Walking Tall (1973)

Genres - Action  |   Sub-Genres - Action Thriller, Biopic [feature]  |   Release Date - Feb 22, 1973 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 125 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Looked at from a modern viewpoint, it's easy to understand why critics of the early '70s had problems with Walking Tall. Its politics support knee-jerk vigilante justice, the technical credits are hit-and-miss (note the frequent boom shots), the plot rewrites the real events that inspired the story to manipulate its audience, and it wallows in brutal violence. However, it also remains easy to see why this film clicked with the audiences of the day. It is exciting, it milks its gritty premise for all the action and drama it can muster, and it is driven by an unforgettable, star-making lead performance from Joe Don Baker. Mort Briskin's script is shamelessly manipulative in its shuffling of the facts, but still manages to work on a basic good vs. evil level. Phil Karlson, a veteran director of gritty crime melodramas like The Phenix City Story, captures the story's sweaty Southern atmosphere nicely and stages the events in a tough, pull-no-punches fashion that makes up for its lack of finesse with its sheer visceral power. However, the best element of the film is Joe Don Baker's performance as Buford Pusser. His down-home charm tempers the recklessly obsessive nature of his character, he delivers an impressive physical presence during the frequent action scenes, and he pours plenty of heartfelt emotion into the film's more dramatic moments. His presence dominates the film, but it is also worth noting that Elizabeth Hartman delivers a fine supporting performance as Pusser's wife, who plays a careful-thinking devil's advocate to his justice-obsessed character and lends the story a bit of humane warmth in the process. In short, Walking Tall may be a little too dated and lacking in polish for many modern viewers, but it is necessary viewing for anyone interested in action cinema since it remains one of the most influential (and frequently imitated) films of this genre to emerge from the 1970s.