Walking Tall (1973) from Tuna
Walking Tall is based on the true life Tennessee sheriff named Buford Pusser, who became a legend by almost single-handedly cleaning out all of the gambling, moonshine, prostitution and corruption in his jurisdiction. Or so the legend goes.
Pusser is a professional wrestler who tires of being owned and manipulated by the promoters, so he and his family return to his home town to settle down to a more normal life. They soon discover that organized crime has moved in and paid off the law. Pusser runs afoul of the bad guys when he catches them cheating at craps. They beat him up, then cut him up and leave him for dead.
The law refuses to do
anything, so Pusser gets a big stick, goes to the den of iniquity,
breaks some heads, and demands payment for the car they stole and
other incidental expenses. He is arrested for his efforts, but acquitted by
and decides to run for sheriff himself. It takes him a while to learn the
job, during which time the baddies have shot him twice more, and
killed his wife and dog. The cumulative effect of these outrages is
that Buford is downright peeved - and he gets even.
Scoop's notes in yellow:
I understand the psychology of revenge fantasy movies, and I've gotten into them at times, but I have a hard time getting involved with Joe Don Baker as Buford Pusser. I'm from the Great Lakes area originally, and this character seems to me like the frightening Southern redneck stereotype we feared, not like the kind of guy I would root for. To me (and I guess to Tuna) he seems like the lesser of two evils, and it is difficult to get passionate about rooting for lesser evil. That's why they don't pit "heels" against one another in Pro Wrestling. Where's the involvement?
Tuna and I, however, represent only a small portion of our generation. Other people, especially in the South, were able to accept Buford Pusser as the classic "virtuous loner against the corrupt establishment," and this film succeeded massively in 1973. The gross has been reported as high as $35 million. When it was screened in the South, people gave it ritual standing ovations. There and elsewhere, the audiences talked back to the screen, shouting encouragement to Sheriff Pusser and cheering each brutal act of revenge.
For lowbrow Southern audiences, this film worked perfectly as a classic Western. In the lore of the Old West, the "good guy" was a tough, laconic loner who took the side of the humble townsfolk and the hard working farmers who could not stand up for themselves against the rich and corrupt men who "ran the town." Sometimes the good guy was actually an outlaw who fought against sheriffs and Pinkertons, but we rooted for him anyway, because we could see what was right and so could he. In fact, it is even possible that the humble townsfolk had originally hired him knowing he was a bad-ass outlaw and the ornriest gunslinger in the West, because that was the very man they needed to battle the mustachioed Evil Rancher and his trusty henchman, the corrupt and pot-bellied Sheriff of Deadwood Gulch. The myth of the outsider fighting the entrenched powers-that-be on behalf of "the people" is older than the Old West. In the earlier version of the myth, the hard working villagers needed the honorable outlaws to fight the Evil Prince John and The Sheriff of Nottingham. Whenever this myth plays out, the letter of the law and whose side it supports are ultimately irrelevant to the dispensation of justice as we understand that concept in our hearts.
The fictionalized version of Buford Pusser is that kind of rugged and honorable hombre, a man outside the law, greater than the law. No matter which side of the law he fights on, the audience understands that he is the man to root for. He may be one psychopathic sumbitch, but he's OUR psychopath, dammit! Sure, Buford Pusser is not always following the legally prescribed means to win his battles, but he's fighting against evil, and he must not lose. It's all laid out in simple, black-and-white terms.
Personally, I never got into Buford or his equally simplistic left-wing counterpart, Billy Jack, but there was a lot of societal rage in those days, a lot of "us and them," and these films seemed to provide a needed catharsis for a lot of people.
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