If box-office success alone could determine how well a film series is treated on home video then the Walking Tall series would have received several fine editions already. The first film was one of the defining American independent film hits of the 1970’s and each of the sequels was the biggest box office success of its year for their distributor, American International Pictures.
Unfortunately, that has never been the case for this series. It has been a home video staple since the early 1980’s but the tapes and later the DVD’s all seemed to be drawn from the same crummy video masters. In the case of the first film, the video master was an open matte affair that allowed a boom mike to be prominently (and incorrectly) seen and thus allowed a generation of snarky critics to dismiss the film as an amateur-hour affair. Walking Tall got its first proper presentation from Paramount on DVD a few years back but the sequels lagged in limbo.
Thankfully, Shout! Factory has come to the rescue of Walking Tall fans with their new Walking Tall: The Trilogy set. Each film gets its own disc and boasts an anamorphic transfer for each film, a first in the case of Walking Tall Part II and Final Chapter: Walking Tall. The first film looks the best of three as there is some minor speckling on the other two but overall the image for all three is sharply detailed and captures the earthy color scheme effectively. Mono tracks are used for each film and again, the first film has the cleanest sound of the bunch: parts 2 and 3 have the odd pop here and there near reel changes and there’s a brief bit of audio damage late in the film. Otherwise, all three films sound fine.
Extras are scattered across all three discs. Each film features its respective trailer, sometimes a couple of them. The most interesting of these is a spot for Walking Tall Part II built around a question and answer format with hypothetical viewers asking questions that are answered by the trailer.
The second disc features the most substantial extra, a half hour featurette about Buford Pusser and how his life inspired the three films in the set. Joe Don Baker narrates and comments (but does not appear) and cast members Bruce Glover, Dawn Lyn and Leif Garrett all appear. There are several people from Pusser’s real life: daughter Dwana Pusser, who runs a museum based around his life, is the lynchpin but several former law enforcement colleagues are also interviewed. The end result gives a thumbnail overview of Pusser’s life and his involvement in the making of the films and is packed with interesting info, particularly during the parts that address how the films deviated from the true story.
The downside of this piece is that it tries to do several things at once – chronicle actors’ memories, deal with the real story and the making of the films, record Dwana Pusser’s reflections on her father’s life – and leaves plenty of questions unanswered because it can only do so much on each front. Fans of the series will find the piece interesting but might walk away from it had been broken down into a series of separate featurettes that could have gone into greater depth on these topics. After all, the story of Pusser is interesting and complex enough that it could have been the basis for a feature-length documentary.
The third disc adds one final bonus that is worthy of note, a promo piece entitled “Buford Pusser: The Man And The Myth.” This was shot on the set of Final Chapter: Walking Tall and is a fascinating little time capsule. It mixes production footage along with talking-head bits from local officials, law enforcement people and the occasional reporter. Though it’s definitely designed to mythologize its subject, the behind-the-scenes footage grabs the attention: it’s great to see Starrett in his prime directing on a set and amusing to see his interaction with Svenson, who in one memorable bit tries to override the director when deciding his blocking for the camera!
In short, Walking Tall: The Trilogy represents the next step in how these films should be treated on home video. There’s a dramatic improvement in transfer quality and, while they could have gone into greater depth, it’s nice to finally have some supplements that touch on the fascinating history behind this successful series. All in all, this set is well worth the time for fans of the films as well as students of crime and drive-in cinema.
For Schlockmania’s film review of Walking Tall, click here.
For Schlockmania’s film review of Walking Tall Part II, click here.
For Schlockmania’s film review of Final Chapter: Walking Tall, click here.