Walking Tall (1973 film)

Walking Tall is a 1973 American semi-biographical action film of Sheriff Buford Pusser, a professional wrestler-turned-lawman in McNairy County, Tennessee. It stars Joe Don Baker as Pusser. The film was directed by Phil Karlson.[2] Based on Pusser's life, it has become a cult classic with two direct sequels of its own, a TV movie, a brief TV series and a remake that had its own two sequels. It's also the penultimate movie of actress Elizabeth Hartman.

Walking Tall
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPhil Karlson
Produced byMort Briskin
Written byMort Briskin
Stephen Downing
John Michael Hayes (uncredited)
StarringJoe Don Baker
Elizabeth Hartman
Music byWalter Scharf
CinematographyJack A. Marta
Edited byHarry W. Gerstad
Distributed byCinerama Releasing Corporation
Release date
  • February 22, 1973 (1973-02-22)
Running time
125 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$23 million[1]


Buford Pusser, at his wife Pauline's behest, retires from the professional wrestling ring and moves back to Tennessee to start a logging business with his father, Carl Pusser.

With a friend, he visits a gambling and prostitution establishment, the Lucky Spot, and is beaten up after catching the house cheating at craps. Pusser is seriously injured with a knife and receives over 200 stitches. He complains to the sheriff but is ignored, and soon becomes aware of the rampant corruption in McNairy County. Later, working at his father's lumber mill, Pusser makes a club out of a tree branch. Late one night, Pusser waits until after the Lucky Spot is closed and beats up the same thugs that left him for dead. The next day, Pusser is arrested and represents himself at trial. At one point, he rips off his shirt and shows the jury his scars. He informs them that "If you let them do this to me and get away with it, then you're giving them the eternal right to do the same damn thing to any one of you!" The jury finds Pusser not guilty, and he decides to clean up the county and runs for sheriff. The campaign is contentious against the incumbent sheriff who is killed trying to run Pusser off the road. Pusser is elected, and becomes famous for being incorruptible, intolerant of crime, and for his array of four-foot hickory clubs which he uses to great effect in dispatching criminals and destroying their clandestine gambling dens and illegal distilleries.

Some residents praise Pusser as an honest cop in a crooked town; others denounce him as a bully willing to break some laws to uphold others. Pusser is betrayed by one of his deputies and is attacked several times. Finally, he and Pauline are ambushed in their car. Pauline is killed and Pusser is seriously injured. He is admitted to the hospital after being shot and while still in a neck and face cast, attends his wife's funeral. Afterward he rams a sheriff cruiser through the front doors of the Lucky Spot, killing two of his would-be assassins.

As he leaves with two deputies, the townspeople arrive and begin throwing the gambling tables out into the parking lot. They light a bonfire as an overwhelmed Pusser wipes tears from his eyes.



The original Walking Tall was a hit, but the sequels, Walking Tall Part 2 (September 28, 1975), and Walking Tall: Final Chapter (August 10, 1977), both starring Bo Svenson, were far less profitable. On December 9, 1978, CBS aired A Real American Hero, with Brian Dennehy as Buford Pusser.


In 1978, CBS aired a television movie titled A Real American Hero: Buford Pusser, starring Brian Dennehy as the title character. The film is set in 1967 and focused on the real-life sheriff Buford Pusser who goes after a criminal who has killed young people with his illegal moonshine.

In 2004, a remake starring professional wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was made. Although it used elements from Pusser's life and the original Walking Tall, many things were changed. Johnson's character's name was now Chris Vaughn, the sheriff is trying to stop the selling of illegal drugs instead of illegal moonshine, and the film's setting became semi-rural Kitsap County, Washington, although it was filmed in Squamish, B.C., Canada. Two sequels to the remake were produced, and released in 2007: Walking Tall: The Payback and Walking Tall: Lone Justice, both made in Dallas, Texas and released directly to DVD. These sequels starred Kevin Sorbo as Nick Prescott, the son of the town's sheriff who takes the law into his own hands when his father is killed in a suspicious car accident.


Box office

Walking Tall was a box office smash. Produced on a budget of $500,000, the film grossed $23 million domestically,[1] earning an estimated $8.5 million in North American theatrical rentals in 1973.[3]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 75% based on reviews from 12 critics.[4] On Metacritic it has a score of 60% based on reviews from 7 critics.[5]

Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice wrote: Like it or not, Walking tall is saying something very important to many people, and it is saying it with accomplished artistry.[6] Judith Crist of New York Magazine wrote: "Walking Tall grabs you where trash and violence invariably do, with excellent performers, shrewd plotting and pacing."[7] Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club writing in 2002, describes the film as "an ultraviolent revenge fantasy" and "a masterpiece of over-the-top unintentional hilarity" and highly recommends the film, calling it an "unconscionably good time".[8]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also


  1. "Walking Tall, Worldwide Box Office". Worldwide Box Office. Retrieved January 17, 2012.
  2. Vincent Canby (February 9, 1974). "'Walking Tall':Film Depicts Violence in a Small Town". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 8, 2014.
  3. "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974, pg 19.
  4. "Walking Tall". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  5. "Walking Tall (1973)". Metacritic. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  6. Andrew Sarris The Village Voice 21 Feb 1974, p.61
  7. Judith Crist of New York Magazine 18 Feb 1974, p.74
  8. https://film.avclub.com/walking-tall-1798196159
  9. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 6, 2016.
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