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Main | PREVIEW: 2018 SCIFI FILM FESTIVAL »
Friday
Sep072018

R.I.P. BURT REYNOLDS

At the peak of his box office dominance, Burt Reynolds embodied true Hollywood movie stardom. His appeal was what the modern industry calls ‘four-quadrant’; men, women, young and old found him captivating, relatable, magnetic, charming, rugged and self-effacing. Whether as the sleeveless tough-guy hunk in Deliverance, the giggly renegade bootleggin’ good ol’ boy in Smokey and The Bandit or the smooth, insidious porn industry patriarch in slow decline in Boogie Nights, Reynolds held the audience in the palm of his hand with a twinkling silver-screen quality that was uniquely his own and adored by millions.

He passed away in Florida on September 6, aged 82… 

The Television Years:
When his promising football career was ended by injury, Reynolds turned to the theatre to restart his life. Noticed after a breakthrough turn in a stage revival of ‘Mister Roberts’ and blessed with the smouldering photogenic qualities of a Brando or Clift, Reynolds was soon cast on staples such as Riverboat, Playhouse 90, The Aquanauts, Gunsmoke, Hawk and Dan August. The small-screen adored Reynolds; he would become a regular guest on The Tonight Show, sharing a hilarious chemistry with host Johnny Carson, and returned to popular series television in the 90’s with B.L. Stryker and the hit Evening Shade, which earned him Golden Globe and Emmy trophies.

The Breakthrough Films:
Launching his big screen career in 1961, Reynolds debuted with a bit part in the George Hamilton vehicle Angel Baby followed by the WWII actioner, Armored Command (pictured, right). He graduated to top billing with Operation C.I.A. (1965), but it would be Navajo Joe (1966) that really launched him as a viable Hollywood lead; it led to an apprenticeship that included programmers 100 Rifles, Sam Whiskey, Impasse, Shark (all 1969) and Skullduggery (1970). Richard Colla’s action-comedy Fuzz (1972), opposite Racquel Welch, primed audiences for what would become one of Reynolds’ most iconic performances… 

The ‘70s:
Based upon James Dickey’s bestseller, British director John Boorman’s Deliverance cast Reynolds as Lewis, the outdoor action man who turns from muscle-bound tough guy to weakened warrior faced with his own mortality. The film earned three Oscar nominations; Reynolds was embraced by audiences as the breakout star of the film. In quick succession, he worked with Woody Allen (Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid To Ask, 1972) and Mel Brooks (Silent Movie, 1976), launching his comedy persona; solidified his action man reputation (Shamus; The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing; White Lightning); enjoyed blockbuster success collaborating with director Robert Aldrich on The Longest Yard (1974; pictured, above) and Hustle (1975); and, flexed his directing muscles with Gator (1976).

 

Superstardom:
In 1977, Burt Reynolds became a global superstar on the back of one of the most profitable comedies of all time. Directed by legendary stuntman and Burt’s best bud Hal Needham, Smokey and The Bandit was second only to Star Wars as the most popular film of the year, taking in US$127million in the summer of ’77; adjusted for inflation, that represents a domestic gross of US$528million (despite poor reviews, the 1980 Bandit sequel still took a handsome US$66million; adjusted, US$202million). Reynolds double-downed on box office glory in 1977 opposite Kris Kristofferson in the bawdy football yarn Semi-Tough. One of cinema’s great romantic (and unlikely) match-ups came out of the Bandit films, which paired Reynolds with Sally Field (pictured, right); they would light up the screen again in 1978 in the hit Hooper and the black comedy, The End. The decade was not without its misfires, but these films largely represent Reynolds fearlessly seeking to stretch beyond his ‘good ol’ boy’ screen persona – Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love (1975) and Nickelodeon (1976); John G Avildsen’s W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975); and, Stanley Donen’s Lucky Lady (1975).

 

The ‘80s:
Reynolds played the movie star dutifully in the new decade. In 1981, he launched an all-star franchise with the loosely-structured action comedy blockbuster The Cannonball Run; paired himself with fellow ‘80s box office draws Goldie Hawn (Best Friends, 1982), Clint Eastwood (City Heat, 1984) and , ahem, Liza Minnelli (Rent-a-Cop, 1987); and, delivered a series of video-friendly thrillers (Stick, 1985; Heat, 1986; Malone, 1987; Physical Evidence, 1989). But Reynolds never stopped challenging the audience’s perception of his leading man credibility. Over the course of the decade, he played sensitive (Starting Over, 1979), suave (Rough Cut, 1980), satirical (Paternity, 1981) and sharp-witted (Switching Channels, 1988). He directed the mean, lean police thriller Sharky’s Machine (1981; pictured, right) and proved an unlikely musical-comedy natural in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982). He all but killed off the action-comedy genre he helped create with 1983’s Stroker Ace and offered up a legitimate dud in Blake Edwards’ tone-deaf romantic farce The Man Who Loved Women (1983), but Reynolds never lost his ambition or stopped working.

 

Porn Goes to The Oscars…:
The 1990s and 2000s saw Reynolds shift gears between smaller festival fodder (Breaking In, 1989; Citizen Ruth, 1996), distinctive voice work (All Dogs Go To Heaven, 1989; Delgo, 2008; A Magic Christmas, 2014) and ironic cameos (The Player, 1992). Critics hated his comeback film, the Demi Moore vehicle Striptease (1996; pictured, right) but loved his out-there performance. The decade came into sharp career focus when director Paul Thomas Anderson sought out, fought with and guided to an Oscar nomination the actor for his porn industry odyssey, Boogie Nights (1997); Reynolds hated the shoot and expressed a desire to disown the performance, yet emerged from the film with some of the best reviews of his career. From his Florida base, he worked steadily throughout the 2010s, livening up standard villains (‘Boss Hogg’ in The Dukes of Hazzard, 2005) and occasionally playing his age (The Crew, 2000). He earned solid notices opposite Ariel Winter in Adam Rifkins’ The Last Movie Star (2017). Regrettably, he passed away before shooting scenes as ‘George Spahn’ in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; his final appearance will be in Stephen Wallis’ Defining Moments.

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