Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will celebrate the life and career of iconic actor, director and producer Burt Reynolds with a six-film tribute on Wednesday, December 26. Reynolds, who passed away on September 6 at the age of 82, was an Academy Award®-nominated actor (Best Supporting for Boogie Nights), in more than 100 feature films ranging from comedies to thrillers, and was also a television star for which he was a 3 time Golden Globe nominee (with 1 win) as the lead in Evening Shade. The programming tribute airing on December 26 will include fan favorites Smokey and the Bandit and The Longest Yard. The tribute begins at 8:00 p.m. (all times EST) with what is perhaps Reynold's most popular film, Smokey and the Bandit. For those too young to remember, this is the tale of a rogue "maverick" trucker who tries to hide a shipment of contraband beer from a small-town sheriff. Somewhere along the way he ends up rescuing a runaway bride played by the perky Sally Field. The combined charisma of these two stars leads to banter not seen since the days of classic screwball comedies. It's a fun movie that succeeds at being what it aimed to be: a fun, adventurist romp with the sexist man of the 70s paired with the "girl-next-door" of the 70s. This is a Reynolds must see, not to be missed!
Smokey is followed by another classic Reynolds film, Deliverance. However, the character he plays (Lewis) is a complete 180 from the usual type for which Reynolds is known. This film is the most serious among the icon's resume, with backwoodsmen hunting down a group of weekend warriors, unprovoked and without mercy. Although the description sounds like the plot of a horror film, the execution by director John Boorman (Excalibur, Hope and Glory) is completed with absolute seriousness. And Reynolds' supporting role as the most athletic and competent among the four friends, is true to the bone and as honest and touching as any of his screen performances.
Later into the night (12:00 a.m.), Reynolds plays a disgraced NFL quarterback in The Longest Yard. The has-been hero of the gridiron is sent to prison for stealing a car. There he is forced by the warden to take part in a "convicts versus guards" exhibition football game. As a football player-turned-convict Reynolds organizes a team of inmates with the intent of throwing the game in return for an early parole. But he becomes concerned about the inmates' as he gets to know them, and befriending them. This is a very apropos role for the athletic Reynolds who at one time actually played football in college and was signed to go pro before an injury forced his life in another direction. His real life experience really shines in a film that is often mimicked, but never equalled.
At 2:15 a.m. Reynolds is Hooper, an aging Hollywood stuntman who needs to prove that he's still it when a younger, riskier Jan-Michael Vincent comes along to beat him out of jobs. It's not Shakespeare, but it is Burt and Sally together again having fun. This is followed by Smokey and the Bandit II. Which is basically a rehash of the original movie but Bandit is now a washed-up has-been, until Big Enos and Little Enos challenge him to transport an Elephant across country in 3 days (?). It's all just an excuse for Reynolds to re-live the antics of the first film with Jackie Gleeson reviving his role of Sheriff Buford T. Justice.
Finishing out the tribute at 6:00 a.m. is Best Friends from 1982. Under the direction of Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night, Moonstruck), Reynolds stars with Goldie Hawn in, what was then, a modern romance. After some sophisticated (as well as sophomoric) comedy the two find they aren't prepared to go it as husband and wife. This isn't hailed as one of Burt's best, but I think it's sweet and even just a bit revealing of a side of the mega, super star's own personal relationship with women. He just liked them too much to be any good to them as a romantic partner.
True fans of Burt Reynolds will revel in the lineup of TCM's chosen selection of the icon's many films. But even those unfamiliar with his work will enjoy any one of these films. Although, one of my favorite films in which Reynold's appears (Citizen Ruth) is not included, I plan on watching many of the films - on TCM or otherwise - that the movie's mustachioed Southern rascal from Michigan made his very own. Like all the great stars before him, there will never be another like him again.
For more information, use the above image as a link to the TCM page honoring BurtReynolds.