene Evans as the ineffectual sheriff, Bruce Glover and Felton Perry as deputies, real-life siblings Leif Garrett and Dawn Lyn as the Pusser children, Noah Beery Jr. and Lurene Tuttle as Buford's folks, Rosemary Murphy as trouble making Callie Hacker, and assorted other character players such as Arch Johnson, Don Keefer, Sam Laws, Kenneth Tobey, Pepper Martin, Red West, Logan Ramsey, Richard X. Slattery, Sidney Clute, and John Myhers. Now, granted, all of what happens is plenty predictable, but it's hard to deny how this could become a crowd pleasing entertainment on a non-think level. And Buford's story didn't end here, with two sequels, a TV movie, a short lived series, and a loose remake & subsequent sequels to follow, just going to show how enduring the concept of a strong, principled man fighting for what's right can be. Seven out of 10.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Very interesting film, couldn't step away

7/10
Author: Stefan from Toronto, Canada
21 February 2006

I caught this film in 2006 on the action channel while surfing for something quick to watch for 30 min. I was still there at the end and I had no idea this was supposed to be based on a true story until the credits rolled. It's especially interesting to read some of the reviews here and learn of the fate of the actors and actresses and Mr. Bufford himself outside of the film.

Wow, 33 years ago. I was about 6 when this was made and I'm sure my parents drove a dodge like that ... I can still feel the heat from the vinyl seats burning my legs in the middle of summer.

As for the mystery boom-mike that several folks mention, maybe I was too into the story and in awe of life in the southern US, but I never saw it once! Definitely worth a viewing. As one reviewer said, it may be a good one to watch when you've given up on finding any body left 'walking tall' around you. I saw the remake with 'the rock' before this version. Not even close. The rock's version is your typical Hollywood action flick. This one felt pretty real for '73 and it does get your blood boiling. Granted, some scenes seem pretty far fetched, but the key focus on corruption is there through-out. Maybe we need someone to make an up to date film featuring behind the scenes at Enron.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Take your best shot cause it'll be your last.

10/10
Author: bluesman-20 from Canada
18 January 2014

Walking Tall. Is the story of Sheriff Buford Pusser. Pusser was the sheriff of Mcnairy county Tenn. during the late 50's to the early 70's . Pusser led a colourful life from being a wrestler Buford the bull or Buford the wild bull. to a stint in the marines in which he was given a medical discharge for asthma. Buford came home to Adamsville Tenn. As a young man he visited a crooked casino across the state line and caught them cheating and stealing his money. They beat him and carved him up and left him for dead. Buford lost a friend in that attack and he returned to the casino and took his money back by force. He was arrested and during his trial he stood up for himself and was acquitted. Buford ran for the job as Adamsville's police chief and started a war to clean up the state line . Buford's term as police chief expired after four terms and he ran for the more powerful position of county sheriff. he made powerful enemies and was shot and knifed countless times and left for dead but he came back stronger then ever.

until Aug 12th 1964. Buford Pusser was responding to a call out on new hope road. His wife PAuline terrified for her husband went along. The day was beautiful and no sign of trouble until the cars came and ambushed Buford Pusser and his wife. Pauline Pusser died and Buford was severely wounded. His jaw almost shot off. Buford was in the hospital for almost a year recovering. But when he did he continued his relentless war. In 1967 Mort Briskin caught a news story on Pusser and was captivated and believed this would make a great movie. He contacted Buford and he agreed to make the movie as a consultant. Buford Pusser himself would say WAlking Tall was 50 percent true 50 percent Hollywood. And you can see what's true and what isn't. But they got the important details right. And they got the legend right. When Walking Tall became an incredible hit Buford Pusser received death threats. He was worried he would die before they finished telling his story. He screen tested for the next chapter simply called Buford and got the job to play himself but died before it was made. But Joe Don Baker does a great job here as Buford and keeps his memory alive. The film isn't perfect it's not a documentary of a incredible man. But it's a fitting cornerstone into the legend that has become Buford Pusser. I've seen this film hundreds of times and each time it's affected me deeply. Not bad for a film made in 1973.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

And which movie did YOU see...?

7/10
Author: A_Different_Drummer from North America
21 December 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The movie was pretty good FOR THE TIME (more below). The IMDb reviews however are in some cases more entertaining than the movie. Some people see this as dated or some sort of "time capsule." This pretty much ignores the recent remake but, more importantly, also ignores the fact that the theme -- that of a gradual and steady corruption of a once-healthy town (village/city/country) does indeed happen, and happens more often than people acknowledge. Some people look at the star and go WHAA? -- who is this guy? OK, Joe Don Baker did not have the most spectacular career in Hollywood but he was a reliable asset for these kinds of films. And some people look at this and see merely a Charles Bronson knockoff, ie going to the theatre to vicariously taste the violence that was otherwise lacking in the 70s. Some truth to this, in its day this was very much a "guys" film, definitely not a "date" film, and it was indeed in the category of the Bronson flicks or the Billy Jack flicks. Remember that martial arts movies were barely known in N.A., and MMA did not exist. So if you wanted to see someone get thumped upside the head, this film would be on your short list. But all the above ignores the fact that this was a biography and THESE WERE NOT that common then, so, in that context, the context of a true story, the film becomes that much more interesting ... and that much more entertaining.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

I thought it was a great movie(s)....

10/10
Author: tmh_hornsby from United States
22 October 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I recently purchased the box set of the "Walking Tall" trilogy as I had forgotten about this movie until the remake starring "The Rock" came out in 2004. I sat down and watched them all back to back. I was rather disappointed that Joe Don Baker didn't play the part of Buford Pusser in all three. I'm not taking anything from Bo Svenson but to me he just didn't look the part. If they were not going to use JDB in all of them, then they should have gotten BS to play the lead in the first. I felt that for the time line, the movie, albeit low budgeted, was pretty decent. I am from the south and my father was in law enforcement for 30 years and I can relate to the stories of "running shine" and the like. There are so many clips that were shown that I, on a personal level, could relate to. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole trilogy and yes, I did shed a few tears when Pauline died and a whole lot when Buford died. I give the whole thing a "thumbs-up" and hope that one day there can be a true remake of the whole trilogy with a wonderful supporting cast that can be in all three movies!

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Bigger Than Life

Author: Charles Eagle (cneagle0227@yahoo.com) from Dayton, Ohio
16 October 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

SPOILER ALERT! One terrific action flick, one of the top 4 of the early 70s, along with "Billy Jack" "Dirty Harry" and "Death Wish." The action scenes are among the best and most explicitly violent ever filmed, especially the bar fights. The ambush, the moments following it with horrified cops and ambulance people arriving at the bloody scene, and the events at the hospital afterwards are emotionally harrowing and almost operatic. Look for highly underrated character actor Ken Tobey in one of his most memorable performances as a vicious redneck. Don't bother with the butchered version likely to be caught on late-night television---this one needs to be seen in all its R-rated politically-incorrect glory. I have an excellent video transfer distributed by Rhino Video.

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Cars and bars like in Coen brother's movies

Author: manuel-pestalozzi from Zurich, Switzerland
12 June 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a very carefully crafted, highly stylized movie by legendary director Phil Karlson. The story about law and order is of the Western type and reportedly based on the life and times of a real Tennessee sheriff. The plot is somewhat coarse and certainly not very close to real facts, but the director and the actors deal well with it and turned out a powerful movie that has qualities of a fairy tale (for adults), makes a twisted statement and never bores. It lingers on in my memory.

POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD

Some scenes reminded me strongly of the two "road movies" made by the Coen brothers: Blood Simple and Fargo. The brothers really must have liked Walking Tall! Like in their movies roadside entertainment places and the road itself signify moral depravity and danger. There are hauntingly beautiful night shots of the badly wounded sheriff lying in the gutter, trying to catch the attention of passing cars and someone surprisingly shooting out of a stopped car very much like in Fargo. Even the cheesy bar equipment of Blood Simple and Fargo seems to have been borrowed from this film.

I guess Karlson was a movie man of the "old school". He amply uses signs and symbols. They seem to underline the political views of the moviemakers. For example, the sheriff is constantly carrying a big stick as his trademark (Teddy Roosevelt is appropriately quoted). There is a curious scene in the county judge's private bathroom in the courthouse (several toilet bowls arranged in conference room fashion without partitions and additional living room furniture). The sheriff intrudes to make his determination clear to the judge who is deeply shocked by this invasion of his privacy and subdued thereafter. At the end the lower part of the sheriff‘s head is cast in plaster. He is only eyes and ears. There is no more need for talking. The eerie appearance seems to complement the face masks in Karlson's Kansas City Confidential: There the gangsters carry masks that cover the top half of their faces. It is equally intimidating.

Karlson knew exactly how to stir up emotions. The scene of the assassination in which the sheriff‘s wife dies is arranged and carefully balanced like a painting. The following funeral procession has a humble dignity that is moving and fits the situation perfectly. The bonfire in front of the badmen's bar, after having been looted by an anonymous mob with police and sheriff quietly looking on, gives a last and lasting impression of the ambivalence of the sheriff's understanding of law and order.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

WALKING TALL (Phil Karlson, 1973) **1/2

6/10
Author: MARIO GAUCI (marrod@melita.com) from Naxxar, Malta
4 June 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This extremely violent but crowd-pleasing police drama inspired by real events has become something of a Grindhouse classic; it was certainly successful and popular enough to produce two sequels, a TV series and a couple of remakes over the years! Incidentally, the screenwriter/director/star team behind it would themselves collaborate once again on the similarly-themed FRAMED (1975).

That’s not to say, however, that the original WALKING TALL is beyond criticism: the narrative does take its repetitive turns, as Buford’s life is thrice attempted upon (requiring him to be hospitalized and undergoing surgery), while his wife’s killing can be seen coming from miles off! Still, Joe Don Baker is perfectly cast in the role of the harassed but unbending brawny lawman – and it deservedly cemented his reputation for a while. Director Karlson (of whose work, I’ve just watched a couple of enjoyable Matt Helm spy spoofs with Dean Martin) keeps a steady enough hand throughout while juggling the various elements: not just the folksiness and bigotry marking the milieu in which the narrative is set, but the kind of no-holds-barred thrills the 1970s seemed to mandate as a means of mass entertainment. In fact, vigilantism spelled big box-office at the time with the likes of DIRTY HARRY (1971), STRAW DOGS (1971), DEATH WISH (1974), etc. A decent cast of Hollywood veterans has been rounded up in support of the star: these include Noah Beery Jr. (as the hero’s father), Gene Evans (as a crooked sheriff), and Kenneth Tobey (as another so-called pillar of the community – read redneck – involved in the myriad illicit activities).

By the way, the version I watched (via the Rhino DVD) was open-matte as opposed to the more professional-looking Widescreen original – in fact, in a number of shots, the boom-mike is plainly visible above the actors’ heads!

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