Southern exploitation flicks never enjoyed the popularity or critical respect received by their urban African-American counterparts, but Phil Karlson’s Walking Tall is about the closest the genre ever came to mainstream success. Shown endlessly on TV during the ‘70s and early ‘80s, the 1973 film (very, very loosely based on a true story) is a hopelessly melodramatic revenge fantasy in which ex-Marine and former professional wrestler Buford Pusser (Joe Don Baker) returns to his hometown with his wife and two kids and discovers that rampant vice has corrupted the idyllic hamlet. After being left for dead by thugs operating a lucrative casino/prostitution ring (though not lucrative enough to have the prostitutes work inside the building; instead, they do their dirty work in trailers stationed in the parking lot!), Pusser gets himself elected sheriff, grabs a giant stick of wood and begins beating the snot out of the town’s insidious miscreants. Vigilantism is glorified with an unsentimental, un-ironic coldness as Pusser becomes a psychotic David to the ruthless gambling industry’s Goliath, and Joe Don Baker’s hunched posture and grimacing puss give his character a lumbering Frankenstein fearsomeness. Yet Pusser’s heroism is undercut by a superhuman ability to survive three point-blank attempts on his life. Walking softly but carrying a big stick, Pusser teams up with local blacks and disenfranchised locals to battle the town’s crooked cops, dishonest judges, seedy corporate pimps, and moonshine bootleggers – anyone, in fact, who might be part of “the system” (which, I assume, is run by “the man”). Ultimately, however, the film’s legacy has less to do with its anti-establishment leanings than with its uproariously politically incorrect flourishes. Any film featuring an adolescent boy (played by Leif Garrett!) loading a rifle next to his dad’s hospital bed as a nurse silently smiles and nods in approval is indeed walking quite tall.