The Further Adventures of Smokey and the Bandit


The first Smokey and the Bandit is a classic.  What about the sequels?

Smokey and the Bandit II (1980, directed by Hal Needham)

The gang’s all back in this sequel to Smokey and the Bandit!  Burt Reynolds is the Bandit!  Jackie Gleason is Sheriff Buford T. Justice and his two brothers, Reginald and Gaylord!  Jerry Reed is Snowman!  Sally Field is Carrie!  Pat McCormick and Paul Williams are Big and Little Enos!  Mike Henry is Junior!  Dom DeLuise is an Italian doctor!  Terry Bradshaw and Mean Joe Greene play themselves!  There’s an elephant!

You get the idea.  Smokey and the Bandit II promises more of the same.  In some ways, it delivers.  There are some entertaining stunts.  The finale features what was, at the time, the biggest car chase ever filmed.  But Smokey and the Bandit II fails at the most important part.  It fails to recreate the fun of the first film.  Everyone is just going through the motions.  Burt Reynolds later said that he only made the film as a favor to Hal Needham while Sally Field said that she agreed to appear in the film as a favor to Burt Reynolds.  Jackie Gleason did the movie because he needed the money but, because he was also in poor health, he requested that his scenes be filmed first and that they be filmed quickly.  That the three stars didn’t have much enthusiasm for the project is obvious while watching the movie.

This time, Big Enos wants the Bandit to transport an elephant to the Republican National Convention in Dallas.  The Bandit, however, has been an alcoholic wreck ever since Carrie left him to, for some reason, get back with Junior.  Snowman manages to sober up the Bandit and, after they help Carrie run out on her wedding for a second time, it’s time to transport an elephant.

In hot pursuit, Sheriff Justice gets help from his brothers, all of whom are also played by Gleason.  Reginald Justice is a Canadian Mountie who speaks with a posh accent that is in no way Canadian.  Gaylord Justice is a flamboyant state patrolman.  Whenever the brothers talk to each other, doubles are used.  There are a few split screen shots that are so ineptly handled that it ends up looking like a page from a comic book with each Gleason standing in a separate panel.  The end credits list Gaylord as having been played by “Ms. Jackie Gleason,” just in case you’re wondering the level of this film’s humor.

Dom DeLuise gets some laughs as an Italian doctor who is recruited to take care of the elephant but otherwise, this is a depressing movie.  Burt Reynolds and Sally Field were on the verge of breaking up when this film was made and neither one of them acts their scenes with much enthusiasm.  Watching the movie, it’s impossible not to compare their strong chemistry in the first movie to their total lack of it in the second movie.  There’s a subplot about the Bandit trying to prove that, even though he’s getting older, he’s still a legend and, for those who know anything about Burt Reynolds’s career, it hits too close to home.  Combining that with the sight of an obviously unwell Jackie Gleason and you’ve got a surprisingly depressing comedy.

There is one cool thing about Smokey and the Bandit II.  After the critics thoroughly roasted the film, Hal Needham took out a one-page ad in Variety.  The ad was a picture of Needham sitting in a wheel barrow full of money.  That’s one way to answer your critics!

Smokey and the Bandit 3 (1983, directed by Dick Lowry)

Smokey and the Bandit 3 is even more depressing than the second film.  Not surprisingly, Sally Field is nowhere to be found.  She had broken up with Burt after the second film and was busy pursuing a career as the type of actress who didn’t appear in car chase films.  Burt does appear in the film but he only makes a cameo appearance, showing up for a few minutes at the end with a resigned look on his face as if he realized that he was never going to escape being typecast as an aging good ol’ boy.  Also not returning was Hal Needham.  Needham was busy directing Stroker Ace so he was replaced by Dick Lowry.  What type of director was Dick Lowry?  Other than Smokey and the Bandit 3, Lowry’s best known credit is for Project Alf.

Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, Pat McCormick, Mike Henry, and Paul Williams all return but none of them look happy to be there.  The plot is that Sheriff Buford T. Justice has retired to Florida but he just can’t turn down a challenge from Big Enos and Little Enos to drive a stuffed shark from Miami to Dallas.  Smokey is the Bandit!  (That was originally the title of this film.)  When it looks like Buford is doing too good of a job of transporting the shark, the Enoses hire Snowman to chase Buford and slow him down.  It doesn’t make any sense and Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason don’t share any scenes together despite co-starring in the film.  Supposedly, Gleason was originally cast as two characters — Buford and the man hired to slow Buford down — but when preview audiences were confused by the film, the studio demanded reshoots.  Jerry Reed was brought back and all of the scenes featuring Gleason as the new Bandit were reshot with Reed.  Reed even grew a mustache, wore a red shirt, and broke the fourth wall just like Burt did in the first film.

Not surprisingly, Smokey and the Bandit 3 is a disjointed mess that doesn’t even have any spectacular car crashes to justify its existence.  Jerry Reed is as amiable as he was in the first two films but Jackie Gleason’s Buford Justice was never meant to be a lead character.  In small doses, he was funny but Buford was too one-dimensional of a character to build an entire film around.

Smokey and the Bandit 3 was a failure with critics and at the box office so the Bandit’s adventures came to a temporary end.  Years later, Hal Needham produced four made-for-TV prequels the starred Brian Bloom as a young Bandit.  I haven’t seen them.  If I ever do, I’ll review them.

Hooper (1978, directed by Hal Needham)


Reuniting the Smokey and the Bandit team of director Hal Needham and stars Burt Reynolds and Sally Field, Hooper is a film that pays tribute to stuntmen.

Hooper (Burt Reynolds) is a respected but aging stunt coordinator who is currently working on an overblown action film called The Spy Who Laughed At Danger.  (The spy is played by Adam West, who appears as himself.)  Hooper knows that he’s getting too old to keep putting his life at risk but he’s addicted to thrill of doing what he calls “gags.”  Every morning, Hooper wakes up, pops pills, has a beer, and then falls off a building or crashes a car.  When he’s not doing movies, he’s getting into bar brawls.  As demonstrated during a visit to Dodge City, Hooper and his friends are modern day cowboys  but time is catching up to them.  Hooper’s girlfriend, Gwen (Sally Field), wants Hooper to settle down and retire from the business before he ends up a physical wreck like her father (Brian Keith).  Hooper feels that he has to do one last, record-setting stunt before he passes the torch over to younger stuntmen like Ski Shidski (Jan-Michael Vincent).

Hooper is a classic Burt Reynolds film, with everything that you expect from late 70s Burt.  As always, Burt is deceptively laid back.  Sally Field is cute as a button.  Old hands like Brian Keith and James Best provide strong support while Robert Klein plays the type of pompous Hollywood director who is just begging to get slugged at the end of the movie.  (He does.)  The plot of Hooper is even simpler than the plot of Smokey and the Bandit but Hooper is a more heartfelt film.  Hal Needham was a stuntman before he became a director and this film was his tribute to the underappreciated people who risked their physical well-being to make movie magic.  Needham knew men like Hooper and his friends.  They were his people.  Needham’s love for the stunt players comes through in every scene.

As for the stunts, they’re real and they’re spectacular.

 

Hal Needham, of course, will always be associated with Burt Reynolds.  Before moving into directing, Needham frequently served as Reynolds’s stunt double and the two were such close friends that Needham spent 12 years living in Reynolds’s guest house.  Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was partially inspired by the friendship of Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham, with Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt playing characters who were based on the two men.  (Reynolds was even originally cast in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood as George Spahn but he died before he could shoot his scenes. The role was taken over by Bruce Dern.)  Needham was responsible for directing some of Burt’s best films (Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit and this one) and some of his worst (Stroker Ace and Cannonball Run II).  Needham also directed Megaforce, which didn’t feature Burt but which is still, in its own way, unforgettable.

Hal Needham (1931 — 2013)

The critics may not have loved the movies that Hal and Burt made together but audiences did.  Needham’s best films are just as entertaining today as they were when they were originally released.  They don’t demand much but they deliver everything you could possibly want.  Whenever the real world is getting to be overwhelming, I’m thankful that I can turn on a Hal Needham film and return to a world where the only thing that matters is driving fast, loving hard, and having a good laugh while you’re doing it.  Today, more than ever, the legacy of Hal Needham is just what we need.

Cannonball Run II (1984, directed by Hal Needham)


In 1981, director Hal Needham and star Burt Reynolds had a surprise hit with The Cannonball Run.  Critics hated the film about a race from one end of America to the other but audiences flocked to watch Burt and a group of familiar faces ham it up while cars crashed all around them.  The original Cannonball Run is a goofy and gloriously stupid movie and it can still be fun to watch.  The sequel, on the other hand…

When the sequel begins, the Cannonball Run has been discontinued.  The film never explains why the race is no longer being run but then again, there’s a lot that the sequel doesn’t explain.  King Abdul ben Falafel (Ricardo Montalban, following up The Wrath of Khan with this) wants his son, The Sheik (Jamie Farr, returning from the first film) to win the Cannonball so he puts up a million dollars and announces that the race is back on.  Problem solved.

With the notable exceptions of Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, and Adrienne Barbeau, almost everyone from the first film returns to take another shot at the race.  Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise are back.  Jack Elam returns as the crazy doctor, though he’s riding with the Sheik this time.  Jackie Chan returns, riding with Richard “Jaws” Kiel.  Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. return, playing barely disguised versions of themselves.  They’re joined by the surviving members of the Rat Pack.  Yes, Frank Sinatra is in this thing.  He plays himself and, from the way his scenes are shot, it’s obvious they were all filmed in a day and all the shots of people reacting to his presence were shot on another day.  Shirley MacClaine also shows up, fresh from having won an Oscar.  She plays a fake nun who rides with Burt and Dom.  Burt, of course, had a previous chance to co-star with Shirley but he turned down Terms of Endearment so he could star in Stroker AceCannonball Run II finally gave the two a chance to act opposite each other, though no one would be winning any Oscars for appearing in this film.

Say what you will about Hal Needham as a director, he was obviously someone who cultivated a lot of friendships in Hollywood because this film is jam-packed with people who I guess didn’t have anything better to do that weekend.  Telly Savalas, Michael V. Gazzo, Henry Silva, Abe Vigoda, and Henry Silva all play gangsters.  Jim Nabors plays Homer Lyle, a country-fried soldier who is still only a private despite being in his 50s.  Catherine Bach and Susan Anton replace Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman as the two racers who break traffic laws and hearts with impunity.  Tim Conway, Don Knotts, Foster Brooks, Sid Caesar, Arte Johnson, Mel Tillis, Doug McClure, George “Goober” Lindsey, and more; Needham found room for all of them in this movie.  He even found roles for Tony Danza and an orangutan.  (Marilu Henner is also in the movie so I guess Needham was watching both Taxi and Every Which Way But Loose while casting the film.)  Needham also came up with a role for Charles Nelson Reilly, who is cast as a mafia don in Cannonball Run II.  His name is also Don so everyone refers to him as being “Don Don.”  That’s just a typical example of the humor that runs throughout Cannonball Run II.  If you thought the humor of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was too subtle and cerebral, Cannonball Run II might be right up your alley.

The main problem with Cannonball Run II is that there’s not much time spent on the race, which is strange because that’s the main reason why anyone would want to watch this movie.  The race itself doesn’t start until 45 minutes into this 108 minute film and all the racers are quickly distracted by a subplot about the Mafia trying to kidnap the Sheik.  Everyone stops racing so that Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. can disguise themselves as belly dancers to help rescue the Sheik.  By the time that’s all been taken care of, there’s only 10 minutes left for everyone to race across the country.  After a montage of driving scenes and a cartoon of an arrow stretching across the nation (the cartoon was animated by Ralph Bakshi!), we discover who won the Cannonball and then it’s time for a montage of Burt and Dom blowing their lines and giggling.  Needham always ended his films with a montage of everyone screwing up a take and it’s probably one of his most lasting cinematic contributions.  Every blooper reel that’s ever been included as a DVD or Blu-ray extra owes a debt of gratitude to Hal Needham.  Watching people blow their lines can be fun if you’ve just watched a fun movie but watching Burt and Dom amuse themselves after sitting through Cannonball Run II is just adding insult to injury.  It feels less like they’re laughing at themselves and more like they’re laughing at you for being stupid enough to sit through a movie featuring Tony Danza and an orangutan.

The dumb charm of the first Cannonball Run is nowhere to be found in this sequel and, though the film made a profit, the box office numbers were still considered to be a disappointment when compared to the other films that Reynolds and Needham collaborated on.  Along with Stroker Ace, this is considered to be one of the films that ended Reynolds’s reign as a top box office attraction.  Cannonball Run II was also the final feature film to feature Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  This could be considered the final Rat Pack film, though I wouldn’t say that too loudly.

Cannonball Run II is a disappointment on so many levels.  It’s hard to believe that the same director who did Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper could be responsible for the anemic stunts and chases found in this movie.  The cast may have had a good time but the audience is left bored.  Stick with the first Cannonball Run.

 

Stroker Ace (1983, directed by Hal Needham)


In 1983, Burt Reynolds had the choice of appearing in two films.

He was offered the role of former astronaut Garrett Breedlove in Terms of Endearment, a role that director/screenwriter James L. Brooks wrote specifically with Reynolds in mind.  The role was designed to play to all of Reynolds’s strengths and none of his weaknesses.  It was also a key supporting role in a film that was widely expected to be an Oscar contender.

Or, Reynolds could star in Stroker Ace, another car chase film that was going to be directed by his old friend, Hal Needham.  No one was expecting Stroker Ace to be an Oscar contender but Needham and Reynolds had made three similar films together and all of them had been hits at the box office.

Reynolds decided to star in Stroker Ace.  Jack Nicholson received the role of Garrett Breedlove and went on to win his second Oscar.  As for Burt, he later called Stroker Ace “the beginning of the end.”

The title character of Stroker Ace is a good old boy race car driver.  He’s a typical Reynolds character.  He grew up in the South and learned how to race cars by watching moonshiners outrun the police.  Now, he’s a star on the NASCAR circuit but he’s also arrogant and needlessly self-destructive.  Because this is a Hal Needham car chase movie, those are portrayed as being good traits.  When Stroker loses his former sponsor after pouring wet concrete on him, he’s forced to accept sponsorship from a crooked chicken mogul (played by Ned Beatty, who deserved better).  When Stroker’s not driving his car while dressed as a chicken, he’s romancing the prudish Pembrook Feeney (Loni Anderson).

It’s hard to describe the plot of Stroker Ace because it really doesn’t have a plot.  There’s a few scenes where Burt looks directly at the camera and smirks.  It’s supposed to remind us of Smoky and the Bandit but Stroker Ace doesn’t have the spectacular stunts that the first film had nor does it have the comedic energy of Jackie Gleason.  Instead, it’s got Jim Nabors as a mechanic named Lugs.  The former star of Gomer Pyle does say “Golly” but he doesn’t sing.

The main problem with Stroker Ace is that there’s no reason to root for Stroker Ace.  The Bandit was good at his job and cared about his car.  The same thing is true about the stuntman that Burt played in Hooper.  Stroker is a racer who would rather destroy his car than come in second and who loses his sponsorships because of his own stupid behavior.  Stroker Ace doesn’t care about anything so it’s difficult to get outraged over him having to wear a chicken suit while racing.

Reynolds later described turning down Terms of Endearment for Stoker Ace as being one of the biggest mistakes of his career.  When he talked about how the Terms of Endearment role won Nicholson an Oscar, Reynolds added that he didn’t win anything for Stroker Ace because “they don’t give awards for being stupid.”  It was a missed opportunity for sure and Reynolds would have to wait another fourteen years before Boogie Nights finally proved that he could do more than drive cars and smirk at the camera.

Despite the failure of Stroker Ace, Reynolds and Needham remained friends and even made two more film together (Cannonball Run II and Hostage Hotel).  Their friendship later served as the basis for the relationship between the characters played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

Smokey and the Bandit (1977, directed by Hal Needham)


 

Smokey and the Bandit is a simple film. Burt Reynolds is the Bandit. He’s hired by two bored brothers to smuggle beer from Texas to Georgia. Working with the Snowman (Jerry Reed), Bandit is easily able to pick up the beer but it’s while driving back that the two of them run afoul Smokey, a.k.a. Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason, who reportedly improvised most of his profane lines). Bandit also picks up a hitchhiker and runaway bride (Sally Field) who he calls Frog.

There’s not much to Smokey and the Bandit. The Bandit has an incredibly cool car and he drives really fast. Snowman is funny and has a dog. Smokey has a dumb son and is constantly threatening to hit people.   It’s a dumb movie but it works.   The cars are fast, the crashes are spectacular, and the entire film is the perfect daydream for when you’re sitting in your office at work and wondering whether there’s something more rewarding you could be doing with your life.

Who hasn’t wanted to the Bandit at some point in their life?

Who hasn’t wanted to get behind the wheel of black trans am and just take off, driving down country roads while giving the slip to old Smoky and joking with Snowman on your CB radio and maybe picking up a young Sally Field while smuggling beer and winning a bet?

(There’s been a lot of terrible moments on The Family Guy but, for me, one of the absolute worst was when Brian Griffin went into the past and asked 70s Burt Reynolds, “So, you’re going to go get some of that hot Sally Field action, huh?” Anyone who has seen Smokey and the Bandit knows that Sally Field was smoking hot back in 1977!)

Smokey and the Bandit comes to us from a different time. No one worries about what speeding halfway across the country in a little over 24 hours is doing to the environment. No one apologizes for who they are or where they’re from. The Bandit lives by a simple rule: Treat him with respect and he’ll treat you with respect. Talk down to him or try to tell him what to do and the Bandit’s just going to jump in his car and leave you standing in a cloud of dust.

During the latter part of his career, Burt Reynolds would often lament that appearing in financially successful but critically lambasted films like Smokey and the Bandit made him a huge star but also kept him from getting the type of roles that he felt he deserved. Reynolds was right but there are worse things than being known as The Bandit.   For many, Burt Reynolds will always be the Bandit because he was so perfectly cast for the role. Not many actors could pull off the scene where, after fooling a cop, the Bandit looks straight at the camera and grins. Burt Reynolds could. Playing the Bandit may have never won Burt Reynolds an Academy Award but it did make him an American icon.

If you’re feeling down, watch Smokey and the Bandit. If you need an escape, watch Smokey and the Bandit. It demands so little and gives so much.

Music Video of the Day: Try by Michael Penn (1997, dir by Paul Thomas Anderson)


I was going to do one of the videos that Paul Thomas Anderson directed for Haim today but I changed my mind at the last minute.  That’s nothing against Haim or the video.  Haim’s great and their videos — particularly the ones directed by Anderson — are frequently brilliant.  It’s just, for whatever reason, I knew that today was not the day to write about their video for The Steps.  That day will come soon.

Instead, I wrote about the video for Michael Penn’s Try.

Try was the very first music video to be directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.  He directed it while he was editing Boogie Nights.  Michael Penn, of course, did the score for both Boogie Nights and Anderson’s earlier Hard Eight.  He can also be spotted in Boogie Nights, playing Nick in the recording studio and incredulously reacting to the efforts of Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothschild to record their own album.

When watching this video, pay attention to the blonde gentleman wearing the Planet of the Apes t-shirt.  He shows up twice and, at one point, holds the microphone into which Penn is singing.  If he looks familiar, that’s because he’s actor Philip Seymour Hoffman!  When I first saw the video, I honestly didn’t recognize him.  I just thought he was some random crew person who got the job because he could run fast enough to keep up with Penn.  Of course, once I learned that Hoffman was in the video and I rewatched it, I immediately spotted him.  I think it says something about what a good actor Hoffman was that, even in something like this, he could be so convincing that, despite being one of the most recognizable actors in the world, he still became somewhat anonymous.  He disappeared into the role.

Thomas Jane and Melora Waters (who played Todd and Jessie St. Vincent in Boogie Nights) are also in this video, standing at the end of a a long line of exhausted dancers.  (This was meant to be a reference to the film, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?)  There’s one other Boogie Nights reference, which is kind of interesting considering the fact that he and Anderson supposedly didn’t get along during filming.  Keep an eye out for door with a purple 9 on it.  That’s a reference to Burt Reynolds, who wore the number 9 when he played college football.

Enjoy!

Scenes That We Love: The Bandit Fools Smokey in Hal Needham’s Smokey and The Bandit


Today would have been Hal Needham’s 89th birthday and that means that it’s time to celebrate with Smokey and the Bandit.

Before he made a name for himself as a director, Hal Needham was a legendary stuntman.  In 1977, the same year that Smokey and the Bandit came out, Gabriel Toys even sold as a “Hal Needham Western Movie Stunt Set,” which came with a spring-launched Hal Needham action figure.  When Needham went into directing, he made unpretentious movies for people who wanted to have a good time at the theater.  The majority of his films featured fast cars, tough good old boys, and spectacular action.  They also often featured Burt Reynolds doing what he did best.  Needham made the type of movies that never won Academy Awards but which audiences loved.  In fact, audiences still love them.  When I watch Smokey and the Bandit, I always want to quit my job and just smuggle Coors east of the Mississippi for a living.  I know that Coors is legal now so there’s no need to smuggle it but that’s the power of a good Hal Needham film.

In the scene below, the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) and Snowman (Jerry Reed) manage to avoid getting caught by the Mississippi Highway Patrol.  Not only do we get to hear Eastbound and Down but this scene also features the moment that Hal Needham knew the film was going to be a hit.  He later said that, as soon as Burt Reynolds broke the fourth wall and stared straight at the camera with “that shit-eating grin on his face,” he knew that audiences were going to love the Bandit.

And he was right.

Hal Needham died in 2013 and Burt Reynolds followed him five years later.  However, their legacy lives on.  The characters of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood were based on Burt and Hal.  If anyone could have taken on and beat the Manson family single-handed, it would have been the great Hal Needham.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Burt Reynolds Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today would have been Burt Reynolds’s 84th birthday.  In honor of a legendary career that is only now starting to really be appreciated, here are 4 shots from 4 of Burt’s best films.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Deliverance (1972, directed by John Boorman)

Smoky and the Bandit (1977, directed by Hal Needham)

Sharky’s Machine (1981, directed by Burt Reynolds)

Boogie Nights (1997, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)

You Have To Pay The Bills Somehow: The Maddening (1995, directed by Danny Huston)


Because her husband’s a dick who spends too much time working and not enough time taking the day off, Cassie (Mia Sara) grabs her five year-old daughter, Samantha (Kayla Buglewicz) and heads off for her sister’s house.  When Cassie stops at a gas station to fill up the car, she’s spotted by seedy Roy Scudder (Burt Reynolds!).  Roy puts down his cigar long enough to tamper with her car.  When it breaks down a few miles down the role, Roy drives up and offers Cassie and Samantha a ride back to his place, where he can fix her car or where she can at least call for hep.  Not realizing that she’s in a direct-to-video horror movie, Cassie accepts.

Big mistake!  Roy’s wife, Georgina (Angie Dickinson!), has not been the same since the mysterious death of her son and Georgina and Roy’s other child, Jill (Candace Huston, daughter of the film’s director and granddaughter of John Huston), needs a playmate.  Roy has decided that Samantha fits the bill.  Cassie is locked in a room while Samantha is turned into Jill’s slave and Roy deals with the angry ghost of his abusive father (William Hickey!).

You have to feel bad for Burt Reynolds.  He made this film at a time when his career was in decline.  His TV show was no longer on the air.  Boogie Nights was still two years away.  The man had bills to pay.  Can you blame Burt for accepting any role that came his way, especially if it meant a chance to co-star with Angie Dickinson and be directed by the son of John Huston?  Reynolds was famous for hating even his good films so you can only imagine what he must have thought about The Maddening.  Fortunately, since Burt was playing a total psycho in The Maddening, he could at least channel his feeling into the role.  Throughout ever minute of The Maddening, Burt is totally and thoroughly unhinged and angry in the way that only the former number one star in America could be upon having to settle for a role in a direct-to-video horror film.  He yells at his ghost father.  He slits throats.  He beats people into unconsciousness.  He does everything that a normal movie psycho does but, when he does it, it’s even more memorable because he’s Burt Reynolds.  Burt and Angie Dickinson playing the type of role that Bette Davis would have played for Robert Aldrich in the 60s are not just the main reasons to watch this movie.  They’re the only reasons.

This was Burt’s only horror film and it’s too bad that it couldn’t have been a better one.  But if it helped Burt keep the lights on during the lean years of the early 90s, good.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Deliverance (dir by John Boorman)


1973’s The Exorcist is often cited as the first horror film to ever be nominated for best picture and technically, I guess that’s correct.  It was definitely the first best picture nominee to ever deal with a battle between humans and a malevolent supernatural force and no one can deny that The Exorcist has influenced a countless number of horror films.

That said, I think you could make the argument that Deliverance, which was nominated for best picture the year before The Exorcist, was in its own way, a horror film.  Certainly, every crazed hick slasher film that has come out since 1972 owes a debt to Deliverance.  Deliverance‘s ending has been imitated by so many other horror films that it’s become a bit of cliche.  Though there might not be any supernatural creatures in Deliverance, the film still features its own set of horrifying monsters.  The toothless redneck rapists (played by character actor Bill McKinney and rodeo performer Herbert “Cowboy” Coward) seem as if they’ve jumped straight out of a nightmare and into the movie.  Of course, they aren’t the only monsters in this film.  There’s also the (fictional) Cahulawassee River, which is due to be dammed up and seems to be determined to take out its anger on anyone foolish enough to try to navigate it.

Much as with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which came out just two years after Deliverance), the main theme here seem to be that you should be careful about going off the main road.  Just as the unfortunate hippies and college students in Texas Chainsaw Massacre proved to be no match for a clan of backwoods cannibal, the four middle-aged men at the center of Deliverance discover that they’re no match for either nature or its inhabitants.  At the start of the film, we watch as three of the men deal with the locals in a condescending and rather smirky manner.  Only one of them actually tries to be nice to the locals, engaging in a banjo duel with a young boy who clearly loves his banjo but who still refuses to smile or shake hands.  The boy knows what the men are getting themselves into them.  The boy knows what awaits them.

If you grew up in the South, as I did, you’ll recognize all four of the men.  It’s not just that they’re played by recognizable actors.  It’s that each one of them is a common archetype of the type of men you find down here.

For instance, there’s Lewis (Burt Reynolds), the self-styled alpha male with his leather vest and his bow-and-arrow and his constant talk about how society is eventually going to collapse and only the strong are going to survive.  You know that Lewis is full of it from the minute you see him but he’s so charismatic that you can also understand why the other three men have fallen under his control.

And then there’s Bobby (Ned Beatty).  Bobby is quick to laugh and quick to talk and quick to make a bad joke.  When he says that he’s a salesman, you’re not surprised.  From the start of the film, Lewis complains that Bobby isn’t strong enough or serious enough and, when the mountain men attack, Bobby is the one they target.  And yet, towards the end of the film, Bobby is the one who sells the hastily concocted story about what happened on the river.

Drew (Ronny Cox) is the nicest of the men.  With his glasses and his guitar and his rather touching belief that everything will be okay if everyone just tells the truth, Drew’s the prototype of the Southern liberal.  One can imagine him teaching in a community college and vainly trying to convince his relatives that segregation and nostalgia for the Confederacy is holding the South back.

And finally, there’s Ed (Jon Voight).  Ed smokes a pipe and it’s obvious that he’s someone who has a very secure life.  Ed is the one who is everyone’s friend.  He’s the one who sticks up for Bobby.  He’s the one who reminds Drew to wear his life jacket.  He’s the only one who can get away with (gently) mocking Lewis.  Ed seems like a nice guy but, at the start of the film, there’s a strange emptiness to Ed.  You get the feeling that the reason Ed is friends with everyone is because he doesn’t have any firm beliefs.  Instead, he just adapts to each situation and says whatever everyone wants to hear.  You can’t help but wonder what Ed believes.  By the end of the movie, of course, both Ed and the viewer have learned what Ed is capable of doing.

Cox, Voight, and especially poor Ned Beatty are all perfectly cast in their roles.  Burt Reynolds reportedly felt that this film was his best performance and he was probably right.  Director John Boorman captures both the beauty and the menace of nature, leaving you both in awe of the the river and fearful of what it can do those foolish enough to try to conquer it.  Interestingly enough, while Boorman was directing Deliverance, he was offered The Exorcist.  He turned it down, feeling that the script was too exploitive of the possessed child.  Boorman would, however, direct The Exorcist II: The Heretic (co-starring Deliverance‘s Ned Beatty).

(At the same time, Jon Voight was offered the role of Father Karras in The Exorcist but, like Boorman, turned the film down so he could work on Deliverance.)

While the film is best known for its sequences on the river, one should not overlook the haunting scenes of the survivors once they make their way back to civilization.  After having spent the previous 80 minutes or so presenting everyone in the backwoods as a threat, the final third of Deliverance actually emphasizes the decency of the townspeople.  When one of the men breaks down and starts to cry in the middle of dinner, everyone is quietly respectful of his emotions.  Towards the end of the film, as the survivors are driven out of town, they find themselves stuck behind the old country church, which is being moved upriver.  “Just got to wait for the church to get out of the way,” their driver says while the church’s bell mournfully rings for both the death of the town and the death of innocence.

(Of course, even with all the kind townspeople around, there’s still a somewhat menacing sheriff.  It’s just not a Southern film without a scary sheriff, is it?  “Don’t you boys ever do nothing like this again,” he says at one point.  The sheriff is played by James Dickey, the author of both the novel and the screenplay on which the film is based.)

Deliverance was nominated for three academy awards.  In the directing and the editing categories, it lost to Cabaret.  For best picture, it lost to The Godfather.  Deliverance, The Godfather, and Cabaret, all competing against each other?  1972 was a very good year.