Bing Crosby's company produced the first Walking Tall
feature, which was based loosely on Southern sheriff Buford Pusser, a former wrestler who took on organized crime in his hometown. Joe Don Baker's formidable appearance and downhome persona helped sell the filmmakers' depiction of Pusser as an average American who stood up for justice. In reality, Pusser was a brutal and less than scrupulous character, but Baker's performance and plenty of action helped make Walking Tall
a major moneymaker in 1973. Pusser's big stick was handed to Bo Svenson for Walking Tall, Part II
(1975), which followed his search for his wife's killers (she died in the first film). Svenson wasn't the only change--director Phil Karlson's no-nonsense style was replaced by veteran TV helmer Earl Bellamy's colorless approach, and American International Pictures took over distribution from the bankrupt Cinemation. Pusser himself, who had served as technical advisor on the first film, had also died in an explosion. Though audiences turned out in droves, the drop in quality was obvious. The addition of action specialist Jack Starrett (Race with the Devil
) as director on Final Chapter: Walking Tall
(1977) was initially promising, but the result was a tired retread of Pusser's previous adventures and, amusingly enough, the making of the first film. A short-lived series starring Svenson followed in 1981, but by then, the story had exhausted itself. A new theatrical version is reportedly in production.
This three-disc set compiles the Walking Tall trilogy in a no-frills package that's more convenient than collectible. Considering the films' much-vaunted subject and the success of the first film, it's a disappointment to learn that the discs lack any extras or even improved image quality (VHS masters appear to have been used). While it's good to have these lowbrow crowd-pleasers back on the market, the set's threadbare presentation makes it essential for trilogy devotees only. --Paul Gaita