I Saw A TV Film!

Spiderman for the 70s was Buford Pusser, a no-nonsense rural southern lawman who purportedly fought criminal syndicates with a lump of lumber and serious righteous indignation. By Spiderman I mean that it got relaunched a number of times and had a few sequels that eventually spoiled all the fun of that righteous lawman indignation.

Brian Dennehy is definitely an upgrade from Jo Don Baker who originated the role, but this 90 minutes of frippery hardly seems to have enough gravity for an impactful story. Much of the tale is spent in an attempt to reintroduce a former prostitute into good Christian society (there’s some consternation about her showing up for church! Show up or don’t show up which is the bad part?) And much of the film is a kind of rehash of an old Andy Griffith show in which Barney went off enforcing every possible law on the books. Ya see, the old queen bee of the town, dead set against the former hooker’s reintegration, manages to to find an archaic law that restricts her ability to participate, and so lawman Pusser begins fighting back with humorous aplomb, using archaic laws of all sorts to make a mockery of the polite society insistence. It’s all well and good, but our wicked witches do give up a bit too easily for reality. We live in a world of stubborn identity enforcing meanness. No one backs down, ever.

Anyway, the real meat of the show is bad hootch sold to some kids and causing death and blindness. Pusser must shut down a bootlegger who runs a rural dance club. Of course, Dennehy looks great swinging the stick and kicking ass. But mature, and much more educated viewers like us, know that his actions, while satisfying, will amount to nothing. He doesn’t find the bad liquor and he doesn’t catch the baddies selling the gear. He acts on his instincts and while the viewer knows he’s correct, because the film shows us he is, this is bad police work that cannot fly, despite the fun it provides us in a film. The sixties and seventies were golden times for law enforcement, violent crime was at an apex, in some areas as much as 10 times the current values. So we got things like Dirty Harry and didn’t blink. We wanted to see bad guys getting beat up by good guys (pro-wrassling) and didn’t much worry about the stakes. In fact our feeling was we needed to let cops do their thing so that criminals could be scared and punished. Conservatives, like Harry Callahan, even encouraged vigilante groups in Dirty Harry. These days, of course, we’ve grown sick of unleashed law-enforcement and dead minorities in poverty stricken areas, the undesirables factor that always was detective work for most of civilized history. Got a crime? Find a universally despised character and pin it on them. Job done.

In the end of A Real American Hero (so much hyperbole for a rather clunky tale that already had three movies made with two different actors) we find out there’s been a mole in the works, but we already knew that, and we were just waiting, like we do in soap operas, for the star’s reaction. Our reaction had already been rather ho-hum. Forrest Tucker adds a bit of F-Troop pappy color and while Pusser’s home life is all meals around the family table, the kids are as demanding as aquarium fish, great when your story lacks a certain motherly touch, Pusser is a widower, and we’re subjected to a shaving lesson coming from Tucker rather Dennehy so we’re meant to imagine he’s too single-minded to be taking part in the growing up of the kids. A real tear-jerker that.

This is running free on Prime (USA), but is utterly missable, especially if you’ve seen any of the already existing material.

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