Walking Tall (1973)
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In the case of Walking Tall, whoever supervised the transfer to video did so "open matte", meaning they transfered the ENTIRE film frame without proper matting, hence the visible boom. This was not carelessness on the part of the filmmakers, but on the part of whoever put it out on video. You'd see microphone booms in Star Wars if it were transfered to video this way.
When I saw Walking Tall in the theater, it did not have visible booms. Blame the video release, not the filmmakers.
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.
"It coincided with the beginning of a sordid bottom period in the social and intellectual history of the United States from which the nation has yet to recover."
Whoa! Where'd that come from !? For starters, that wasn't the beginning of any bottom period for this country. I'm not even sure what context he/she is referring to. If it's violence in society, then you need to roll the clock back 10, 20 or more years to find the bottom. Sounds like someone lived in a glass house during the McCarthy-era, JFK's assassination, Vietnam, MLK's assassination - and that's just going back 10-20 years! Dip back further into the early part of the century, when the country was involved in labor fights (of which I highly recommend watching "Matewan One", a movie about unionizing coal miners of West Virginia back in the 20's or 30's).
Sorry to digress. Here's my take on Walking Tall:
I watched this the other night and was glued to it! Not for the display of violence, but for the fact that this movie is now nearly 30 years old and it's like a time capsule of sorts. Yes, it was a story based on violence, but the real story is how morally bankrupt one town had become, while still functioning as a little town somewhere in America.
Joe Don Baker played an excellent role in being a not-so-nice guy bent on cleaning up the scum of his childhood town. He had been away too long, and when he returned, it was too much for him to handle.
I took to watching this movie lightly. A lot of viewers commented on the social aspects of this, but I took-in all of the surrounding things like the props and scenery. For instance, look how huge those Dodge sedans were! Boats with wheels! The bad hair, bad clothes, especially one scene where his wife is wearing this blouse that has about 4 different contrasting patterns on it. Truly Seventies Americana.
As mentioned in another post, the boom operator must have been someone's kid helping out on the set, as the mic is shown in many of the scenes. Being an independent company, they must have said the heck with it in the editing room. Not enough money for a re-shoot.
I take this movie with a grain of salt. I was entertained by the time period of it and the acting. This movie belongs in the yet-to-be implemented IMDB genre category of "The Seventies". Hint hint IMDB.
The story begins with Buford and his family moving back to his home town in McNairy County. Shortly after arriving, Buford realizes that his home town has changed. Gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging have taken over. Buford exposes the gambling operation to be corrupt and is brutally beaten and left for dead. He recovers and seeks vengeance using a big piece of lumber. He is arrested for his troubles. Buford is cleared of the charges and is soon elected Sheriff. He promises to rid the county of crime and corruption. The rest of the movie shows how difficult it was for Buford to follow through with his promise.
Buford Pusser is played by Joe Don Baker, who gives the performance of his career. Baker's Pusser faces the tragic events of the movie with a sense of sad but heroic nobility. The audience is able to feel what Pusser must have felt when these events actually happened through Baker's brave performance.
The story is ultimately a tragic tale of one man who walked tall and stood up against the forces of corruption. It is the rare action movie that makes you cheer and cry at the same time. This is essential viewing for anyone who loves true heroes.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines
Baker is mulling over the decision to run for County Sheriff. It's a dangerous job in this milieu. He's already seen a friend killed and has himself been horribly tortured. His wife, Elizabeth Hartmann, objects. "Is your pride worth the lives of your wife and children?", she asks. Both Baker's character and the viewer take the sentence to be rhetorical. It's not.
But it's the sort of challenge that every wife lays down before her man when he's about to commit himself to some heroic deed. How many times has John Wayne's cinema wives clashed with him and his career as a sheriff or a Marine because they want him safe at home, not out risking his life, wondering if he'll come home in a body bag? Phil Karlson, the director, has made a couple of powerful movies but I'm not sure that he understood the import of Hartmann's question. It may have been that he realized it, but it may also have been an accident, the kind of phrase that slips easily by someone's critical apparatus. That's what I meant when I called the movie ironic.
There's another scene that demonstrates the same irony. Baker has just been ambushed, his wife murdered and half his jaw shot away. His face is encased in plaster up to his eyes. He's weak and can barely move. And we see the crowd of friends in the corridor gawk and make a path when Baker's young son solemnly enters the room, carrying the little rifle that Baker gave him for Christmas. The kid is going to kill anyone who tries to hurt his Dad. Do the film makers know what they're saying? Anyone expected a Steven Segal wisecracker or anything resembling the loutish remake with Dwayne ("The Rock") Johnson will be disappointed. This movie is ambiguous in too many respects. It's not a simple revenge movie like "The Punisher," although there is an abundance of violence and blood. After that first mauling and the subsequent humiliations, Baker is rabid with revenge. His face turns into a horrifying Gargoyle mask as he tortures the spies and law breakers.
I would guess -- judging from some recent polls and comments from our own politicians -- that about one out of four Americans will see this as the simple triumph of good over evil. (The distribution will be skewed in the direction of boys in their early teens.) It won't occur to them -- though the notion is brought up once or twice by character is the movie -- that Baker is a flawed person, that his pride verges on arrogance, and his anger on enjoyment. He brags about his scars.
It's hard to argue with such a black and white view of the sheriff. He only drinks an occasional beer to be friendly, doesn't smoke, doesn't cuss, doesn't approve of see-through blouses, doesn't hold with loose women even if they love him, he's all tenderness with his wife and children, and doesn't gamble. Has there ever been such purity -- outside of the Bible and Arthurian legends? Baker is surprisingly good in the role of the real-life Buford Pusser. You can tell the story is based on actual facts and personalities because where else would you find people with names like Lutie McVey or Ferrin Meaks? As for Buford Pusser, that name would be the first to go. As the heroic central figure, he'd have to have a name like Matt Steel or Bull Durham.
But the acting (and the location photography) are fine across the board. Nobody is a dud. Baker himself always sound like he's reciting lines in an acting class, doing his level best, but it's okay in this kind of role. After a while you get used to it and come to believe that this is how he sound off screen. He had a similar role, except as a murderer, in "Charlie Varick," where he was easily the most complex character. Probably the best performer in this film is Rosemary Murphy as the villainous Callie Hacker, head of the Whore Division. She doesn't get a chance to exercise her chops here, but catch her in "Night Moves" if you can.
It doesn't really matter how you take the movie. You can either accept it as a shallow revenge story full of blood and sentiment or as the rather deeper and murkier thing I suspect it is. It will still be gripping and emotionally moving. The climax has the law-enforcer breaking the law in search of insurance that the law will prevail. Dirty Harry with a motive. Ironic.
I love movies with balls and brains and this is one of 'em! :-)
OK, I know this movies has its small shortcomings, because it does not belong to the category of over-financed Hollywood-junk (which is a movie-category established by the film industry (!) in the later 80ies and beginning 90ties consisting of movies costing anywhere from 50 to 200 million bucks and which look like most designer-stuff: well crafted but hollow), but to the category of a small independently financed B-picture. Don't get me wrong, this ain't a movie financed on a shoestring-budget, this is just one of those movies, where the producers did not have million's to burn. It's very decently made and 95% perfect, just here or there you think, well, they could have tried one more take or something similar. But anyway, are you going to the cinema to see a technically perfect movie and receive joy from seeing designer-tailored action-scenes, or do you go to the movies or buy a DVD to enjoy yourself with a movie full of balls and brain? If you belong to the 1st category, I suggest you save the time reading this and forget about watching this flick.
But if you belong to the later category, then this is something for you, you gonna enjoy this roller-coaster-flick! Especially if - as is the case with me - 70ies B-flicks are your cup of tea. They certainly are mine! I won't dwell here on the storyline of WALKING TALL (you can find details elsewhere here), it's probably enough to point out that the title is the program and that our hero's tag-line is "walk softly and carry a big stick" (or - as the old Latins said - "suaviter in modo, fortiter in re"). Yeah, that's what he does and he uses that big stick to clean house very properly.
I do not know, which part of the story is actually "fact" (based on incidents in the life of Buford Pusser) and which parts are fiction (that could be a lot, since the disclaimer reads that this picture is based on "incidents suggested by the life of BP", which sounds like something, but in fact can mean nearly everything or nothing at all), but IF just 50% of the story-line happened in some way or another, this guy must have had enormous luck and 7 lives. Already the incidents, when somebody tries to kill him, amount to at least 5!
The movie is quite brutal, at least for a flick made in the middle of the 70ies. Quite a lot of dead and quite a high number of severely beaten-up bodies, but there ain't that much of it on-screen. Just the first beating of our hero is really tense and was probably only outdone by Mel Gibson's Christ a couple decades later. Of course it looks a bit unrealistic to see Joe Don Baker in a T-shirt so soaked with blood, because anyone loosing that much of it would certainly be dead, but then again Phil Karlson had a point to make and wanted to make sure we'd get it: our hero had been severely wounded by the villains of the town and now he had a task to handle, do what a man has to do, simply WALK TALL!
This movie is pure 70ies magnetism, a wonderful ride into rural Americana, with so many classic (partly stereo-)types, wonderful original characters, hardly any cardboard ones, and actors indeed looking like someone you could meet at any corner of such a town. This is what lifts such classic productions over the Hollywood-product we get today: we do see real people doing things, that could at least be possible (while when we watch Die Hard IV everybody should know that 90% of the action-scenes there could simply never happen, because they are against the laws of physics). Here you got a lot of beat-ups, car-chases, shoot-outs, more beatings, cars driving in houses, all things that normally don't happen if the police does its job, but things that COULD happen, that are physically possible.
And they are staged with zest and verve by a veteran director in the twilight of his career, who took this job at the age of 66 and wanted to give it a last (which then was his penultimate) try. And he does deliver ALL the goods, pulls all triggers. He certainly knew this could very well be his last effort, so why not give the best. With 4 decades (!!) of movie-making experience, Phil Karlson (who also directed THE SILENCERS and THE WRECKING CREW-entries in the lovely Matt Helm-series and quite a couple very good noir's and western) certainly knew how to build up a good storyline and how to stage it as well as possible with whatever budget he had available.
ATTENTION ! This comment here is NOT COMPLETE, because the IMDb allows only 1000 words and I wrote more, so please go to my entry in the message board (if you liked to read my few cents) to get the whole review and to be able to comment on it! :-)
Shot right in Tennessee and not some reprocessed Hollywood backlot. The excellent location shooting almost becomes a star in itself. However someone should have told the producers that even in the south the grass is not all green and the leaves aren't all on the trees at Christmas time.
Baker plays the lead role very, very well. Not only does he resemble the real Pusser, but shows some real fiery anger that's just lurking beneath the surface.
The action is intense, bloody, and well staged. Good for those who are game for this type of standard actioner.
It is interesting to note that the real Buford Pusser acted as a consultant to the film and then ended up dying in a very mysterious car crash just a year after the films release.
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.
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.
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.
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 sheriffs 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 sheriffs 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.
My Grade: A
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!
The film is certainly well made, but it also seems to glorify violence as a way to solve a problem. Not that the answers to the problems of the town in the film easy ones.
In the process of fighting for a better life for the people, it was a war that in the end, was for not. So many die in this story, including Pusser's wife, not to mention the family pet, that they lose more than they could ever hope to gain.
Pusser's wife, played so well by Elizabeth Hartman, is really the only character who actually seemed to question her husband's actions and really exhibited any kind of intellect or thought to the possible results. If a thinking viewer is watching this film, they are going to question Pusser's actions and form the opinion that there could have been a better way then the easy way of resorting to violence.
Pusser uses a gun, torture and intimidation. The same methods used by the hoodlums to torture a naked girl. He is no better... a moral cripple.
And this seems to have been the American way for decades. That might makes right and that we are the "good guys". This is shameful behavior and to reward it as heroic is moral bankruptcy.
Baker is good as Pusser and the film keeps you glued to your seat. The only failure of the film is the lack of presenting an opposing viewpoint. That violence doesn't solve anything. Is the small town in this film all "perfect" today? The scene where Leif Garrett is sitting next to his father's hospital bed with a rifle in his lap was definitely a face palm moment. America continues to be a violent nation because it teaches their young that such actions are "heroic". A very sad commentary on a nation that could hold so much more promise.
A strong film that should really have elicited more controversy and criticism of the title character's actions.