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I am a Redneck, I don't have a problem with it. Pure out and out Kentucky born and bred White Trash. This is fine. One more White Nigger, that is me. Raised by a factory worker granddad, a grandmother who never drove a car, a mom who had aspirations to be a country music star and a crazed Vietnam vet, I figure there ain't any use trying to deny, it is as plain as the pug-nose on my face, so I decided some time ago to be proud and try and embrace my backwards-ness. This leads me to my review of one of the most successful and pretty damned good Redneck Revenge films ever to grace a 60 foot screen just outside of town. WALKING TALL.

Well, I have reviewed artsy shit like Chinese Bookie, and schlocky swill like Blood Freak, but this is the kind of movie that a review just basically oozes from my very spirit. WALKING TALL. Let me just say, I saw this thing 4 times at the drive-in during its initial run, thank you very much and countless more in the early days of HBO and even as a CBS Saturday Night Movie, I believe. Okay, I have seen it, you get the point.

A true life "Real-American Hero" Buford Pusser, was the sheriff in Adamsville, Tennessee. He died in 1974, in a fiery auto-explosion that may or may not have been an accident. You see, the "real" Buford Pusser was a legit bad-ass, shot 8 times and knifed 7. If you were gonna base a film on a tough-guy sheriff, he wasn't a bad place to start. So that is how it went. Buford Pusser was to be forever immortalized on the silver screen.

Walking Tall came along at a time when the south was portrayed as a corrupt place if you were an outsider.The last thing you wanted to do was cross the Mason-Dixon line to conduct business, visit family or God-forbid, take a vacation. Films like "Macon County Line", "White Line Fever" and "Texas Chainsaw", remind the viewer of what took place in the south - movies filled with psycho hillbillies, corrupt devil worshipping cops, moonshine swilling teenagers and plenty of open road, high speed car wrecks leaving gallons of blood splattered on the highway. If you went to Alabama, Texas or Tennessee, you were guaranteed a good ass whuppin' not only from the local citizens, but you might get one from the local sheriff or his deputies and hell, the judge might get in on it too. The authorities were usually on the take and many times as ruthless as the law breakers.

But "Walking Tall" was different not for its setting (Tennessee) or its rampant portrayal of corruption (illegal gambling, prostitution, drug dealing), but in its attempt at humanity.

Buford Pusser (Joe Don Baker) is an ex-wrestler (Buford the Bull) who has left the mat biz 'cause he is not getting his push. That's right Buford shoots on the biz, letting the casual viewer in on it, Wrestling Is Fake! The horror! I am waiting for the Buford the Bull story, personally, about a wrestler trying to make it in the South with a small wrestling promotion. But hey, who isn't. So Buford comes back to his home town and his parents, just to kinda kick back, work a nine to five logging job, and enjoy time with his wife Pauline (Elizabeth Hartman) and kids (Dawn Lyn and Leif Garrett, that's right Leif)

But his first day back, Buford runs into a old high school chum and they end up at the Lucky Star, the local full service establishment. Trailers full of whores in the front, illegal booze in the bar and a full blown gambling casino in the back. Pusser witnesses cheating at the craps table and proceeds to beat the shit out of the dealer (who is on the current sheriff's payroll, who is on the payroll of some corrupt political bigwig) - but the locals boys outnumber Buford and eventually get him, and but good, cutting his chest and abdomen with a knife and dumping him a ditch to die - which, of course, he doesn't. Needless to say, Buford might be glad to see home but home ain't so glad to see him.

This sets Pusser on a mission to bring down the evil forces in the small town, which includes every bar owner, peace officer and even the judge. An interesting dynamic is the fact that Buford is an equal opportunity ass-kicker. He quickly befriends an old football buddy who happens to be black (which given the market for this film upon its release had to send car horns a tooting at the Drive-In) and his somewhat maniacal obsession with do-gooding covers the black-moonshiners, white bar owners and so on.

When Pusser eventually becomes sheriff of the little town, he steeps up the mission to stop the political corruption, bust up stills, and tear the Lucky Star off its foundations. And, of course, from the state capitol on down the corrupters aren't very pleased with Buford's brand of "big stick" law enforcement. The stick of course is something that you would think was a Tinsel Town creation but that was not the case, the real Buford Pusser was a man of big stick. Often letting the stick be the judge, jury and executioner.

Some folks have a problem with the "wild west ethic" of law enforcement. Personally, it is a movie, emotionally, I can't give a shit. Buford gets done wrong, Buford goes out to get them, with the law on his side. As sheriff, Pusser does good but its because he's on a personal vendetta which crosses over the line of righteousness. He says he goes after the bad guys because they're breaking the law - he really goes after them because they done him wrong. 'Nuff said.

Using the law for personal gain and vengeance is as corrupt as crooks who dish it out right? So what, I say, they had it coming. That is what makes Walking Tall work as a film. Now in real life a guy usually doesn't get the chance to reap justice like a Buford Pusser, so when watching the film, you end up cheerleading Pusser into reeking havoc. Plus Pusser doesn't just hurt his antagonizers, he kills them in right bloody fashion. But usually as retribution, but Buford reaps what he sows, he looses his dog, his wife and a huge part of himself, we are led to believe, because these forces of corruption have changed the honest happy-go-lucky galoot he was. He always makes reference to "the system," Buford-speak for "the man" trying to keep him down.

Film critics generally hate a film that is so reactionary that it makes "Dirty Harry" seem outrageously liberal in comparison. "Eye for an Eye" is today's Bible lesson and Pusser is preaching hard. Not that the film doesn't have its shortcomings. Sometimes "Walking Tall" feels like a made-for-TV movie from the era, with horrible music and Phil Karlson's direction remains stilted throughout and seems shot in a linear, by the book fashion that becomes predictable early on. The strength is in the story, in the relentless attacks the locals have on Pusser and Pusser's "vengeance is mine" relentless counterattacks. I am always amazed how many critics love Billy Jack yet hate Walking Tall. I believe it is because Pusser has the law on his side, or at least a badge, and Billy Jack is an individual fighting the law, alone, for very liberal minded issues whilst Pusser seems motivated by revenge. I have to admit, Pusser's motivations seem more realistic to me, maybe not as high & mighty, but realistic.

So without gettin' heady with the "what is right, what is wrong" about old West Justice, let me just say Walking Tall is entertaining, Hell it spawned 2 sequels, and as late as the early 90's they were still talking about Bo Svenson in a TV series based on ol' Boo. See it, if you haven't and see it again, if you have.

I can't really end this review without just a word or two about Joe Don Baker, a man with 2 first names who in my opinion is vastly underrated. His career got a start in one of the greatest films of all time, Cool Hand Luke. Just a young cuss, Joe Don shows up as one of the background characters in prison, I don't think he is even credited. He was in the Guns of the Magnificent Seven. The absolutely brilliant, soon to be reviewed right here, Welcome Home Solider Boys, as well as, a personal favorite performance in Charlie Varrick, alongside Walter Matthau, as Molly, which landed him the role of Buford Pusser. His performance in Mitchell and the film itself was a MST3000 send-up (who fucking cares) and he made sort of a comeback in Scorsese's Cape Fear as the understated P.I. on the trail of Max Kadey. With over 60 film credits to his name, Joe Don is a force and straight up, FUCK YOU, if you are not down.

When you are finished watching the film and you are looking for something to do, how about a road trip of sorts? How about hitting the Carbo Smokey Mountain Police Museum. Smack dab in the Hell on Earth, known as Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. You can see Buford's stick, the charred 1974 Corvette (what's left of it) he died in and a whole damn wall of Pusserabilia, including a wax likeness of Buford. You can buy a corncob pipe, or a Buford Pusser Back Scratcher.

The autographed photos of Joe Don Baker, Bo Svenson, Jack Lord, and Eric Estrada and other cop-type actors also crowd the walls. To visit here is the address: (Carbo's Police Museum: U.S. Hwy. 441 N.)

Oh yeah, Pusser's home in Adamsville has also been opened as a tourist attraction and shrine to Buford. Displays here include his bed (insert big stick joke here), a selection of Pusser credit cards, and his toothbrush. Sometimes his daughter Dwana stops by. You can buy a Buford Pusser coloring book and souvenir ax handles in the gift shop. (Buford Pusser's Home: 342 Pusser St.) Of course. You should have known.

Just another victim of Buford Pusser's stick.

Buford swings for the fences, as the bad guys seem to keep on keeping on.

The simplest shots sometimes tell the story.

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Buford Thr Bull shows off a little cross-arm double take down on some good old boys.

But the boys end up getting the best of Buford.

Joe Don gives it his all in this courtroom scene!

Buford goes to work, by good delvering a little justice!

You want some stick, okay, here is some stick.

Well alright, maybe the stick is made of rubber, but its a stick!

This is the gratuitous Hooker with a Heart of Gold.

This is the crooked judge who is on the take.

This is Buford busting up a still. I do love you.....still.

This is Buford helping a stripped stark nekkid girl, what a hero.

Buford looks like a bad-ass cuz he is a bad-ass

Joe Don giving it up, Fuck yes, that is acting Joe Don!

For the ladies, a young Leif Garrett all teared up with a gun in hand.

This is the real Buford Pusser, shot 8 times stabbed 7. Ouch.

She dead, or dying, Buford goes for the eye.

Buford after the death of his wife, after killing 2 of the guys responsible just looks like shit.
Brains On Film 2003