Plot: Buford Pusser (Joe Don Baker) is ready to take his family back to his old home town and settle down, after years on the pro wrestling circuit. His wife Pauline (Elizabeth Hartman) couldn’t be happier, as she has wanted a more stable environment for her family for years. When he returns home, Buford quickly learns that some things have changed in his old town and not all for the better. He sees rampant gambling, bootleg moonshine, and prostitution, all run by a violent group that wants to bleed the locals and silence anyone who resists. The town has looked the other way for too long, as now even the local sheriff is in the pocket of the racket bosses. When Buford confronts the owners of a gambling joint about the house cheating, he is badly beaten, carved up with a knife, and left in a ditch for dead. But he survives and when he comes to, he pledges to fight back, no matter what the cost…
Entertainment Value: If anyone deserved a movie about their life, it was Buford Pusser, who ran a one man campaign to end crime in his home town. He was stabbed seven times, shot eight times, and had his own wife murdered, but he refuses to back down and fought for what he thought was right. Walking Tall of course takes some dramatic liberties with his story, but a lot of truth is also in this movie and that makes it all the more powerful. Pusser is portrayed as a normal man in extraordinary circumstances, which is why the movie works so well. This isn’t a superhero, it is a regular guy who risks everything for what he thinks is right. Joe Don Baker was a great choice for Buford, as he is tough, but still vulnerable and human. This is a brutal, sometimes hard to watch movie, especially knowing so much of it is based in real life events. But it is well made and powerful, though of course somewhat dated after all these years. If you appreciate vigilante justice movies or are just interested in Buford’s story, Walking Tall is more than recommended.
One nude scene, where a naked woman is being whipped for a perceived betrayal, complete with blood all over her back. A regular at the Lucky Spot wears some revealing tops that showcase her breasts, so there’s also that. This is a violent movie, so it stands to reason there’s ample bloodshed. Some nice gun shot wounds are showcased, with fairly juicy squib payoffs for most. A woman’s head is partially blown off, which looks good and another woman is shot twice in the face, also quite cool. Then we have various blood from the brawls, which are frequent. Buford is carved up with a knife, but we also see the Frankenstein patchwork scars, not the actual blade work. A lot of tough guy talk, as you’d expect from a vigilante justice movie. He is highly confrontational and that yields some good stuff, like his exchange with the old man behind the cage in the Lucky Spot. I think the craziest part about Walking Tall is that so much of it really happened, but even outside of that, its a wild movie. Buford’s crusade is noble but totally nuts, often taking us beyond the normal hicksploitation bounds. This is rarely presented as exploitation though, so don’t expect lunacy or camp here.
Overall Insanity: 4/10