American Gothic: Walking Tall (1973 USA, 125 min)
There are three things always welcome in the Basement; pizza, beers and Joe Don Baker movies. All equally unhealthy, but equally satisfying in the same artery clogging manner. So when we got our hands on the 1973 “True Story” Walking Tall it was like Christmas in July! But with Joe Don Baker. So warm up an apple pie, crack open a cold beer and prepare for a film that tries to be a Norman Rockwell treatment of moral justice in the vein of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But you know, ends with the ‘hero’ killing people in cold blood while wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask.
The film begins with Buford “The Bull” Pussor returning home after years fighting on the wrestling circuit, to do his father good and join his logging company. Buford wants to return to the quiet country life he knew as a boy. But things in the small town have changed since Buford left. The Lucky Spot, “A modern day Sodom and Gomorrah!” is a trashy casino that looks as lively and wicked as the local VFW, has moved in and not only are they taking money from the poor locals, they’ve got the local law enforcement and Judge in their pocket! After one of Buford’s ole’ football buddies mysteriously dies after not paying his debts, Buford decides to let “the Bull” out and takes justice into his own hands.
This film looks gross. Not that it’s graphic or violent, but it either looks like a conservative’s wet dream or a snuff film, or both. The white trash Norman Rockwell aesthetics and picture perfect portrayal of Buford’s home and family are sickeningly quaint. Combined with poor directing and staging of action this film is almost offensive to watch. The Sheriff trying to run over Buford but missing and driving off a bridge instead is a highlight of the film.
The climax of the film has Buford seeking vengeance for his murdered wife and after driving his car through the casino and killing the last of the villains in cold blood (all the while in a terrifying face cast) the whole town comes out to support him and burn down the casino.
The film is supposed to be about justice, but once elected Sheriff (after the old one spontaneously combusted in his car) Buford has a total disregard for standard police procedure and commits more crimes and nefarious acts than the casino does. You can see what the movie was trying to do and say about corruption and justice, but it ends up coming off wrong. Very, very wrong and we whole heartedly loved it for it.
The Rhino/ Wea DVD copy of Walking Tall we had is presented “open matte” and the boom mic is visible in almost every scene. (A terrible game is to drink every time it shows up, though legally we can’t say to do that as you will probably succumb to alcohol poisoning 15 minutes in).