The following photo is of Buford Pusser, the man whose life formed the basis for the Walking Tall movies.
Born and raised in McNairy County, Tennessee, Pusser stood 6 feet 6 inches tall and signed up for the Marines at the age of 18. But an asthma diagnosis led to a medical discharge, and he later turned to pro wrestling to make ends meet.
From 1962 to 1964, he served as the constable for Adamsville, Tennessee, the same place where his father worked as the police chief. In August of 1964, he won the election for sheriff, making him the youngest person (26) to hold the office in state history. He promptly went to war with the State Line Mob and the Dixie Mafia, waging a one-man battle against anyone who didn’t adhere to the law. But the war came at a great cost to Pusser, and his wife Pauline was shot to death during a 1967 ambush. Pusser received a shotgun blast to the face during this attack, but he would recover after spending 18 days in the hospital.
While many of the events depicted in the Walking Tall movies are distorted or outright falsehoods, there’s no doubting that Buford Pusser was one tough bastard. During his stint as sheriff, he survived eight shootings and seven stabbings, only to die in 1974 of injuries sustained in a single-car accident (his daughter believed he was murdered). Six films have been made about him–or inspired by his exploits–plus three biographical books and mentions in two Jimmy Buffet songs.
If you’d like to know more about how to single-handedly take on organized crime, be sure to check out these Walking Tall movies.
- Walking Tall (1973) – Pusser claimed that this semi-biopic was “sixty percent true.” That still makes him sixty percent more of a badass than the average person, as Pusser (Joe Don Baker) survives a knife attack at a local den of iniquity, realizes how corrupt the local sheriff is, and then successfully runs for office. Once elected, he begins toting around a four-foot hickory club, using it to destroy gambling tables, moonshine stills, and anyone dumb enough to get in his way. A big hit at the box office, it would remain Baker’s most recognizable role throughout his career, and it also co-stars Leif Garrett as his young son. Just keep in mind that the scene where Pusser wields the stick at the roadhouse never happened.
- Walking Tall Part 2 (1975) – Buford Pusser was scheduled to make a cameo in this sequel, but he died in a car wreck prior to filming. Bo Svenson takes over the role of Pusser, recovering from wounds sustained in the previous film and running for re-election. Once all that is cleared up, he goes after the criminals with the kind of enthusiasm you‘d expect from a one-time professional wrestler. In the process, he busts his father’s oldest friend, matches wits with a femme fatale hired to kill him, and continues to punish all those involved in the death of his wife. Future teen heartthrob Leif Garrett once again co-stars as Pusser’s son.
- Walking Tall: Final Chapter (1977) – The final film of the original trilogy, Walking Tall: Final Chapter once again stars Bo Svenson as Sheriff Buford Pusser. His revenge complete, the locals begin to fear the big cop with the big stick, and a number of people begin to plot his downfall in earnest. After losing his bid for re-election, Pusser seems like a man without a purpose, but then Hollywood comes calling. And just when things are looking up…tragedy strikes.
- Walking Tall (1981) – The short-lived TV series about Pusser’s life starring Bo Svenson. Good luck finding this one on DVD.
- Walking Tall (2004) – While it’s considered a remake of the original, the lead character is changed from Buford Pusser to ex-soldier Chris Vaughn (Dwayne Johnson), and the setting is moved from Tennessee to Washington State. When a member of the Special Forces returns to his hometown to find work, he discovers that the major source of revenue is now a casino owned by a former schoolmate (Neal McDonough). While the strippers and alcohol don’t bother him much, he can’t abide the drug dealing and rigged games of chance. He runs for sheriff after a violent confrontation, wins the election, and then really sets about kicking some ass. Co-starring Johnny Knoxville, Kevin Durand, and Ashley Scott.
- Walking Tall: The Payback (2007)- Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) takes over the lead role, this time playing a guy named Nick Prescott. Nick returns home when his father–the town sheriff–dies under mysterious circumstances, and he wastes no time in rounding up a posse of pals and taking the fight to the ruthless scumbags who’ve instilled fear in the locals. A hit on the straight-to-DVD market, it would spawn a sequel later in the same year.
- Walking Tall: Lone Justice (2007) – Nick Prescott (Kevin Sorbo) is back, this time protecting his FBI girlfriend (Yvette Nipar) who’s waiting to testify against a vicious drug lord (Rodrigo de la Rosa). But there’s a traitor in their midst, and so Nick must take her to his ranch and hole up until the trial begins. As you might expect, the bad guys show up, plenty of gunfire ensues, and everyone quickly regrets messing with Hercules. On an interesting side note, the daughter of Buford Pusser complained about the film, noting its level of vulgarity.
So the next time you’re down South and come across pimps, moonshiners, or crooked card games, don’t hesitate to pull out a 2X4 and go to work. Sure, you may take a few slugs in the process, but the resulting fame should ensure that you’ll get your own reality show (and maybe even get to bang a Snooki). Whether you’re a fan of Joe Don Baker, The Rock, Bo Svenson, or Kevin Sorbo, these Walking Tall movies contain enough two-fisted action to last you for weeks.