The Longest Yard: Lockdown Edition
October 3, 2005
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Mike Conrad, Harry Caesar, John Steadman, Charles Tyner, Mike Henry, Jim Nicholson, Bernadette Peters, Pervis Atkins, Tony Cacciotti, Richard Kiel, Anitra Ford, ,
Most sports movies are riddled with cliches and like any genre this is what makes the exceptional films stand out. They either subvert the cliches or they define them. The Longest Yard (1974) is arguably one of the best football movies because, along with North Dallas Forty (1979), it presented a gritty, no-nonsense look at the game that also set the standard for future films of its kind.
Burt Reynolds is at his alpha-male best as disgraced one-time pro quarterback, Paul Crewe, a hard-drinking, fast driving kind of guy who’s not afraid to shove a woman down if she gets all in his face. After pissing off a married woman he had been sleeping with and then leading the police on a wild car chase (choreographed by Reynolds collaborator, Hal Needham), he’s sent to prison.
Once inside Crewe finds that his reputation precedes him. The warden (Albert) wants him to coach the prison guard football team so they can win a semi-pro championship. Crewe hasn’t played ball in eight years and is reluctant to accept the warden’s offer despite the not so subtle suggestion that his stint will be easier if he complies. A few days doing grueling, back-breaking work toughens the ex-ballplayer and also helps him bond with his fellow inmates.
In his own cheerfully sadistic way, the warden forces Crewe to assemble a team of convicts, which he will quarterback, to play the prison guard team in order to get them ready for their first league game. It’s either that or be stuck in prison for his full term (up to five years) instead of early parole (18 months). Crewe plans a little payback and recruits the meanest, toughest muthas in the prison who are itching to lay into the guards without fear of reprisals. It starts out as a desire for survival on Crewe’s part but he quickly learns that for the lifers, this game is a point of pride and a chance to prove something to the warden by making him look bad.
Made in the mid-‘70s during the height of his popularity, Burt Reynolds was the epitome of mainstream cool: the cocky swagger, the casual disregard for authority and his good ol’ boy charm that made him the object of desire of women everywhere and idolized by guys who wanted to be him (both Adam Sandler and Jason Lee have referenced him in their movies).
While the film does have its moments of humour it generally plays things close to the vest and Robert Aldrich’s no-frills direction maintains a good balance, keeping the situations grounded. The climatic game is pure down ‘n’ dirty football: brass knuckles, plaster cast forearms and thrown passes right to groin. There are cheap shots galore on both sides as the injuries mount, raising the stakes with the passing of every quarter.
The Longest Yard has gone on to inspire numerous movies, including recent efforts like UK variation (switching to soccer instead of American football) Mean Machine (2001) and this year’s remake starring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. It remains to be seen if these movies will stand the test of the time that the original has some 30+ years and counting.
There is an audio commentary by Burt Reynolds and writer/producer Albert S. Ruddy. Reynolds had always wanted to play pro football and this film allowed him to realize his dream a little. Throughout the commentary the two men point out who were real ballplayers and who were real inmates. Reynolds tells excellent stories about some of the cast and about making the movie. This is exactly the kind of commentary you want for this movie and by its conclusion you are left wanting to hear more stories from these two men.
“Doing Time on The Longest Yard” is a retrospective featurette. Ruddy talks about the origins of the movie, while Reynolds talks about how he got involved. Several sports writers praise the film for its mix of comedy and drama.
“Unleashing the Mean Machine” features Reynolds and Ruddy talking about shooting some of the movie on location in a real prison deep in the swamps of Georgia with real football players. After taking a few hits from these guys, Reynolds quickly learned to respect their ability. Some real pro players talk about the authenticity of the game scenes, including the cheap shots dealt out by each team.
Also included is the original theatrical trailer.
Finally, there is an “Exclusive Look” at the new remake, which is basically a brief behind-the-scenes look that seems to be placing more of an emphasis on the comedy rather than the drama. Let’s just hope it’s not another Necessary Roughness (1991) or The Replacements (2000).