Buford Pusser, a former marine and wrestler, returns to his hometown only to find it occupied by criminal elements who profit from gambling, prostitution and moonshine traficking. After a skirmish with them, he succesfully runs for sheriff and begins to crack down the local mafia. Inspired by real events.Comments:
I have been hearing about the "Walking Tall" films since my early teens, but so far their reputation for being redneck vigilante films had kept me from checking them out. Ironically, I did watch the "sanitised" PC remake starring Dwayne Johnson, and found it entertainning, if fairly silly.
Anyway, I finally decided to check the first one out, and I have to admit I'm very impressed. This is, make no mistake, a good movie. Yes, there's redneck violence enough to keep everybody interested, but the film refuses to play it for laughs or as mindless entertainment. This is a serious, dramatic film, that pitches the no-nonsense sense of justice enforced by Pusser against entrenched corruption.
And, well, let's say Pusser doesn't always look good while he enforces the law. The film prominently features Pusser's name (he is even credited as a "technical advisor") all over, but he didn't struck me as being a specially sympathetic character. Sure, his intentions are good, and the criminals he faces are scum (at one point he interrupts a few of them beating a prostitute who they have mistaken for a snitch), but his attitude and his methods walk a very thin line between strong hand and bully-ism. That he isn't exactly the sharpest pencil in the drawer (his first bust is a failure because he fails to obtain search warrants or mirandise the arrested, out of ignorance of the law) and that he is prone to violent outbursts don't exactly help his case either.
This would be the doom of a lesser film, but director Phil Karlson, who had a few noire films under his belt by the time he made this one, manages to work that into one of the film's best assets. Together with the unsoffisticated camerawork and the use of violence, this injects the film with a realism and moral ambiguity hard to find in the rest of the vigilante films of the 70s and 80s. Yes, we witness Buford struggles against crime, yes, we root for him, but we are not demanded to like the guy.
As for the film's ideology, I was surprised to see it's not as far-right as I expected. There's the obligatory comments about how easy justice is on real criminals, but what Buford has to say about the situation, specially at the begining of the film, is more in synch with 70s anti-stablishment talk than anything else. He mentions, for instance, that he left wrestling because he didn't like to be a puppet for a system he wouldn't accept. I guess either the film is very 70s (one of Buford's deputies sports a prominent "black power" attitude) or tha the guy is closer to what people now call "libertarians".
Now I wonder if the sequels will be as good. I somehow doubt it, after reading what the IMDB has to say about it, and specially considering Joe Don Baker didn't return for the next two films and was substituted by Bo Svenson. I think I will try to watch at least the first one.