Walking Tall (1973) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
48 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Buford Pusser kicks butt
dtucker863 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Joe Don Baker gives his best performance in this film as legendary Tennessee lawman Buford Pusser. This film is defintely biased in its portrayal of Pusser as an almost perfect "good guy". I have read a couple books about Pusser's life and I think he was a good man who really wanted to bring justice to his county and to help his fellow man. The most tragic part of this film is the scene that depicts the brutal murder of Pusser's wife Pauline and his near murder (Pusser had his jaw almost blown off and the people who did it were never caught). When was the last time you cheered at a movie? was the tagline for Walking Tall. It was a sleeper hit that spawned two sequels and a short-lived tv series. I only wish that Joe Don Baker had played Pusser in the other two films, he does a wonderful job playing a simple man in a complicated world who wants only what is just and right. I remember the scene where a corrupt judge tells Pusser that he doesn't know anything about the law. Pusser merely tells him "I know the difference between a poor honest judge and a rich dishonest one". Pusser was supposed to play himself in the second Walking Tall film but was tragically killed in a car accident. What I didn't like about the third Walking Tall was they tried to make it out like he was murdered, like the mob cut his brake lines. They didn't come out and say it, but they strongly hinted at it. According to all accounts, Pusser's death was due to speeding and it was just a tragic accident and there was no "conspiracy" involved at all. Tragic, but not mysterious. Elizabeth Hartman does a fine job in this film as Pusser's loving wife Pauline. She was a fine actress who had an amazing debut in the classic film A Patch Of Blue. Unfortunately, she was also very troubled by mental illness and killed herself in 1987. It always makes me sad when I see her in this film and remember her tragic end.
21 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
you "boom mike" people don't understand
wilbrifar13 August 2006
All you folks complaining that this is amateur film-making because the boom is visible in several shots don't understand how movies are made. In order to get good sound on dialog, the mike is hung very close to the subject. It is almost always captured on film, but in the area which is not meant to be seen by an audience, as the square film frame is supposed to be matted at top and bottom by the projectionist when shown in a theater, or by the technician when transferring film to video.

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.
43 out of 52 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Buford Pusser is the best!
wlmlbl27 August 2002
One great movie! Joe Don Baker does a great job portraying Buford Pusser. This movies deals with a man that has just givin up pro wrestlng because he is sick and tired of being controlled by someone else. He returns home to Tennessee, and finds the same thing going on. His mother warns him to ignore it, but by accident, he finds out the hard way how these people operate. His battle is an uphill one. First, he is jailed for robbing the local bar. He acts as his own defense at the trial and wins. Then the local sheriff tries to kill him, and is killed himself. Once Pusser is elected sheriff, the fight really begins. He eventually cleans out the graft and corruption in McNairy County, and then he is ambushed, and his wife is tragically killed. Pusser finally has one last showdown with the people at the Lucky Spot. I would like to have seen Joe Don Baker do the other two movies. This movie is a real tear jerker at the end.
13 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Take your best shot cause it'll be your last.
bluesman-2018 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.
6 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
What's the fuss about?
topsail3328 September 2003
Wow, the previous reviewer really had issues with this film! Judging from his/her use of overly-descriptive adjectives, I'd say he/she was looking down their nose, even before they entered the theatre.

"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.
24 out of 32 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Walking Tall
mhrabovsky1-118 January 2006
Remember seeing this film when it first hit the theatres in 1973...had some hype in the local newspapers and TV ads and was ballyhooed a lot like "The Exorcist" the same year. This film does not disappoint. If you like underdog films and the bad guys getting their a's kicked you will love this movie. Joe Don Baker, a bit actor at the time puts in slam dunk performance as the tough tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser who is a southern dirty harry type cop. Some fans might remember Baker as one of the prisoners in Paul Newman's "Cool Hand Luke". Story centers around Pusser returning home after a long sabbatical as a pro wrestler to find corruption running amok. After getting sliced and diced at a corrupt card table in the local septic tank bar and left for dead on the side of the road Pusser gets angry enough to make a run for sheriff....after winning the surprise election Pusser has to recruit some honest deputies - a rather hard task in that small corrupt town - and proceeds to try and weed out the gangsters and prostitutes running amok in the town. After running the corrupt judge into the basement of the local court house Pusser has to stop the moonshining operation run by the mob also. Along the way he literally castrates a corrupt deputy who is a mob informer. His preferred weapon is not a pistol but a big round wooden "stick" if you will he uses to bang up and batter down all criminals with. Gets to be sort of fun waiting for the next scumbag Pusser will pound down with that big wooden stick......scene of Pusser and his wife getting ambushed by the mob is very graphic and humbling...several people getting very teary eyed in the theatre the first time I saw this film. Scenes of Pusser and his children walking in funeral procession for his wife get to your emotions in a warm and tender way. Plenty of action, and the bad guys get mowed down in the end by Pusser. Almost like a carbon copy of the original Dirty Harry film the same year with Clint Eastwood mowing down the criminals. Poor cinematography and film editing the only downer for this film. Why does the viewer have to see part of a microphone hanging down from a bedroom?? Don't bother with the sequels without Baker as sheriff Pusser. Bo Svenson poor substitute after you have seen Baker as Pusser. Great overall action film - can be quite graphic. Not for young kids to see.
15 out of 19 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
"Do you have a warrant?" "Yeah. It's in my shoe!"
hammerfan15 September 2007
If you are a southern male who grew up in the 1970's, "Walking Tall" is your "Gone With The Wind". This 1973 movie is based on actual events in the life of Sheriff Buford Pusser of McNairy County, Tennessee during the 1960's. Though the screenplay takes some liberties with Pusser's story, it is an exciting account of one man taking on organized crime and corruption .

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.
5 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Optimistic about human nature
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU29 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I saw it when it came out, in Dunn North Carolina, mind you, in the new cinema complex that had just open in the new shopping mall that had started opening in 1970 (I bought a tie there, the tie of Campbell community college next door, in 1970). I thought it was interesting, fascinating, but maybe slightly extreme. I have not changed my mind. But what is it about? A man coming back to his birth place and his family, along with his wife, their two kids and their dog, a birth place they decide to call home, in Tennessee. I have seen that pattern so often like in "Sometimes they come back" by Stephen King. He is at once, on the very second day, face to face with the perversion prohibition can produce. The county, or at least the city, is anti-alcohol, anti-prostitution, anti-gambling, and what had to happen happens. Just beyond the county limits a bar cum bordello cum gambling hall opens and attracts the males of the county who want to be ripped of their money by cheating game masters, of their soberness by moonshine whisky unduly called Daniels and of their kinky dreams by trailer female visitors, go and have a good time. But this business is of course in the hands of hard traffickers, of some organized crime at least at the level of the whole state and anyone who opposes it is dead meat, but after it has been severely tenderized. Our hero decides to run as sheriff against the rotten one who is in place and the rotten racist local judge who is covering the whole business. And then it is the story of how he will learn how to do things, how to integrate a black man in his team, how to inspire courage and fight corruption, how to bust the facade of these traffickers, bust the heads of a couple as soon as they draw a weapon, and finally inspire the people to build a posse and go out for the Lucky Spot of their dreams and burn it down. True of course, but too extreme. Things never happen that way. It takes time, a lot of time, to move public opinion, particularly in a small town. It takes time and finesse to trick and trap mafia criminals. It takes time and patience to trick and trip a judge who has so much power in his hands. But in 1973 it was a sign on the road away from the good old silent majority. The very first step on a very long way that is just coming ripe right now, maybe, and the silent majority might finally get some voice and shout "Yes We can" to their desire for "the change they need". Will that be a landslide or a tottering stumble? The film seems to believe that such radical change is possible once the fruit is ripe. Yet it does not show the ripening of the fruit, just the plucking.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines
7 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Ironic Thought Provoker.
Robert J. Maxwell5 August 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Joe Don Baker is Buford Pusser, an ex Marine who returns to find his small, peaceful Tennessee town corrupted by an immoral cabal marketing illegal stuff like gambling, white lightning, and trailer hos. He is elected sheriff and cleans it all up.

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.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
"Walk softly and carry a big stick."
wmjahn31 July 2009
Unfortunately the IMDb allows only comments up to 1000 words and I was so much taken in by WALKING TALL that my comment got longer, so please go to my entry in the message board, if you want to read the whole review! :-) ... :-))

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! :-)
10 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Standard Actioner
rwint17 March 2002
Yes Virginia there really was a man named Buford Pusser. He was a south Tennessee sheriff who was shot 8 times, knifed 7 times, survived a ambush, and even jumped onto a speeding car to make a arrest. The film, which was admittedly given the Hollywood treatment, looks at his exploits in a somewhat routine,somewhat gritty style with some surprisingly stirring moments. Though by the end when Johnny Mathis sings a ill advised syrupy song do you realize how emotionally manipulative it all really is.

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.
7 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Very interesting film, couldn't step away
Stefan21 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.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A compelling,intense,fictionalized account of Sheriff Buford Pusser
Joe O'Brien27 April 2002
Warning: 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.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The Story of Sheriff Buford Pusser
Hollywood_Yoda2 November 2006
Warning: 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.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Cars and bars like in Coen brother's movies
manuel-pestalozzi12 June 2003
Warning: 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.


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.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Forget the Rock remake
movieman_kev1 April 2004
The fact that the remake of this classic is opening in a few days persuaded me to review the original Joe Don Baker ass-kicker of a movie. Baker will always be in my mind as Buford Pusser, a man who chooses to walk tall no matter what the consequences that may befall. After retiring from wrestling, he returns home with his wife, Elizabeth Hartman (Edwina in Clint Eastwood's strangest film "the Beguiled), and children, Dawn Lyn and Leif Garret (heh) in tow, only to find corruption. Luckily Buford carries a BIG stick and knows how to swing it. At a tad over two hours, this film is almost 2 times the film that the remake is time-wise, but a million times better than it entertainment and story-wise. A tad dated, but it still holds up pretty well

My Grade: A
6 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Extremely effective as visceral entertainment.
Scott LeBrun22 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.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
WALKING TALL (Phil Karlson, 1973) **1/2
MARIO GAUCI4 June 2008
Warning: 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!
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Drive in classic
John Seal21 April 2000
Walking Tall was a massive hit back in the 70s, and in retrospect it's easy to see why. The film was definitely ahead of the curve in its representation of an outraged Middle America, fed up to the gills with the apparent excesses of the 60s. Buford Pusser was Ronald Reagan with a big stick, ignoring the law when it was convenient and laying into the lowlifes and scum who were perverting American family values. It's not a pretty picture, but it is a heck of an entertaining movie that predates grittier urban dramas such as The Exterminator and Vigilante.
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
And which movie did YOU see...?
A_Different_Drummer21 December 2013
Warning: 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.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
I thought it was a great movie(s)....
tmh_hornsby22 October 2006
Warning: 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!
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Now THIS is great filmmaking
sjmcollins-130 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
(Some spoilers): "Walking Tall" is probably the most politically incorrect movie you will ever lay your eyes on, but you can't tear away from it if you tried. It's like a episode of "Dukes of Hazzard" directed by Brian DePalma or Quentin Tarentino. I just watched this for the first time, and some of the scenes blew me away. I particularly enjoyed 10 year old Leif Garrett walking through the crowded hospital with the shotgun, and then proceeding to load it front of a nurse, who smiled and nodded approvingly. And also the ending scene with the angry mob justice, burning the evil craps table and such. Joe Don Baker is great in the role of Buford Pusser (great freakin' name!), the ex-wrestler who goes from gently playing with his children to beating 12 men half to death with a bat in seconds. It's all portrayed in a flattering manner, however. I am now eagerly anticipating the remake with The Rock, just to see if they can come within a mile of doing some of the things they were able to back in the early 70's.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Bigger Than Life
Charles Eagle16 October 2003
Warning: 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.
1 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Walking Tall blurs the lines between right and wrong
threerandot15 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I just watched this one tonight and I am appalled at how much praise has been laid upon the title character of Bufford Pusser. If these were indeed the kinds of actions taken by the subject of this film, then those are highly questionable ones.

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.
3 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews