There’s always a sad misconception that things are sweet and charming in rural towns. Politicians will wax for hours about the wonders of the heartland that’s supposedly not poisoned by big city problems. Are things really that crisp and clean in the sticks? Or is this just a delusion that Mayberry is a real place? Walking Tall dared to remind us that the uncomplicated vision is a lie. Walking Tall: The Trilogy gives the Blu-ray glory to a Drive-in epic that captures the legend of Sheriff Bufford Pusser. A man who took a big stick to the myth of Mayberry.
Walking Tall (1973 – 124 minutes) marks the return of Bufford Pusser (Joe Don Baker) to his boyhood home in Tennessee. He went out into the world to pursue his dream of being a pro wrestler, but couldn’t deal with the crooked promoters. He needed a place to park his mobile home so his wife (Elizabeth Hartman) and kids (Leif Garrett & Dawn Lyn). He parks at a lumberyard owned by his father (The Rockford Files‘ Noah Beery Jr.). Seems like this is the perfect place to raise a family. Except outside the idyllic Mayberry are numerous nightclubs serving up booze, moonshine, drugs and hookers. Their backrooms are casinos eager for drunks to roll the dice. Pusser doesn’t mind the nightclubs cause a man needs somewhere to blow off steam. However he gets furious when a pal loses his money gambling in a crooked game at one of the clubs. While he gets the upperhand quick when fighting the redneck mafia’s muscle, the house always win. In this case the house nearly kills him and dumps him on the side of the road. He gets no help from the local sheriff that’s on the take from the mafia. Pusser gets a large stick and gets his compensation for his injuries. His act of revenge gets him arrested by the sheriff. He realized the only way he can get justice is to become justice. He runs for sheriff and wins. Can he really clean things up? Even his own men are against him since they’re cutting into their side business. The redneck mafia want him gone. His only allies are a Deputy (Diamonds Are Forever‘s John Glover) and a hooker giving him inside information.
Joe Don Baker gives one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema. He’s able to incorporate Pusser’s playful nature with his rage at being under attack. He dominates the screen when holding a hunk of wood and a grin. His performance should have been Oscar nominated. The film a classic of drive-in cinema with a healthy dose of heart on top of a redneck exploitation tale. The biggest crime is that the film isn’t on the National Film Registry.
Walking Tall Part II (1975 – 109 minutes) was supposed to star Pusser as himself. However he would die in a car wreck during preproduction. Joe Don Baker was already booked for other films so the producers grabbed Bo Svenson (The Inglorious Bastards) to play the lead. This body swapping works for this film since Pusser isn’t that emotional or complicated. This is all about a pure drive-in rush. Pusser recovers from nearly having his face blown off. He’s more than ready to clean up the county. He’s sneaking around the woods with John Glover to blow up various moonshine operations. The redneck mafia aren’t pleased at their operation being shut down. They hire a few professionals to visit the county to snuff Pusser. Along with killers, there’s a wicked woman intending to distract Pusser. Can he avoid these traps?
The Final Chapter – Walking Tall (1977 – 112 minutes) wraps up the saga of Sheriff Pusser. The redneck mafia realizes that they can’t take the guy out using underworld means. They must resort to the best way to strip him of power by getting someone else elected sheriff. Can this plan really succeed? The film also deals with Pusser gaining the national spotlight with the release of Walking Tall. How does he cope with fame? The Final Chapter returns to the texture of the first film as it covers the demise of Pusser with the same tone as his rise. The film intends to inspire future generations of Pussers. The bad part is that Pusser unintentionally inspired a generation of lawmen who are all about self-serving actions and showbiz dreams. The sheriff who spends more time on a 24 hour news channel than organizing their men.
Walking Tall: The Trilogy is a deep fried cinematic epic. Joe Don Baker is stellar in Walking Tall. He gives an iconic performance that even The Rock couldn’t touch with his weak unsweetened tea remake. While Bo Svenson isn’t quite the thespian as Joe Don Baker, he does well for the tone of his two films. Together as trilogy, you get the Southern version of Lord of the Rings as one piece of lumber rules them all.
The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p picture brings out the joy of a film set in the South shot in the South. There’s a grit to the image as well as the characters that shines. The audio is DTS-HD Mono. While the picture looks great, there’s a few pops on the soundtracks which add to the feel that you’re watching this in a theater with cinderblock walls. The sound mix reminds us that these were low budget productions.
In terms of extras, Walking Tall, The Buford Pusser Story (29:20) mixes stories of the real Pusser with tales from the set. Lief Garrett remembers his time on all three films. Joe Don Baker does an audio only interview. Pusser is still fondly remembered in his part of Tennessee.
Final Chapter: Walking Tall Vintage Featurette (8:42) was shot on the set. They focus on Pusser being dead and the film truly finishing his inspirational story. There’s action from the burning of a brothel and the movie premiere.
Photo Galleries provide images from all three films.
Trailers and TV spots are provided for the films. They sold the film on the idea of movie audiences standing up and applauding at the end of the film. This wasn’t just a hick exploitation film. This would be a movie to stir your soul.
Walking Tall: The Trilogy is the Blu-ray experience of the summer. The legend of Bufford Pusser has never looked so good.
Shout! Factory presents Walking Tall: The Trilogy. Starring: Joe Don Baker, Bo Svenson, Bruce Glover and Leif Garrett. Boxset contents: 3 movies on 2 Blu-rays. Released: May 15, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.