Thursday, September 06, 2018

they call him the bandit

As I get older, the movie stars that consumed my childhood do the same. And as they were already miles ahead of me in years when I was a kid, it only stands to reason that we will lose them steadily as time goes by.

Another piece of my childhood passed on today. RIP, Burt.
I'm just awaiting the day when I'll see on Twitter that Clint Eastwood has passed on... he is 88, after all.  Or Harrison Ford, who is 76.  Or even Dick Van Dyke (92), Robert Duvall (87) or Julie Andrews (82).

Even my boyhood love Rene Russo, is sitting pretty gorgeous at 64.  And Michael Keaton just had a birthday, and turned 67, and I thought "Wow... that guy is almost 70..." and despite the number of years so many of my boyhood favorites have lived past 70, that 7 decade number seems to be my mental age of demarcation where I subconsciously think, "Okay, now they are on a 'we could lose them'" list.  I think it was Steven Spielberg turning 70 in 2016 that it suddenly clicked on the mortality of Hollywood.

And so today, while I was not shocked at all, I was still saddened by the news that Burt Reynolds had died. On one hand, how is that possible?  He's the freakin' Bandit, for gosh sake. Bandits don't die!

Well... yes, yes they do. Just like Snowmen died (Jerry Reed in 2008) and Sheriff Buford T Justices die (Jackie Gleason in 1987), Bandits do pass on.

Reynolds... oh, whatever, I'm calling him Bandit... so Bandit starred in a boatload of movies, many of which are likely forgotten, regulated to that side of our brain that is only accessed when trivia comes up, or you see the title flash on your DirecTV or Dish guide as you scroll past AMC or FXX on a Sunday afternoon.  Or the type of films you'd see on WGN as the movie of the week were this, say, 1998.  Movies like "Stick" and "Heat" and "Gator" and "City Heat" and "Sharkey's Machine" and "White Lightening" and "Physical Evidence"... these are movies most of you will not remember... well, I'd say in a year or two, but I can say later today. I barely remember them and I co-host a 340+ episode movie podcast.

Then there are the movies that he's really known for.  The aforementioned Bandit films (1 and 2 especially... 3 is an abomination, even for these movies), and as Jack Horner in "Boogie Nights", a film that he later expressed regret over because of the subject matter, despite the comeback it meant in his career and the Supporting Actor nomination the Academy gave him.  And who can forget "Deliverance", his breakout role as Lewis, the leader of a group of guys who are out fishing in the woods to horrible consequences.  Squeal like a pig, Ned Beatty.  Indeed.

He even did some TV work, spending years on CBS in "Evening Shade", a staple for my parents every week.

But it was this 10-15 year run in the 70s and 80s that made me a lifelong Bandit fan. The movies I watched over and over and over, the ones that sealed themselves in my memory as "great films" that I know upon a rewatch today, would be proven wrong... well, except for this fifth one.

Here are my five favorite Burt "Bandit" Reynolds roles:

5 - Paul Crewe in "The Longest Yard" (1974).  I actually saw this in the last five years or so, and while the Sandler remake isn't terrible (Bandit even shows up in that one too!), "Yard" is a funny and still somewhat dark comedy about a group of prisoners who play football. Eddie Albert is the Warden, as is a great villain.

4 - Hooper in "Hooper" (1978). Bandit is this stuntman trying to prove himself, even with upstart Jan Michael Vincent's Ski on set to try and be the better stuntman.  Admittedly, I hadn't seen this in a while, but I remember this cavalcade of 70s stars, including James Best (also Roscoe P Coletrane), Robert Klein, Adam West (the original Batman), Terry Bradshaw (he kept trying to act... see #1 below), and 70s That Guy Robert Tessier

Onc could argue that the true star of this movie is the car. And one
wouldn't necessarily be wrong. 

3 - Bandit in "Smokey & the Bandit" (1977) and "Part II" (1980). I'd venture to say this is Bandit's most iconic role, even above "Deliverance" and 'Boogie Nights", and if a movie about hillbilly rapists wasn't enough of a breakout, then this sent him over the moon, as he became the biggest star in the world.  And why not? This movie, with barely a script, a co-star (Sally Field) who feared this movie would ruin her career -- and who Burt fell in love with -- and an unproven director became the 2nd biggest film of 1977, behind some forgotten flick called "Star Wars".  Toss in Jerry Reed as his semi driving BFF, a basset named Fred, an obsessed, racist, rude sheriff on his tail and an iconic, black T-Top Trans Am, and you've got a hit. Make a part 2, have a bunch of county mounties and Mountie mounties take on a few dozen semi trucks, and you've got me hooked for life.

SIDEBAR:  In "Smokey & the Bandit Part II", Bandit and Snowman have to haul a baby elephant across the country. Towards the end of the film, Bandit takes on Buford T. Justice's brothers (also played flamboyantly and over the top by the impeccable Gleason) with a fleet of trooper and Canadian Mountie police cars. Snowman shows up with a squad of Semi Trucks, and for 8 year old me, this 20 minutes was the highlight of my year. It was so funny, and hilarious, and cool, and watch that car bend in half and oh look Bandit is driving over the tops of the semis and so awesome.  Problem is, I re-watched this not too long ago... its not 20 minutes.  Its 2 minutes.  And it's so bad. Everything I thought I loved as an 8 year old stayed with me being 8 years old.  Use caution when revisiting your youth. 

Their chemistry was great, and I even had the diecast car of the
ambulance they drove.
2 - Stroker Ace in "Stroker Ace" (1983). Bandit is a NASCAR driver caught in a contract under the jerkface Clyde Torkel (Ned Beatty, eating up the scenery in a very chewy movie), and is forced to race in a chicken suit. Toss in Loni Anderson as love interest/publicist Pembrook Feeney, Jim Nabors and crew chief Lugs, and a fantastic Parker Stevenson as rival driver Aubrey James, and it's a delight.  This movie is the definition of so bad but so stinkin' fun.

And finally, my favorite Burt Reynolds role:

JJ McClure in "Cannonball Run" (1981). I cannot tell you how much I love this movie. This is a prime example of a film that hits you at just the right age, a film that if anyone else watched it, they may or may not hate it. Because its a ridiculous movie, filled with stars from the day -- Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, country star Mel Tillis, Terry Bradshaw, Farrah Fawcett, Adrienne Barbeau, Roger Moore, a newbie Jackie Chan and many, many more. And they are all in a race across the country.  JJ McClure and his buddy Victor (the late and so, so great Dom DeLuise) decide to use an ambulance to race in, figuring the sirens would get them moving faster.

Fast cars, pretty girls, funny jokes, an awesome soundtrack by Ray Stevens (that opening music is so great) and fantastically whimsical theme by Chuck Mangione, then one of my favorite fight scenes in all of movies (the whole cast up against a biker gang) that DOES hold up, as I've seen it recently, all make for a movie that I would watch right now, and will be watching when I'm 50, 65 or even 82.

Yellow hat. Its funny. Because it's bigger than a normal hat.

PS... Avoid Cannonball Run II.  It tries to recapture the magic of part 1 and just can't do it. 

So thanks Burt. Thanks for all you did, thanks for helping my childhood movie fandom develop, thanks for driving that ambulance, that chicken car, that T-Top, and even that speedboat in "Gator".

East bound and down, loaded up and truckin', we gonna do what they say can't be done. We gotta long way to go and a short time to get there, I'm east bound and watch ol' Bandit run... 

Also... don't discount Norm McDonald as Turd Ferguson on Saturday Night Live's "Celebrity Jeopardy". Its one of the funniest things to ever be on that show in all it's 45 years