Walking Tall (1973)

R | 125 mins | Biography, Drama | February 1973

Director:

Phil Karlson

Writer:

Mort Briskin

Producer:

Mort Briskin

Cinematographer:

Jack A. Marta

Editor:

Harry Gerstad

Production Designer:

I. Stanford Jolley

Production Company:

BCP, Inc.
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HISTORY

The following written prologue appears in the opening credits: “A motion picture suggested by certain events in the life of Buford Pusser, sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee…a living legend.” A disclaimer in the closing credits states that the film is a fictionalized account suggested by certain events, but the characters and incidents are not intended to refer to actual persons or events. Although an Aug 1969 DV new item reported that Mort Briskin would produce and write the script for Walking Tall , an 8 Nov 1971 DV news item states that Joseph A. Hayes had been signed to write the script. A Jul 1972 Box item credited Hayes with the story from which Briskin wrote his script, but Hayes was not credited onscreen and his contribution, if any, to the final script has not been determined.
       An Apr 1972 HR news item revealed that Bing Crosby Productions (BCP) was negotiating with Universal to release Walking Tall , but Cinerama Releasing Corp. ultimately distributed the picture. An Apr 1974 LAT article noted that the MPAA originally threatened to rate Walking Tall X and the Catholic Conference condemned it due to violence. The article also stated that Pusser earned 7% of the film's profits. The film marked the feature film debut of Leif Garrett, who appeared with his sister, Dawn Lyn, playing the Pusser children “Mike” and “Dwana.” Leif later became a teenage idol after starting a singing career. As noted in the closing credits, Walking Tall was shot entirely on location in Tennessee. Modern sources add Chris Ladd ... More Less

The following written prologue appears in the opening credits: “A motion picture suggested by certain events in the life of Buford Pusser, sheriff of McNairy County, Tennessee…a living legend.” A disclaimer in the closing credits states that the film is a fictionalized account suggested by certain events, but the characters and incidents are not intended to refer to actual persons or events. Although an Aug 1969 DV new item reported that Mort Briskin would produce and write the script for Walking Tall , an 8 Nov 1971 DV news item states that Joseph A. Hayes had been signed to write the script. A Jul 1972 Box item credited Hayes with the story from which Briskin wrote his script, but Hayes was not credited onscreen and his contribution, if any, to the final script has not been determined.
       An Apr 1972 HR news item revealed that Bing Crosby Productions (BCP) was negotiating with Universal to release Walking Tall , but Cinerama Releasing Corp. ultimately distributed the picture. An Apr 1974 LAT article noted that the MPAA originally threatened to rate Walking Tall X and the Catholic Conference condemned it due to violence. The article also stated that Pusser earned 7% of the film's profits. The film marked the feature film debut of Leif Garrett, who appeared with his sister, Dawn Lyn, playing the Pusser children “Mike” and “Dwana.” Leif later became a teenage idol after starting a singing career. As noted in the closing credits, Walking Tall was shot entirely on location in Tennessee. Modern sources add Chris Ladd and Lloyd Harris to the cast.
       As stated in the film’s credits, Walking Tall was inspired by events in the life of Buford Hayse Pusser (1937—1974), whose battles against corruption in western Tennessee eventually brought him national prominence. As mentioned in the film, Pusser spent some time as a professional wrestler after a stint in the Marines was cut short due to poor health. Although Walking Tall suggests that Pusser returned to his hometown of Adamsville and shortly thereafter was elected sheriff, in reality from 1962 to 1964 he served as police chief and constable, just as his father Carl. The film dramatizes the death of Pusser’s predecessor, “Sheriff Al Thurman,” in a rage-filled car chase, when in real life, the town’s sheriff died two weeks before the election in a car crash that had nothing to do with Pusser. While Walking Tall implies that the townspeople were elated over Pusser’s election, it is frequently noted in articles on him that he won by only three hundred votes. Pusser served as sheriff of McNairy County, TN, from 1964 to 1970 and stepped down due to consecutive term limits. His first deputy was not an African-American friend, as shown in the film, but rather his father. After serving as sheriff, Pusser later worked as constable for two years, and in 1972 was defeated in his bid for re-election as sheriff.
       In the film, Pusser’s shooting of “Callie Hacker” was very loosely based on his killing of Louise Hathcock, wife and girl friend of two members of the “State Line Mob,” when she resisted arrest for robbery and attempted to shoot Pusser. The murder of Pauline Pusser in Aug 1967 occurred much as portrayed in Walking Tall and brought Pusser’s “war” against organized crime to national attention. Pusser died in a car accident in 1974, just hours after signing a contract to star in the sequel to Walking Tall . A Sep 1974 New Times article written weeks after Pusser’s death confirmed that most of the events in Walking Tall were fictitious and that far from being considered a legendary hero in southwestern Tennessee, he was viewed by many there as violent and as corrupt as the criminals he pursued. In an Apr 1974 LAT article, director Phil Karlson admitted that the film dealt with the myth of Pusser, rather than the real man. Karlson acknowledged that “Pusser, rather than eradicating vice, only succeeded in driving it into the next county.” A Dec 1976 LAHExam news item stated that after an exhaustive investigation, the Tennesssee Highway Patrol ruled Pusser’s death accidental and noted that his blood alcohol level was .18 in a state where .1 was, at the time, considered legally drunk. Despite that ruling, Pusser’s mother and daughter always publicly maintained that his death was not accidental, but rather a reprisal by one of his many enemies.
       According to Jun 1973 DV and Oct 1973 Newsweek articles, the initial release of Walking Tall was unsuccessful in large metropolitan venues, but had notable success in rural areas. The DV article, as well as several others, noted that Cinerama Releasing’s change in advertising helped fashion a different view of the film. The revised slogan for the film became: “When was the last time you stood up and applauded a movie?” Walking Tall 's subsequent box office success was compared to that of another recent independent film about a solitary man fighting a corrupt system, Billy Jack (1971, see above).
       Director Phil Karlson directed the 1954 film The Phenix City Story (see entry), whose plot, also based on a true story about corruption in a small Southern town, closely resembled that of Walking Tall.
       Pusser’s reputation inspired numerous pop cultural references, including several songs such as “The Ballad of Buford Pusser” recorded by Johnny Cash and Eddie Bond. The film’s popularity inspired two sequels and other productions. The 1975 BCP Production Walking Tall Part II , directed by Earl Bellamy, featured Bo Svenson taking over the role of Pusser and Noah Berry, Jr., Lurene Tuttle, Garrett and Lyn reprising their roles as Pusser family members. The story featured Pusser tracking down his wife’s murderers. The 1977 BCP Production, Final Chapter: Walking Tall , directed by John Starrett, again starred Svenson with Forest Tucker assuming the role of Carl Pusser and focused on Pusser’s life after stepping down as sheriff up to the time of his death. A television series, entitled Walking Tall , also starring Svenson, aired briefly on NBC in 1981. In 2004, M-G-M released a loose remake of Walking Tall starring Chris "The Rock" Vaughn, with a script written by Mort Briskin and directed by Kevin Bray. The character names were changed, with Vaughn’s character a veteran just having returned home from the Vietnam War. In 2007, Walking Tall: The Payback and Walking Tall: Lone Justice , starring Kevin Sorbo, directed by Tripp Reed, were released directly to DVD by Sony. The main similarity to the original film was a lone individual defending his family and town against organized crime. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
3 Jul 1972.
---
Box Office
12 Mar 1973
p. 4571.
Daily Variety
19 Aug 1969.
---
Daily Variety
8 Nov 1971.
---
Daily Variety
4 Jun 1973
p 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Apr 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jul 1972
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Aug 1972
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Feb 1973
p. 4, 27.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
1 Oct 1973.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
22 Dec 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
23 Feb 1973
Section IV, p. 1, 22.
Los Angeles Times
30 Apr 1974
Part IV, p. 1, 12.
New Times
6 Sep 1974
pp. 25-27.
New York Times
9 Feb 1974
p. 18.
Newsweek
8 Oct 1973.
---
Time
21 May 1973.
---
Variety
28 Feb 1973
p. 20.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
Prod exec
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Chief elec
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Const coord
Props
COSTUMES
MUSIC
SOUND
Prod mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Tech consultant
Casting
Scr supv
Transportation coord
Post prod supv
Loc equipment
Automobiles furnished by
Unit pub
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt coord
SOURCES
SONGS
"Walking Tall," words by Don Black, music by Walter Sharf, sung by Johnny Mathis.
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Series:
Release Date:
February 1973
Premiere Information:
New York opening 8 February 1973
Los Angeles opening: 23 February 1973
Production Date:
mid July--mid August 1972 in Tennessee
Copyright Claimant:
Bing Crosby Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
23 February 1973
Copyright Number:
LP41989
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
DeLuxe
Duration(in mins):
125
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Returning with his family to his hometown of Adamsville, Tennessee after a stint in Chicago as a professional wrestler, Buford Pusser moves his wife Pauline and their two children, Mike and Dwana, into a home a short distance from his parents, Carl and Helen. Soon after settling in, Buford reunites with old friend Lutie McVeigh, who is delighted to show Buford just how much the area has changed in his absence by taking him to the Lucky Spot roadhouse one afternoon. After Lutie promptly loses money playing craps, he borrows fifty dollars from Buford who then watches the next round carefully. Spotting a player with an extra pair of dice, Buford accuses him of cheating, prompting proprietor Buel Jaggers’ men to attack Buford. A fierce brawl ensues in which Lutie is knocked out and Buford is eventually overpowered by four men. On Jaggers’ orders, his men carve several deep wounds into Buford’s chest and back before dumping him in a roadside ditch and driving away in his car. After being taken home by a trucker, Buford is treated by Dr. Lamar Stivers and questioned by Sheriff Al Thurman, who downplays the assault as men “letting off steam.” A few days later, Thurman returns to the Pusser home with his deputy Grady Coker to report that he has not located Buford’s car. Although Thurman implies that Lutie’s reputation for telling tall tales will not help Buford if he presses charges against Jaggers, Buford insists on proceeding. After commencing work at his father’s logging farm, Buford meets school friend Obra Eaker, a young black man, and hires him immediately. ... +


Returning with his family to his hometown of Adamsville, Tennessee after a stint in Chicago as a professional wrestler, Buford Pusser moves his wife Pauline and their two children, Mike and Dwana, into a home a short distance from his parents, Carl and Helen. Soon after settling in, Buford reunites with old friend Lutie McVeigh, who is delighted to show Buford just how much the area has changed in his absence by taking him to the Lucky Spot roadhouse one afternoon. After Lutie promptly loses money playing craps, he borrows fifty dollars from Buford who then watches the next round carefully. Spotting a player with an extra pair of dice, Buford accuses him of cheating, prompting proprietor Buel Jaggers’ men to attack Buford. A fierce brawl ensues in which Lutie is knocked out and Buford is eventually overpowered by four men. On Jaggers’ orders, his men carve several deep wounds into Buford’s chest and back before dumping him in a roadside ditch and driving away in his car. After being taken home by a trucker, Buford is treated by Dr. Lamar Stivers and questioned by Sheriff Al Thurman, who downplays the assault as men “letting off steam.” A few days later, Thurman returns to the Pusser home with his deputy Grady Coker to report that he has not located Buford’s car. Although Thurman implies that Lutie’s reputation for telling tall tales will not help Buford if he presses charges against Jaggers, Buford insists on proceeding. After commencing work at his father’s logging farm, Buford meets school friend Obra Eaker, a young black man, and hires him immediately. When no action is taken on Buford’s charge against Jaggers and his men, Buford fashions a large stick at the mill and goes to the Lucky Spot at closing where he bashes in the arm of each of the men involved in his assault. Buford then demands the frightened bookkeeper reimburse him for his lost car, his hospital bills and the money taken from him and Lutie. The next day, Thurman arrests Buford on charges of assault and robbery and, after Judge R.W. Clarke threatens him with a long sentence, Buford decides to represent himself in court. Just before the trial is about to begin, Carl informs Buford that Lutie’s body has been discovered in the lake. Informing the jury that his only witness has been killed, Buford removes his shirt to display the multiple scars from his attack, prompting the jury to clear Buford of all charges. Delighted, Obra then suggests that Buford use his new popularity to run against Thurman for sheriff. Although Pauline pleads with Buford not to involve himself further in the region’s rampant corruption, Buford decides to run against Thurman. Incensed, Thurman begins tracking Buford, hoping to catch him in any minor infraction. Pleased to find Buford speeding one day, Thurman races after him and tries to force Buford off the road several times, only to drive off a bridge and crash. Buford is able to pull Grady to safety, but the car burns before he can rescue Thurman. Soon after at the Lucky Spot, Jaggers meets with the other area club owners, including Augie McCullah and the head of the region’s illegal activities, Callie Hacker, who runs the sprawling Pine Ridge Club. Despite Callie’s orders to the others to spend lavishly to prevent Buford from being elected, he wins. On his first day as sheriff, Buford commands his deputies to apply the law equally and accept no bribes. Soon after, Buford is summoned to a morgue to view the bodies of eight black civil rights workers who died after apparently drinking poisoned moonshine. Offering Obra a position as deputy sheriff, Buford presses him for help and Obra takes him to the area’s largest still, run by Willie Rae Lockman, a black man who also owns a small nightclub near the Mississippi border. Arresting everyone at the still, Buford is dismayed when Judge Clarke later throws out all the charges because the new sheriff did not follow proper procedures in securing warrants and informing the accused of their rights. Although frustrated, Buford proceeds more carefully and soon has his deputies making regular checks for illegal liquor at the area’s bars and roadhouses. Some time later, Buford receives a visit by government representative John Witter, who advises Buford that harassing local businesses has ramifications in the state capital, Nashville. When Buford refuses Witter’s invitation to visit Nashville, Witter cautions him that ideals and reality are often very far apart. Undaunted, Buford, Obra, Grady and the deputies resume making surprise checks on all the clubs, angering the various owners, but Callie warns that Witter has instructed them to leave Buford alone temporarily as his activities in McNairy County have received attention in the Nashville press. Meanwhile, Buford remains frustrated in his dealings with Judge Clarke, who continually undercuts guilty verdicts of gamblers and liquor runners by applying minimal fines and few detentions. Later, Buford is outraged when a surprise simultaneous mass search of all the area clubs yields no illegal activities, suggesting there is an informer on Buford’s staff. One night while taking a back road home, a car races past Buford and when he gives chase and pulls the car over, he is shot twice in the chest. Recovering at home, Buford bitterly notes the get-well gifts from the corrupt club owners and, despite Pauline’s pleas, insists he must start carrying a gun in addition to his large stick. Soon after, Buford assembles all his deputies and proceeds to a new still that he plans to destroy. There he accuses deputy Virgil Button of betraying him, as he is the only one who knew of Buford driving the back roads home. When Virgil breaks down and admits to taking bribes, Buford fires him. Over the next several days, Buford makes numerous successful raids on the clubs, prompting Callie to suspect that the organization now has a leak. Although Jaggers suggests killing Buford, Callie hesitates as Witters has not authorized so drastic an act. Acting on his own, one of Jaggers’ men ambushes Buford’s home a few night’s later, firing two shot gun blasts through the living room window, resulting in the death of the family dog. Buford runs after the assailant and kills him. Soon after, Luan Paxton, one of the prostitutes at the Lucky Spot who has befriended Buford, telephones him with a tip that Callie and her henchman are torturing one of the other girls, Margie Ann, whom they suspect of informing. Buford rescues Margie Ann and beats up Callie’s man in front of her. Later, Buford provides Luan with money to leave town safely. Outraged by Buford’s boldness, Callie fakes the robbery of a jewel salesman on Christmas Day at the Lucky Spot to lure Buford there. When he arrives, she opens fire on him with a shotgun blast that hits several customers, but misses the sheriff, who shoots and kills her. After Callie’s death, there is a lull in criminal activity in McNairy County. One morning, shortly after a pleasant picnic with his family, Buford receives an early morning call regarding trouble at a new still, and when Pauline asks to accompany Buford, he agrees. On the drive, two cars carrying Jaggers, McCullah and their men drive by the Pussers and riddle the car with gunshots, killing Pauline. Pulling over, Buford hysterically radios for help, but Jaggers and McCullah drive by again, shoot Buford in the face and leave him for dead. Soon after Pauline’s funeral, Buford, swathed in a heavy neck and face cast, drives out to the Lucky Spot and plows his car into the club, running down Jaggers and McCullah. Afterward, Obra and Grady arrive to take Buford back to the hospital while numerous townsfolk set fire to the Lucky Spot to reclaim law and order for their town. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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