Walking Tall

Walking Tall

name = Walking Tall

caption = promotional poster for "Walking Tall"
director = Phil Karlson
producer =
writer = Mort Briskin
Stephen Downing
John Michael Hayes (uncredited)
starring = Joe Don Baker
Elizabeth Hartman
music = Walter Scharf |
cinematography =
editing = Harry W. Gerstad
distributor = Cinerama
released = June 22, 1973
runtime = 125 min.
country = USA
language = English
budget = $500,000
followed_by = "Walking Tall Part 2" (1975)
"" (1977)
imdb_id = 0070895|

"Walking Tall" is a 1973 semi-biopic of Sheriff Buford Pusser, a former professional wrestler-turned-lawman in McNairy County, Tennessee. It starred Joe Don Baker as Pusser. The film was directed by Phil Karlson.


Pusser, at his wife Pauline's behest, retires from the professional wrestling ring and moves back to Tennessee to become deputy under his father, Carl Pusser and then the police chief of Adamsville, Tennessee. But when he wins election as sheriff of McNairy County, Pusser becomes aware of the rampant corruption and decides to clean up the county. Buford Pusser becomes famous for being incorruptible, intolerant of crime, and his array of four foot hickory clubs which he uses to great effect in destroying clandestine gambling dens and illegal distilleries, and even against criminals.

Some residents praise Buford Pusser as an honest cop in a crooked town; others denounce him as a bully willing to break some laws to uphold others.

He and Pauline are ambushed. Pauline was killed, and Pusser is seriously injured, admitted to the hospital with over 200 stitches. When he recovers he avenges himself with a wooden club.


The title of the movie comes from one of the real-life Pusser's favorite sayings "the measure of a man is how tall he walks." [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070895/taglines]


The original "Walking Tall" was a hit, but the sequels, "Part 2, Walking Tall" (1975), and "" (1977), both starring Bo Svenson, were far less profitable. A short-lived 1981 television series "Walking Tall" (again starring Svenson) further dramatized Pusser's life and career. Buford Pusser himself was signed to star in "Part 2, Walking Tall", but on August 21, 1974, after a press conference in Memphis, Tennessee to announce the film, Pusser's Corvette left the road about six miles from his Adamsville home and struck an embankment, ejecting Pusser. His daughter, Dwana, in another car behind him, found him in the ditch. He died upon impact or shortly afterwards, the wreck remains a mystery as the brakes were tampered with before the crash.

Factual inaccuracies in "Walking Tall"

A number of the best-known scenes in "Walking Tall" are fictional. For example, Pusser never went into a roadhouse with a stick and beat up everyone inside. He did, however, take two friends and beat the owner of the Plantation Club in 1961 (Morris:1971). The prior McNairy County sheriff, James Dickey, did not die trying to run over Pusser in a confrontation, he fell asleep at the wheel and died in a car crash less than one month before the 1964 election (Morris, "State Line Mob," 1990).

In the movie, Pusser kills two characters, Callie Hacker, the female bar owner, and a fellow thug who tries to kill Pusser but winds up killing the family dog. In real life, Pusser did kill two individuals, Louise Hathcock and Charles Hamilton. Callie Hacker was loosely based on Louise Hathcock although Pusser actually killed her out of the presence of other witnesses (in the original movie, he kills her after she shoots at him across a bar) in a side room of the Shamrock Motel. The 'family dog killer' episode never actually happened but was added to spice up the movie. Pusser did kill Charles Hamilton in a shootout in Tennessee on Christmas Day, 1968. The shooting of the character Ray Henry in "Part 2, Walking Tall" was loosely based on Pusser's killing of Hamilton.

Pusser is shot at point blank range in one scene, supposedly by 'a couple of boys from Alabama' as one character says. In reality, Pusser was shot by his mistress, Pearl, after a quarrel (Morris: State Line Mob, 1990) although his arch nemesis, Towhead White, had in fact escaped from prison in Alabama during the same time frame.

Obrah Eaker, played by Felton Perry, was loosely based on Pusser's only black deputy, Dave Lipford. After his wife's killing, Pusser did not leave the funeral and crash his car into a bar. Pusser never attended his wife's funeral. He was still in the hospital when she was buried.

The portrayal of his children contains a few inaccuracies as well. Leif Garrett portrays Mike, an eight-year old at the beginning of the movie. He barely ages during the show, but Pusser's stepson, Mike Vance, was actually 18 years old when Pauline Pusser was killed. Dwana, however, was fairly accurately represented throughout all three movies, including being the first one to reach him upon his fatal car crash.

Pusser's father was actually the Adamsville police chief when Buford first ran for election as sheriff.

According to a 1973 newspaper on the wall of the Pusser Museum, Buford said that the movie was 'sixty percent true.'

The original 1973 movie was filmed in the summer of 1972 in West Tennessee, but not in McNairy County. Town scenes were filmed in Henderson, county seat of Chester County, 19 miles to the north of Selmer, using Chester County locals as extras and in some minor roles. Scenes were also filmed in nearby Jackson and in rural Madison County. The scene where Callie Hacker was killed was filmed in the Pine Ridge Club in Medon, which is still in operation. The scene where the incumbent sheriff is killed when his auto runs off of a bridge was filmed on a rural road north of Milan.


In some circles, the name Buford Pusser has become synonymous with police brutality. This is bolstered by the fact that "Walking Tall" was marketed, perhaps erroneously, as a right-wing film upon its original release. [http://akas.imdb.com/title/tt0070895/amazon] Whenever a character parodies Pusser, he is generally violent and overzealous.

Southern Rock band, the Drive-By Truckers included a three song suite in their 2004 album, "The Dirty South", which offers a negative critique of Buford Pusser's actions. The three songs, "The Boys From Alabama," "Cottonseed," and "The Buford Stick" tell the story of Buford Pusser from three different outlaws' perspectives, all of whom are adversely affected by Pusser.


In 2004, a remake starring professional wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was made. Although it took many elements of Pusser's life and the original "Walking Tall", many things were changed, such as Johnson's character's name (Chris Vaughn) and setting the film in 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 "", 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 hands when his father is killed in an alleged car accident.


*Joe Don Baker as Buford Pusser

*Elizabeth Hartman as Pauline Pusser

*Lurene Tuttle as Helen Pusser

*Noah Beery, Jr. as Carl Pusser

*Dawn Lyn as Dwana Pusser

*Leif Garrett as Mike Pusser

*Logan Ramsey as John Witter

*Felton Perry as Obrah Eaker

*Bruce Glover as Grady Coker(Buford's deputy)

*Brenda Benet as Luan Paxton

*Gene Evans as Sheriff Al Thurman

*Rosemary Murphy as Callie Hacker

*Douglas Fowley as Judge R.W. Clarke

*Luke Askew

*Kenneth Tobey

External links

*imdb title|id=0070895|title=Walking Tall (1973)

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