“Walking Tall” is based on the true story of Buford Pusser, a Tennessee sheriff who returns to his hometown after many years away only to find it’s morphed into a corrupt den of thieves. He single mindedly takes on the Tennessee version of the Mafia, including the justice system, and pays a huge, personal price for it.
This film can be described as brutal, with a straightforward conflict waged between right and wrong. Clearly this is not a movie for the faint of heart. Joe Don Baker gives us quite a powerful performance as a country boy’s homecoming turned nightmare.
The violence is real and amplified by the sheer brutality of the villains and the ruthlessness of a corrupt justice system. The setting offers the viewer a near time capsule for anyone who wants to know what America looked like in the 1970s.
It is truly a sledgehammer of a movie—no pun intended.
What makes this movie more than a walk down memory lane is its true authenticity set in a real time. Furthermore, this is a must-see for anyone who wants to know how a bad remake can be produced, and without too much trouble. It’s accomplished by squeezing the dramatic narrative out of an original and making a sequel based upon simplistic present-day perceptions and sensibilities. For example, in the remake, the professional wrestler in the original becomes the war veteran; the quaint small town is portrayed as vice-laden casino.
Moreover, in the 2004 version, the film makers made other horrible decisions. One was to take an R-rated movie and turn it into a PG-13 mind-candy film with reliance on-over-the top action scenes to replace the original hardcore, gritty violence. The practice of including extreme and gratuitous action as a means to distract the viewer and provide cover for a lack of substance has become all too familiar in Hollywood today. The transformation from the original’s stomach-churning experience into a clock- punching, “entertaining” action movie is hideous—to say the least.
The “Walking Tall” of 1973, when compared to its sequel, teaches us why remakes of great movies should be made sparingly if attempted at all.