To celebrate the eightieth (!) birthday of Burt Reynolds, the Alamo Drafthouse in New York is hosting a five-film marathon of mystery pictures today.
At one point the hugest star in American movies, Burt Reynolds has had one of the most dynamic, genial, and fascinating careers of any American movie star in history. If you haven’t read his book yet, get on that! It’s great. Burt Reynolds is great. If you don’t love Burt Reynolds, you’re not quite as smart as you seem to think you are. Sorry!
No idea what movies are in store for us this afternoon, but as an apertif, here’s a short collection of various capsule reviews of Burt Reynolds movies I’ve done over the past year.
“Some jobs a man can’t do. But the big blonde can do it… maybe.”
1966’s NAVAJO JOE, also known as A DOLLAR A HEAD or SAVAGE RUN, is bizarre, bruising, and fun, a thoroughly under-discussed Italian Western, even among those sorts of cinephiliacs who most often discuss ‘em. The film begins with a legitimately brutal opening scene, and continues that way throughout, albeit at a slightly less violent pace, with some memorably cool cinematography by Silvano Ippoliti all the way. The pretty pictures are key because they help to spotlight one of the most incredible female faces ever seen in a “Spaghetti” Western that doesn’t belong to Claudia Cardinale or Vonetta McGee – her name is Nicoletta Machiavelli. Really! See…?
Other things to keep eyes and ears out for in NAVAJO JOE: A very recognizable score by Ennio Morricone (going under the name Leo Nichols for some reason) if you’ve seen KILL BILL or ELECTION — Quentin Tarantino and Alexander Payne are very different filmmakers but both are men of fine taste who know their international film history well. The big villain of NAVAJO JOE is played by Aldo Sambrell, whose name you may not know off-hand but whose face you will recognize from Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” Westerns. Oh, and also there’s some guy in the mix called BURT REYNOLDS.
By 1966, Clint Eastwood had only recently broken through as an international star via shooting Italian Westerns overseas, and now with NAVAJO JOE it was time for another star’s shot. Yes, this is an early starring role for Clint’s old buddy Burt Reynolds, and one of Burt’s few straight-up Westerns. One of the great comedy stars, Burt’s pretty serious here, which isn’t what he’s best known to be, but as an action lead, he’s pretty good. As a Navajo Indian, no less! (Burt has Native American heritage so it’s not at all as absurd as you may be thinking.)
SAM WHISKEY (1969)
The poster. The cast. The poster, again. A script by longtime Burt Reynolds scenarist Bill Norton. I’ve been amping to see this movie since I first found out it existed, and I finally did this past year. In the first ten minutes, Ossie Davis punches Burt across an entire saloon. It gets better.
P.S. You need to know that one member of the cast is named Chubby Johnson.
WHITE LIGHTNING (1973)
Son, that up there above these words is O.G. bad motherfucker R.G. Armstrong menacing Burt Reynolds with a pigsticker. I’m assuming the film’s title comes from a George Jones song. The story revolves around moonshine and revenge. Stuntwork was done by Hal Needham, Glenn Wilder, and Buddy Joe Hooker, among others. The man calling the shots was Joseph Sargent, who made THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE-TWO-THREE a year later. Bill Norton wrote it. R.G. Armstrong’s character is named “Big Bear.” All of these things I’m telling you are important.
A sequel to WHITE LIGHTNING, this was Burt’s directorial debut. Hard to go wrong with 1970s Burt Reynolds in my opinion. Dumb-ass Rotten Tomatoes rates this movie at 0%, but there’s a Hal Needham stunt towards the end of this one that makes it an easy 100% and a high-five to boot. You don’t want to listen to critics on this subject, unless I count as a critic. Listen to me. I’ve got you. This movie was another one written by Bill Norton, whose Wikipedia page you really ought to read.
Again, can’t hardly go wrong with Burt in the seventies. Long before the FAST & FURIOUS movies, Burt and his buddy Hal Needham were making cars defy gravity, and that was without benefit of computer animation.
SHARKY’S MACHINE (1981)
Burt was never going to be the director his longtime buddy Clint became, because his concerns were arguably less serious. Clint’s an artist and a maverick, Burt is a maverick and an entertainer. Clint started directing early on and quickly settled into a steady, reliable pace as a filmmaker. Burt put out a few comedies and action movies — with incredible stock companies of actors and friends — but, history has shown, he didn’t go the distance as a filmmaker. That doesn’t mean the movies he did make aren’t worth seeing. One of these days, I swear, I’m gonna write a piece on Burt Reynolds as auteur. That won’t be today, but I will tell you to see SHARKY’S MACHINE, which is pure undistilled Burt, raunchy, horny, borderline sleazy. There are beautiful broads (Rachel Ward from AGAINST ALL ODDS) and hissable heavies (Henry Silva, the most under-heralded wackadoo actor maybe ever). But it’s not nearly as rollicking and insouciant as the freewheeling action comedies that made Burt the king of the box office throughout the 1970s. It’s more of a comedown after a high. It’s like when BOOGIE NIGHTS goes black with the ’80s. A different animal. A harshed mellow. It isn’t great, but it’s great.
A remake is being threatened but they’ll fuck it up for sure.
— JON ABRAMS.
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Tags: Burt Reynolds