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Thursday, November 24, 2011

THE LONGEST YARD (1974)

This classic football fable looks more cheerfully Politically Incorrect than ever, and the years have added a nostalgic charm to its many virtues. Burt Reynolds, at the start of his decade-long run at the top of the heap and already looking the worse for wear, is just right as the don’t-give-a-damn ex-pro who gets stuck in a segregated Southern prison after tearing up his rich wife, her rich car & a short cop. Under orders to whip up a sacrificial team of prisoners for a tune-up game against the Semi-Pro prison guards, he doesn’t just find a team, he also finds himself. Robert Aldrich and regular lenser Joseph Biroc shoot from the hip, trying to catch as much spontaneity as they can, letting function dictate the compositions. Even fans will admit that the comedy & drama fall into the crude, rude & lewd department, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But perhaps 'savagely blunt' gets closer to the mark. That’s what triggers the comedy, excessive bluntness, which bubbles up not only from the physical mayhem & comic reversals, but goes a bit deeper from the detailed character set-ups in the pic’s first half. Aldrich certainly takes his time doing this. At one point he lets a whole Laurel & Hardy routine play out in a swamp between Reynolds & another chain-gang convict. But that’s why he can afford to let the big game carry the entire third act. (M*A*S*H*/’70 is an obvious point of reference.) As chief bad guy, Eddie Albert lets his tailoring do much of the work, this prison warden looks like the Chamber of Commerce, and a super strong cast of up and coming character actors all get their moment. The only downside is seeing Burt Reynolds in the ugliest pair of pants in film history, noting the odd resemblance to Marlon Brando, and knowing what miserable career choices he would soon start to make.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The cheesy singing cheerleaders (a sort of lowdown MOTOWN act) are a lot more entertaining than most SuperBowl halftime spectaculars.

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