Whilst the movie version of James Dickey’s Deliverance, released in 1972, is most famous for its duelling banjos scene and notorious rape scene, it was also the first real big screen opportunity for one Burton Milo Reynolds.
Burt had actually been acting for years before this and had already appeared in a string of American TV shows from the late 50’s. Popping up with bit parts as Bill Davis in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Escape to Sonoita‘ episode in 1960, Rocky Rhodes in The Twilight Zone‘s ‘The Bard’ and even an unnamed pilot in an 1967 episode of Gentle Ben, Burt was starting to make a name for himself after initially being turned down for movies for looking too much like Marlon Brando.
But Burt went on to succeed in style and in 1974 took the lead role of Paul “Wrecking” Crewe in the cult classic The Longest Yard, a wonderful prison-break comedy adventure about an ex-pro American Footballer who is sentenced to 18 months hard labour in the Citrus (Georgia) State Prison for stealing his ex girlfriend’s car and forcing the police into a chase. If you’re too young to remember this movie, you might well have seen its 2005 British remake ‘Mean Machine‘, staring Vinnie Jones.
But it’s his 1977 film Smokey and The Bandit that lead to Burt was officially (in my mind) becoming the coolest guy on the planet. Maybe it was the car chase in The Longest Yard that made him the ideal candidate for this role, but I’m guessing the fact he was extremely handsome, charming and naturally funny also had something to do with it. In any case, Burt’s portrayal of Bo Darville, or to the rest us, (the) Bandit won the world over and his 77′ Pontiac Firebird TRANS AM soon became the car of dreams for many a youngster with aspirations of becoming half the man Burt was.
With another Bandit escapade sequel under his belt and a few other movies I won’t pretend to fondly remember, he went on to star as my personal favourite, The Cannonball Run‘s JJ McClure. Based on a real life illegal cross-country outlaw road race from Connecticut to California, JJ and his souped-up Ambulance driving side kick, Dom Deluise’s Victor Prinzim, aka Captain Chaos, aka ‘him’ absolutely shine in this film. No mean feat, considering they were up against the likes of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr, Roger Moore, and even a young Jackie Chan which saw the film go on to be one of the highest grossing movies of 1981.
Before more hilarity ensuing in Bandit III and Cannonball II, Burt also starred alongside Dolly Parton and Dom Deluise again, in the comedy musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Burt) and ‘Chicken Ranch’ brothel running Miss Mona Stangley (Dolly) play the unlikely lovers who go on to marry and run for state legislature.
Burt was so damn cool, he even turned down the chance to be James Bond, citing that an American could never play the role. He was also considered for America’s answer to 007 ‘Our Man Flint‘ which ended up staring James Coburn instead. In 73’ he even released his own album, Ask Me What I Am too.
Burt was the man we all grew up wanting to be and the guy all the girls lusted after but given America’s modern push to kill off the kind of strong male, gender-defining stereotypes Burt used to play, I can see why he probably felt it was time to move on.
Reynolds sadly passed of a heart attack in Florida earlier today. You made your mark, you delighted our childhoods and became a role model to millions. Burt, Bandit, JJ, rest in Pontiac peace and go off and win that great Cannonball Run in the sky.