2018-09-12 / Editorials

A tribute to the appeal of Burt Reynolds

Len Robbins

Not quite two months ago, I got to ask Burt Reynolds a question.

As I recounted in this space, the legendary actor was in Valdosta for a film festival, and during the festival’s introductory press conference, I asked Reynolds about his relationship with his longtime friend Ossie Davis, who is originally from Clinch County.

Reynolds responded that he loved Ossie and his wife Ruby Dee, that Ossie Davis “had the voice of God. And now he’s with Him.” Then, he said, “I miss him (Ossie Davis) and I hope to see him again some day.”

That day was Sept. 6 — not even two months after he said that.

For those who saw him during that festival, they saw a man who, physically, was ailing. So, it wasn’t incredibly surprising that he passed away. Mentally, though, he was sharp, and spoke excitedly about three upcoming projects — including one with Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon A Time in Hollywood”) that, unfortunately, he never got to shoot before his passing.

When I was growing up, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Burt Reynolds seemed like the coolest guy in the world. He was both a ladies’ man and a man’s man — handsome, charming, athletic, with a quick and self-deprecating wit. During that time period, he was the biggest box-office draw in the world. Even his horrible movies (and there were many) made money. For instance, “The End” had a budget of $3 million, and made $44 million.

I’ve read a lot of tributes to Reynolds in the past week, but the most interesting I heard was a podcast on The Ringer where two people ranked their five favorite Burt Reynolds’ movies. Not the best five Burt Reynolds’ movies, but the five they thought best personified the appeal of Burt Reynolds. I disagreed with some of their choices, so I’ll supply my own, with the criteria being that these are, in my opinion, the five movies you need to see if you had never heard of Burt Reynolds and want to see what all the hubbub is about.

I’ll go in descending order:

5. Breaking In (1989).

Apparently, I was one of 11 people to see this movie. Sandwiched in between a string of losers like “Switching Channels” and “Rent-a- Cop,” Reynolds starred in this small art film about an aging safecracker who takes on a young apprentice. It was directed by Bill Forsyth and written by John Sayles. Very good, understated movie.

4. Deliverance (1972).

This is the film that made Reynolds a movie star. A movie that you need to watch. Once.

3. Sharky’s Machine (1981).

Reynolds plays a vice cop in Atlanta in this gritty film, which he also directed. Just an interesting, well-made cop movie, with great stunts and a perfect ensemble cast. Perhaps Reynolds’ most underrated work.

2. The Longest Yard (1974).

Not the 2005 remake, which Reynolds is also in, that’s more of an over-the-top comedy. The 1974 original still holds up as one of the best sports films ever made. There’s never been a more convincing bigscreen quarterback than Reynolds (who played running back at FSU).

1. Smokey and the Bandit (1977).

Just the perfect vehicle to showcase Burt Reynolds’ charm and wit. This movie is a bomb without Reynolds’ “The Bandit” as its centerpiece. He keeps it together, and was at the pinnacle of his powers in 1977.

While he was great in other roles, Burt Reynolds was at his best when he was playing himself. That’s not my opinion. It’s his.

“I may not be the best actor in the world, but I’m the best Burt Reynolds.”

Amen.

And RIP.

© Len Robbins 2018

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