|The Longest Yard (1974)
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Michael, Conrad, Bernadette Peters
Director: Robert Aldrich
You'd be hard pressed to find a manlier movie than "The Longest Yard." It deals with violence against women, convicts, corrupt cops, an even dirtier warden, and the football game that brings them together. Its secret weapon is the way it manipulates something that Bart and Lisa Simpson summed up expertly:
Bart: Inside every hardened criminal beats the heart of a ten-year-old boy. Lisa: And vice versa.
In this case, it makes saints out of sinners, and vice versa. Authority is something not to be trusted, which appeals to the bad boy in everyone. It's a point they hammer home with great, um, authority. As football movies go, it's unparalleled. As sports movies go, it is revered, but flawed.
We begin with a very drunk Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds), a former quarterback disgraced in a point shaving scandal. After walking out on his latest female meal ticket (but not before throwing her to the ground), he takes her Masarati out for a spin, leading the police on a high-speed chase. And if you know Chris Rock's rules of dealing with the police - it suddenly seems rather fitting that Rock is in the upcoming remake - then you know that the police are not coming after you without bringing an ass kickin' with them.
Crewe is sent to a prison in the south, filled with a bunch of boys, both cons and guards, who take their football seriously and are none too pleased that he threw a game for the money. The warden Hazen (Eddie Albert, miles away from his "Green Acres" persona) pulled some strings to get Crewe to his prison, mainly to get Crewe to build a team of cons to play against the warden's semi-pro team of guards. There are stipulations, of course. The main one being, Crewe has to lose the game. If he doesn't, he can plan on sticking around for a while.
Watching the movie today, it is clear why it is so highly admired. The football sequences are excellent, which makes sense given that half of the actors were college or pro ballers themselves (including Reynolds). It also made a star out of Richard Kiel (then Dick Kiel), the giant who would go on to great success as the Bond nemesis Jaws. Kiel has the movie's funniest line as well ("I think I broke his fucking neck!").
However, it has not aged terribly well. Robert Aldrich's direction, for starters, is spotty; the transitions, in particular, are a mess, with some scenes cutting off seemingly halfway while others contain fadeouts in places where the scene is just beginning. Likewise, Crewe's third-act transformation was underplayed, and therefore not terribly convincing. On the plus side, Bernadette Peters sports the best hairstyle this side of Phil Spector.
"The Longest Yard" was one of the first in what became the modern wave of sports movies, and the majority of its respect lies in its status as an elder, along with the fact that the movie opened the door for many more sports movies in the years to come ("Rocky," "Bad News Bears," "Slap Shot"). And while the movie was not so good that the thought of an update verges on blasphemy, those involved with the updated version better take the source material seriously.
The classic football film has been re-released on DVD in a special "Lockdown Edition" with a few special features for fans to enjoy before checking out the latest remake in theaters. First up is a full-length audio commentary track with star Burt Reynolds and writer/producer Albert Ruddy, followed by two fun bits featuring current interviews with the cast, and sports writers and current players talking about the movie. The single-disc release also includes the original theatrical trailer and a lengthy sneak peak into the remake.