As I found my seat, there was a clip from Dolly Parton's 80s variety show when Burt made an appearance (a few years post-Whorehouse). There were also clips from Sonny and Cher, Hawk, Gunsmoke, and an appearance on Carson where he sported some AMAZING leather flare pants and he and Carson squirted each other with shaving cream (I swear that's only barely not a euphemism). The servers came around and gave us all fake mustaches and Burt Reynolds keychains (the latter of which I promptly attached to my keys) and directed our attention to the special drink menu -- Gator-Ade (of which I partook) and Burt's Bucket of Coors (of which I did not, but my neighbors did).
When starting time came, I was a bit crestfallen that the theater was only half-full (last year's Van Dammage was packed), but when the lights went out and Cristina came out in a Burt-ish red shirt and a mustache, I forgot about the empty seats and was just pumped for ten or so hours of the man, the myth, the legend ... The Burt. When Cristina said she'd wanted to program at least one Hal Needham, I instantly thought of Hooper, which had kicked off BNAT16, and I strongly suspected it would be the Needham pick, especially since I'd ruled out Smokey. The trailers ruled a few more out -- Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit 2 (elephants, really?) and Stroker Ace (plus an energy conservation PSA). So when the credits started and I saw the belt emblazoned with the name Sonny Hooper, I was so happy (and so were many others).
I wrote about this movie in my BNAT writeup last December, so I won't repeat myself, but this was great to see with a crowd a second time. I'd forgotten how wonderful the credit sequence is, how much I love Brian Keith and James Best, and how much Hal Needham clearly hated Peter Bogdanovich (who Robert Klein's character is based on). I'd also forgotten that anyone ever used to use the term "ding-dong" to refer to their penis.
More Burt goodness was delivered to our eyeballs during the first break, including a clip from his Twilight Zone episode ("The Bard"), where he is more Marlon Brando than Marlon Brando (I was hitherto unaware that his resemblance to Brando in general was so widely known and commented on). There was also a promo for Evening Shade, a clip from his appearance on the original 90210 (!!!), and a drug PSA called "Shattered: If Your Kid's on Drugs," which featured not only Burt but a baby Judd Nelson and a baby Dermot Mulroney. Oh, and we also saw a FedEx commercial he was in. Cristina took the mic again and announced that the next film would be the most serious of the five -- or at least the one with the least amount of Burt's iconic cackle. And after trailers for Nickelodeon and Rough Cut, we saw...
WHITE LIGHTNING (1973)
Charles Bernstein's score for this movie has been used in two of Quentin Tarantino's movies -- Kill Bill, vol. 1 and Inglourious Basterds -- and it was recognized by most of the audience immediately. Burt Reynolds plays Gator McClusky, a convict doing time for running moonshine. When he learns his brother has been killed (an event the audience has already seen in a chilling opening sequence), he makes a deal for an early release in exchange for being a stool pigeon. He doesn't really care that much about naming names, but the task will put him closer to the sheriff (Ned Beatty) responsible for his brother's death. (Reynolds and Beatty had previously appeared together in Deliverance.) The sheriff, by the way, is hella racist and rants and pearl-clutches about the government wanting to integrate the schools and let black people vote. Just so you know that there's no ambiguity about whether killing him is a good thing in the moral universe of this movie.
I liked the background plot of the "draft-dodging hippies" (which apparently included Gator's brother). And they kept saying things that were strangely relevant and timely, like "pretty soon, there's going to be more guns than people" and "we need a woman President." Boy is the future coming hard for these kids (and the girl who wants a woman President -- so that there's no more war -- might feel differently about the person who might be the *first* woman President). Also, this movie seems to be the origin of the slang phrase "shaky pudding."
Good movie. Good score. And a pretty good script by William Norton (who has the greatest Wikipedia page EVER - just read the intro paragraph, it's amazing).
After the break, which featured a clip from Burt's Love, American Style episode, we were told that the next film would make for a Burtday double-feature, and that this was the Burt-directed movie that was hinted about, so we pretty much knew what to expect. After trailers for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Sharky's Machine (shout-out to the great theme song!) and Paternity, we slapped eyes on...
This sort-of sequel is more entertaining than (if not quite as artistic as) its predecessor. It also happened before sequels were a Thing, and the canon-thumper in me needs to point out that it plays fast and loose with the Gator mythology, as it were. Notably in giving Gator a nine-year-old daughter we never heard about in the previous movie. They also fudge his arrest record and how much time has passed since his last stint in prison. ANYWAY, the plot revolves around Gator being essentially blackmailed into helping federal agents bust a corrupt politician, who's played by hicksploitation legend, Dub Taylor. If only Slim Pickens had been in there somewhere, but then Jerry Reed is in the movie, and you can't have Dub Taylor AND Jerry Reed AND Slim Pickens (plus Burt) -- the screen would ignite from its inability to contain such star power.
This movie absolutely doesn't deserve the critical beating it has taken over the years (it has a ZERO on Rotten Tomatoes, which is OUTRAGEOUS), but it does have problems, the biggest of which is that it tries to be about four or five *different* movies all at once, and the tone is all over the place. There's actually some decent social commentary here, particularly about the exploitation of the poor, but it gets lost in a movie that wants to be a crime thriller, a romance (with Lauren Hutton), and a heist movie. The heist part, by the way, was certainly the most hysterical thing I saw all day. Alice Ghostley plays a literal "crazy cat lady," and she's going to help them break into the government building where she used to work. Only when they get there, she refuses to go any further until Burt and Lauren agree to take her cats along too. Here they are, trying to sneak around, and there's this periodic "MEOW!"
I also need a copy of Jerry Reed's "Gator" theme song very badly.
The next break brought us a clip from the 1973 Oscars, where Burt was introducing a clip from The Sting (which would go on to win Best Picture that year). Trailers setting up the next film were Cop and a Half and Rent-A-Cop (with an 80s Liza Minelli as a call girl!), and our next film might have been my favorite of the night. Certainly not the *best* (that was still to come), but I liked it a lot.
This was written by screenwriting legend William Goldman (based on his novel), and I was amazed I'd never heard of it. I was also quite pleased to hear the applause in the room when Peter MacNicol's name came up in the credits. In this movie, Burt plays Nick, an ex-mercenary who takes jobs as a "bodyguard" to save money for a permanent move to Venice. Peter MacNicol plays a wealthy client named Cyrus who wants Nick to teach him how to be tough. The movie went through six directors (including Robert Altman, who worked for one day) and it's one of those notorious hot mess projects, but it's a pretty dang good movie with good acting and good characterization. It was not a hit, probably at least partly because this was not a typical Burt Reynolds movie. He'd been advised by friends and colleagues to do more "serious" roles, and this definitely doesn't have as much of the humor as the roles he is best known for.
Honestly, it's worth seeing just for Burt dressed as a flamboyant 80s Vegas pimp, sporting the most fabulous black and gold suit you have ever seen. This is actually, out of the five movies we saw, the DVD I most want to acquire at the moment. (I already have Hooper. :P)
Something that especially stood out to me was the opening scene, where a woman has to deal with unwelcome attention from a man at a bar. She tries to be nice, mostly to get him to leave her alone. I was forcibly reminded of the recent conversation that's (finally) been taking place in our culture about women who feel pressured to be nice to men and give them more positive feedback than they'd like, simply because they're afraid of being ... well, killed.
During our last break, we saw an interview Burt did with Orson Welles on Welles's never-picked-up talk show pilot. They had matching red shirts. Before the last film, Cristina told us she regretted not being able to include a movie featuring Charles Durning, one of Burt's many longtime collaborators and friends. So before the trailers, we had a little Charles Durning moment (embedded below, from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) and this is seriously one of those things that fills me with so much joy I could literally cry. Bless that man and his epic wiggle.
The last trailers were for Hustle (a Robert Aldrich film with Burt) and Semi-Tough (a football movie with Burt), which was of course setting us up for an Aldrich football film with Burt. One of his best films, one of the great sports films, and a perfect film to watch the day before the Super Bowl.
THE LONGEST YARD (1974)
Burt Reynolds might have had a career in football if he hadn't been injured in college, so this was a natural role for him to play, and in fact a number of the actors in this movie had once been professional football players. Burt plays Paul "Wrecking" Crewe, a former NFL player who had been fired for shaving points. Crewe walks out on his wealthy girlfriend -- after a twist on the partner who feels entitled to your body at any time, played here instead with an entitled woman -- and wrecks her Maserati (in a sequence choreographed by Hal Needham). He is sentenced to 18 months in prison, and the prisoners are against him from the start because of his point shaving.
After a few key scenes that illustrate the various social dynamics that Crewe is stuck between, he gets strong-armed into putting together a football team full of his fellow convicts for an exhibition game against the semi-pro team made up of the prison's guards. This is a classic "underdog sports movie," with LOADS of great character actors. Eddie Albert is the jerkwad warden, not much more likable here than in his previous Aldrich film, Attack. Among the prisoners are Michael Conrad (from Hill Street Blues - "Let's be careful out there."), James Hampton (the dad from Teen Wolf - the 80s movie, not the TV show), Bernadette Peters (Broadway legend) and Richard Kiel ("Jaws" from the Bond films, and Eegah from Eegah).
Maybe the coolest thing about the game, which takes up the entire third act, is that it was shot by people who actually film real football games. So it doesn't look like a "movie" football game; it looks like the real deal. And because the stakes aren't quite high enough, at half-time -- with the prisoners riding high and leading the score -- the warden makes Crewe an offer he can't refuse, which throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing. I'm still mad, just thinking about it. And there's nothing better than the moment after the game, which I don't even need to explain for people who've seen it and don't dare spoil for people who haven't. Just amazing. Hell hath no fury like someone in power who's abused that power and thinks they might be losing some of it. SO GOOD.
Such a great day, and so much Burt greatness. 2016 is all downhill from here.