Friday, September 7, 2018

That Most Southern of Actors

It's perhaps weird to consider that the recently-deceased Burt Reynolds, that quintessentially 'Southern' actor, was born in Michigan. Burt was a monster star in the 1970s and 1980s, typically playing a good-old boy or a bad boy. As a kid, my favorite movie of his was 1978's Hooper, in which Reynolds played an almost autobiographical role, an aging stuntman one crash away from incapacitation. Seen with the perspective of a more civilized age, the movie, though good-natured is a paean to bad behavior:

Reynold's best film, albeit one that is difficult to watch, is 1972 Southern Gothic opus Deliverance, based on James Dickey's 1970 novel. In it, Reynolds plays a Georgia businessman who embarks with three friends on an ill-fated whitewater canoeing trip. The movie is a jarring juxtaposition of horrific actions and gorgeous scenery, and Burt Reynolds' Lewis, a skilled outdoorsman, readily takes to the violent mindset needed to survive an ordeal resulting from an attack by the locals:

The movie is a harrowing exploration of violent masculinity in a world in which the one unfailingly decent man on the expedition gets killed while his three compatriots call on their more 'primitive' instincts in order to thwart the murderous intentions of their surviving attacker. Reynolds' character receives a battering from the elements, and Reynolds himself rode the canoe down the dangerous rapids:

The trailer of the movie perfectly showcases the beauty of the scenery and Reynolds' almost feral masculinity:

After this bravura performance, Reynolds played a plethora of roles as Southern scoundrels with a basically decent core facing genuine villains, in such films as White Lightning and it's sequel Gator. Back in 1993, on a cross-country road trip, my college roommates and I stopped at a Louisiana gator farm (closed because an almost-unprecedented snowstorm had rendered the gators torpid) which prominently displayed an airboat featured in Gator. While not involving an airboat, here's a scene, with some cringeworthy racial content, depicting an airborne boat:

Burt followed this up with a string of car-chase action-comedies for the rest of the seventies- a couple of Smokey and the Bandit movies, a couple of Cannonball Runs. He also hearkened back to his days as a football player with such films as The Longest Yard and Semi-Tough. As Arnold Schwarzenegger noted, Burt was the template for the wisecracking action hero, the charismatic macho man who is always ready with his fists and his mouth. Even the list of roles he turned down is an epic roster of action heroes.

Hell, the guy even sang:

Late in his career, he had some comedic roles in movies such a Boogie Nights and Striptease, a 'second act' after he'd aged out of the puncho puncho run run roles of his earlier career.

There won't be another like him- they guy was a one-man box office machine, with some fantastic movies and some turkeys, with a ton of fun-yet-simple movies to his credit as well. While I'm not a big fan of car chase movies, I will be watching some of his better clips, the ones that showcase his good-humor and considerable charm.

1 comment:

PamieC said...

My favorite Burt Reynolds movie is W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings, but nobody ever mentions it.