Sunday, March 8, 2009

Walking Tall (1973)

Director: Phil Karlson

Starring: Joe Don Baker, Noah Beery Jr, Bruce Glover, Felton Perry

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: A real man who became a living legend!

Plot: Based on the life of Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser whom almost single-handily cleaned up his small town of crime and corruption, but at a personal cost of his family life and nearly his own life.

My Rating: 8/10

Would I watch it again? Yesiree Bob! Yee Hoo!

I sometimes check the run times of films before I start so I at least have a feeling of how long I'm in for, for better or worse. This one clocks in at 125 minutes, which gave me some reason for concern. Then it starts and it's not pretty. Walter Scharf's score is idyllic with lots of hope and promise and with orchestration akin to a TV show. I think I'm going to throw up. You see, I've never seen this picture before. I know, I know. It's got a great reputation and all and I've been wanting to see it since forever but I'm just now getting around to it and I thought I knew what to expect.

OK, back to the film. Buford and family make it to his parent's house in the backwoods of Tennessee. There's lots of talk about how he's retired from wrestling (because he didn't like the broken system that controlled it) and how he's going to lead a non-violent life and so on. They're really beating me over the head with it. It's getting stale and fast. So far, this overly-optimistic crap has got to go. But that's OK 'cause I know he's going to be kicking ass and taking names at some point but then again, there's about two more hours left to go!

Nice fried eggs, Ma'am.

The shit finally hits the fan when he meets-up with a childhood buddy and he's taken on a tour of the town, seeing how things have changed since he left. They end up at a gambling/prostitution joint and Buford confronts a guy cheating at the craps table and proceeds to kick said ass. It's one man against many and he's eventually overtaken and they bust out a large knife and start carving up his chest and back. OUCH!!! I felt it, too. OOoooh.

From this point on Buford's in badass mode and this is where the good stuff starts and doesn't let up for barely a moment until the credits roll. WOW! What a kickass little movie this is. It's certainly deserving of its reputation. Baker is fantastic as Buford Pusser, the real-life man who became sheriff of a small Tennessee town to clean up the corruption that blanketed it. He's a menacing figure to the point you believe he's really doing it.

The always fun Bruce Glover is great as the head deputy who helps Buford out. It was funny because I've always seen him play bizarre characters. This is the most normal role I've seen him in which was just really weird. The woman who played Buford's wife, Pauline (Elizabeth Hartman), could have been a better actress. She was too sheepish. She was sometimes assertive but most of the time she was the stand-by-your-man , Southern stereotype. The contradiction was killing me.

What surprised me most was the emotional impact found throughout the film, whether it's from the sometimes brutality of the violence or the consequences of that violence to Buford and the people around him. Even the courtroom scenes had me wrapped up in them. It may have started out all rainbows and sunshine but that didn't last long. The impact of the tonal shift with the first attack was unexpected and mature for what you'd expect with a film like this. It's got more than a few "jump up and cheer" moments. I'm all for the law but many of these people needed to be killed because they won't stop until they're dead.

It's based on a real man but how much of it is true, I have no idea. I don't look to movies for the truth. I watch them for entertainment and WALKING TALL entertained the hell out of me. This one would have been great to watch at a drive-in 35 years ago. Maybe someday. I'm just glad I finally got around to watching it.

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