Earlier this week, actor Burt Reynolds passed away at the age of 82.
Considering that the average age of steemians is around 30, I am guessing most of you do not know why his passing made such big news. In fact, at 47, I am actually a little on the young side when it comes to Burt Reynolds fans. Being born in the 70s, I was not really a fan of one of the biggest shows of all time: Gunsmoke. But you better believe my mom and her sisters remember when that young hunk Quint, played by Reynolds, joined Gunsmoke 56 years ago. Similarly, I was a little too young to truly appreciate him and his hair-piece in the 1990s TV show Evening Shade.
Although I was a little late to the Reynolds train, I watched everything he made between 1978 and 1982 (most of which I watched on our Betamax VCR... we were super hardcore!). But that is no surprise. Basically everyone watched every movie he made during that time span. Burt Reynolds was the top grossing actor for each of those years during that span. Only Tom Cruise has lead the box office for more years (7... but his were not consecutive).
In the 1980s, my local video store had a section of new Burt Reynolds movies that seemed to rotate every six months. Most of the covers looked exactly like this one.
The dude was a HUGE star when I was growing up.
But don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting you go out and binge watch the entire Reynolds catalogue of films. Many were terrible to begin with. Others simply have not aged very well at all. But if you want to understand why people were making such a big deal of his passing, I suggest watching the following five films.
5.The Cannonball Run (1981)
At some point, I may have to write an entire post trying to explain why The Cannonball Run was such a cultural phenomenon during my childhood. It actually defies logic. The movie is based on a real (and very illegal) cross country road race. But clearly, it was just an excuse to throw together a bunch of famous (and soon to be famous ie. Jackie Chan) people into one movie and have them tell terrible jokes in between mindless car racing scenes. It is simply terrible... but so terrible that it delves into the realm of "funny bad". Instead of trying to explain this any more, here is a list of the cast. You tell me how they will all mesh together well in one movie (hint: they don't).
Jackie Chan's character didn't even have a name. (Which may be a good thing considering this movie had no problem playing up stereotypes. If they had named him, I assure you it would have been offensive.)
4.Boogie Nights (1997)
Although this movie was made 15 years after Reynold's prime, it is still a must see role. Considering the film takes place during the 1970s and 1980s, it would have been a crime to overlook casting one of its biggest stars (with an equally big mustache) in a movie about the porn industry's explosion during the dawning of the VCR age. Not surprisingly, considering the topic, the movie is both humorous and tragic. Reynolds won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of porn director, Jack Horner.
3.Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
And listen up you whippersnappers! I assure you there would be no Fast and the Furious without Smokey and the Bandit!
If The Cannonball Run did not thoroughly scratch your ridiculous-car-chases-surrounded-by-weird-characters-and-witty-banter itch, then Smokey and the Bandit is the movie for you. The premise of this movie is: "we've got a long way to go and a short time to get there". Yep that's right. It is about a trucker making a delivery. Is he delivering medicine to save a village? Or weapons to fight a war? Or meat that is about to spoil? Nope. He is delivering beer... Coors beer. Apparently in the 1970s it was illegal to sell Coors beer east of the Mississippi River. So two super rich southerners hire a truck driver to haul 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas to Atlanta in under 28 hours. In order to allow the truck driver to break the speed limit, he needs a partner with a fast car to race ahead of him and attract the attention of the police. He needs "the Bandit" played by Burt Reynolds in his most iconic role. Along the way, "the Bandit" picks up a runaway bride played by Sally Field. They spend the rest of the movie getting chased by bumbling sheriff played by Jackie freaking Gleason! Although it may not age well, you should check this out as a history lesson so you can see why everyone in the 1970s wanted a CB radio. It also features one of film's most iconic cars: the black and gold 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.
We have now officially left our "watch it for its camp value" portion of our show and leapt into the "this is a freaking great movie that every guy needs to see in his life" segment. Deliverance is not funny. It is not a popcorn movie. It is disturbing and it is sensational. The film is based on the 1970 novel of the same name by American author James Dickey. It tells the story of four adult friends who set out on an adventure to canoe down a river in the remote Georgia wilderness. Two of the men are experienced outdoors men while the other are "city boys". Being the manly man he is, Reynolds portrays Lewis Medlock, the toughest of the bunch (possibly the only tough one). After the group hears an excellent rendition of "Dueling Banjos", they should have known to turn around and return to the city. They didn't. Things do not go well for them. Although this movie contains one of the most disturbing scenes you will ever see, both the film, and Reynolds' performance are excellent.
1.The Longest Yard (1974)
OK we got the super serious one out of the way. Now time for a semi-serious one... and the best. The Longest Yard tells the story of a has-been football star, Paul "wrecking" Crewe, who has landed in a Georgia prison for being a drunk asshole who attacks his sugarmama girlfriend, steals her Maserati, and leads police on a car chase set perfectly to the song "Saturday Night Special" by Lynyrd Skynrd. Once in prison, the warden forces Crewe to set up a (rigged) football game between the guards and the prisoners. Billed as a comedy, the movie also takes a serious look at abuse of power. In this film, Reynolds is able to show off his comedic ability, athleticism, as well as his serious side. Although Deliverance is by far a better movie, I always give extra points for sheer entertainment value. I have seen The Longest Yard over 100 times in my life. I could watch it right now. But I need to be in the right mood to watch Deliverance. Its not everyday I am in the mood to be disturbed.
Before I sign off, it would be a crime not to mention the three most memorable things about Burt Reynolds: his mustache, his centerfold in Cosmo, and...