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Lawman Without a Gun (1978)

During the 1960s' civil rights movement, a black civil rights worker returns to his small Southern town and runs for sheriff against the incumbent, a popular segregationist.




Cast overview, first billed only:
Tom Hayward
Marvin Tayman
Minnie Hayward
Fred Tayman
George Tayman
Harris McIntyre
Sheriff Harvey Johnson
James McEacheon ...
Harris McIntyre
Mrs. Cartwright
Sgt. Hunt
1st State Trooper
Burton Gilliam ...
Rev. Farrell
Clebert Ford ...
Albert Jackson
Nick Smith ...
Factory worker
Rufus Cartwright

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During the 1960s' civil rights movement, a black civil rights worker returns to his small Southern town and runs for sheriff against the incumbent, a popular segregationist.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Alabama's First Black Sheriff. America's Most Dangerous Job.







Release Date:

30 May 1979 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

He Who Walks Alone  »

Filming Locations:

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


This movie was set in Alabama but the courthouse scenes were filmed in Elkton, KY See more »

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Profile In Courage - Southern Style
3 September 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This movie opens on a rural Alabama road in 1968, as a car containing a black family drives by. The driver passes a local lawman who follows him, stopping at the same filling station where the driver is buying soft drinks.

The lawman demands the black man clean his cruiser of mud spatter and slams him against the gasoline pumps. The man refuses and drives off - leaving the lawman fuming.

That evening, the local black community welcomes the man, Thomas Hayward, a minister/civil rights activist who has just attended the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King. Hayward gives a stirring speech to the crowd.

Afterward, three black teenagers (two boys,one girl) are on a country road when a cruiser pulls up. Two officers demand to know if the teenagers attended the rally, arresting them when they assent. The officers attack the girl; Hayward takes her to another county for treatment.

The next day, Hayward and his followers storm the office of prosecutor Marvin Tayman, demanding justice. When refused, the group kneels, reciting the 23rd Psalm. Sheriff Harvey Johnson beats Hayward unconscious, dumping him into the street.

The black community wants Hayward to run for sheriff. An elderly black lady, Mrs. Cartwright, attempts to register to vote; she is fired as the Tayman children's nurse. (The Taymans run the town.)

At Mrs. Cartwright's rural home, Fred Tayman (nephew of Marvin, and son of George, the prevailing despot) roars up in his Cadillac, lopes up to the front door (where he is met by her hostile grandson), and demands she come babysit his children.

The grandson refuses; when Tayman attempts to force his way inside, the grandson shoves him off the porch into the mud. Humiliated, Tayman pulls a gun, shoots the teenager dead, then flees.

Fred's outrageous act causes the sheriff and Marvin Tayman to come arrest Fred, and a vicious confrontation ensues between Marvin and his brother, George, who insists Fred was home all the time. (That night, someone drives out to the bridge, and tosses an object into the river.)

The case is in abeyance,however, because the grandmother did not witness the shooting, but only recognized Fred's voice.

Outraged, the black community delegate Hayward (as a test of his commitment) to blow up Fred Tayman's house.

Outside the Tayman home, Hayward (with dynamite bomb) looks inside and sees Fred with his family. Hayward lights the fuse, but conscience-stricken - snuffs it, removes the bomb and tosses it in the river.

At church the next day, Hayward exhorts his followers that justice will be served through legal channels - not by violence.

Blacks enthusiastically vote in the sheriff's election. Hayward loses, but two Justice Department poll watchers cite irregularities, and the election reverts to Hayward.

As Hayward celebrates, his supporters present him with a sheriff's uniform (which he dons) and a gun (which he refuses to wear.)

Marvin Tayman (who secretly hates the old order) promises the new sheriff cooperation in prosecuting cases.

Tensions escalate; when Fred Tayman visits his uncle Marvin's office, his Cadillac is bombed.

Hayward warns Marvin of the plot to blow up Fred Tayman's home, and soon receives an anonymous phone call advising him to dredge the river. A gun is retrieved, the grandson's body exhumed, and the bullet removed matches the gun. Hayward then travels to Nashville, and establishes that Fred Tayman is the gun's rightful owner.

Hayward convokes his deputies, advising them of Tayman's impending arrest, but Marvin eavesdrops and calls Fred who lights out, fully armed.

Hayward finds out and rages at Marvin and George Tayman, who disclose Fred's hiding place - an abandoned factory.

State and local police have gathered at the factory, and gunfire erupts. Hayward (who wants to take Tayman alive) orders them to stand down.

Hayward enters the factory; a shot rings out and a shrill, hysterical voice warns him off. Upstairs, another shot is fired, and Tayman frenziedly screams at Hayward again.

Hayward is taxed confronting Tayman, because he is dealing with a madman; the look of insanity radiating from Tayman's huge, wild eyes is unmistakable.

Rifle trained on Hayward, Tayman giggles dementedly. Cautiously, Hayward appeals to Tayman - then puts out his hand for the gun. Tayman eventually capitulates; a rifle barrel, tied with a white rag for surrender appears. Hayward emerges with his unhinged prisoner.

Afterward, at church, there is a reconciliation service with both whites and blacks attending; the healing process has begun.

Louis Gossett Jr. (Thomas Hayward) gave a magnificent performance as the preacher/civil rights activist who, torn between seeking justice through the antiquated Southern courts, and seeking more instantaneous redress through revenge, wisely chose the legal route, thereby implementing more changes in the system.

Clu Gulager(Marvin Tayman), extremely convincing in his role as county prosecutor, was caught between preserving the paternalistic feudalism of the Old South and the democracy he was sworn to defend. Tayman was powerless to change until the catalyst of his spoiled, mentally unstable nephew's impulsive murder instigated him to do the right thing by bringing his nephew Fred to justice.

Although not featured prominently, Barry Brown (Fred Tayman) turned in a powerful performance as the rich man's son whose sense of "entitlement" does not preclude him from having to face consequences.

Weak and pampered, young Tayman become becomes unraveled, and his final confrontation with the law is a cinematic tour de force. Brown's expressions were positive scary; the chilling way he conveyed the irrationality of the mentally embattled murderer made for tense, gripping moments at the picture's end.

A footnote: Barry Brown's appearance in this film was posthumous; it was issued the year after his tragic death. Brown's edgy. compelling performance stands as a tribute to this talented, sensitive actor.

Although dated, this movie is a valuable historical snapshot of race relations at a turbulent time in America's history.

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