Burt’s best: Remembering Reynolds in his career heyday

Late superstar is recalled with a night of his movies

Turner Classic Movies remembers Burt Reynolds with a night of his films Wednesday.

In September, Burt Reynolds’ death robbed the world of a charismatic screen icon who was equally at home in folksy comedies and intense dramas. Turner Classic Movies offers a “Memorial Tribute” to him with a night of his films Wednesday, Dec. 26, and here’s a look at much of his top work (noting the titles TCM will show).

“Deliverance” (1972, on TCM): One of Reynolds’ best-known dramatic performances is a highlight of this grueling, John Boorman-directed tale of a rafting excursion gone awry, adapted by James Dickey from his own best seller.

“The Longest Yard” (1974, on TCM): Director Robert Aldrich’s brawny comedy-drama was one of Reynolds’ biggest hits, casting him as an ex-football-pro convict leading a prison sports team.

“Gator” (1976): A solid example of Reynolds’ talent as a director, this sequel to “White Lightning” bests the original with the star’s return as Southern troubleshooter and trouble-finder Gator McKlusky.

“Smokey and the Bandit” (1977, on TCM): Well, of course. Many imitators followed – including some done by Reynolds himself – but no car-chase comedy tops this hugely entertaining comedy, with Reynolds and pal Jerry Reed as fast-driving partners hauling beer across state lines illegally, joined by a wayward bride (Sally Field) and pursued by the one-and-only Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason).

“Semi-Tough” (1977): Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson had fun as rowdy football players who shared a lot, including the daughter (Jill Clayburgh) of their team’s owner.

“Hooper” (1978, on TCM): Reynolds’ stunt-veteran buddy Hal Needham directed him in this lighthearted tribute to stuntmen, with Reynolds playing (naturally) the king of them.

“Starting Over” (1979): A wonderfully subdued Reynolds stars in James L. Brooks’ script about a newly single man torn between a love-fearing schoolteacher (Clayburgh again) and the ex-wife who might want him back (Candice Bergen, knowingly singing badly … really badly).

“The Cannonball Run” (1981): It could be argued that Reynolds was sleepwalking through this coast-to-coast auto-race comedy, but he was so linked to the genre by then, it didn’t really matter.

“Sharky’s Machine” (1981): Another terrific acting-and-directing exercise for Reynolds, this police drama benefits strongly from supporting players including Brian Keith and Bernie Casey.

“The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (1982): Dolly Parton largely takes care of the music, but a lot of the humor falls to Reynolds as a lawman who patronizes the title site.

“Best Friends” (1982, on TCM): Reynolds and Goldie Hawn are engaging as romantically linked screenwriters debating whether to wed in this underrated comedy-drama.

“Boogie Nights” (1997): What might be considered the true capper to Reynolds’ film career, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s drama enabled him to score an Oscar nomination as a maker of adult films – and of careers in them.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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