Looking back at some of the late superstar’s outstanding films.
On this date in 2018, we lost superstar Burt Reynolds. To commemorate the occasion, we’re looking back at some of his most notable films with special appeal to C&I readers. Just click the title, and you’ll see where to stream or purchase it.
Just a few months after of unleashing his classic Django on the world, director Sergio Corbucci served up another enduringly popular Spaghetti Western, this one starring Reynolds as a Navajo avenger on the trail of the outlaw gang that massacred his village. A personal favorite of Quentin Tarantino — who recycled part of the movie’s Ennio Morricore score for his own Kill Bill Vol. 2 — Navajo Joe often has been described as the most physically challenging role Reynolds has ever played. Indeed, during one particularly exciting action sequence, he bulldogs a guy right off his horse, then rolls down the hill with him. “And the horse rolled with us, too,” Reynolds told C&I in 2016. “Yeah, that was a pretty amazing sequence, wasn’t it?” Laughing, Reynolds added: “But, you know, they never were very big on using stunt doubles in those Spaghetti Westerns.”
After succumbing to the, ahem, blandishments of a sexy widow (Angie Dickinson), roguish adventurer Sam Whiskey (Reynolds) agrees to help preserve her late husband’s family name by recovering a cache of gold bullion the guy stole from the Denver Mint — and then breaking into the mint vault to replace the booty. What could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, actually, but not nearly enough to spoil the fun. With veteran TV and movie western director Arnold Laven (Rough Night in Jericho, The Glory Guys) unobtrusively overseeing the proceedings, Sam Whiskey (1969) is a seriocomic caper that goes down smoothly and easily. Reynolds, on the cusp of movie superstardom, is the main attraction here, doing the smiley, smart-alecky shtick that would serve him even better in a string of 1970s hits. But Ossie Davis has his moments as a crafty blacksmith allied with Whiskey, and Dickinson is… is… well, attractive enough to make it credible that she could talk any guy into collaborating on the most incredible escapade. But wait, there’s more: C&I reader favorite Clint Walker is richly amusing as O.W. Bandy, a self-described “inventor and businessman” who periodically quotes Plato quoting Socrates while assisting in the gold transfer. At one point, he’s called upon to impersonate a jealous husband so his confederates can trap a mint inspector. Bandy has just one line to deliver – “Aha! I caught you trifling with my wife!” — and he is his own worst critic: “I guess I didn’t do it too slick, huh?”
Director Tom Gries (Will Penny, Breakheart Pass) stirred up controversy — and, yes, generated publicity — by including a steamy close encounter between Jim Brown and Raquel Welch in his 1969 rough-and-tumble action flick about an Arizona lawman (Brown) caught between downtrodden Yaqui peasants and a sadistic Mexican military commander (Fernando Lamas) while pursuing a bank-robbing revolutionary (Reynolds). But the movie works best when it concentrates on another relationship. As critic Roger Ebert noted: “Brown and Reynolds are good together; Brown has a cool, humorous charm and Reynolds plays to it like the other half of a vaudeville team.”
Back in the day when The Hallmark Channel produced a few westerns along with its steady stream of romcoms, Reynolds rode tall in writer-director Frank Q. Dobbs’ 2003 TV-movie as John “Chill” McKay, a former bounty hunter who, after being wrongly imprisoned for 11 years, is freed to help Sheriff Hutch Hutchinson (Bruce Dern) — his brother-in-law! — hunt for an escaped convict and his gang. “And Bruce told me I gave him one of the best pieces of direction he ever received,” Reynolds told C&I in an interview shortly before the film’s Hallmark premiere. “We were shooting one night — actually, it was about 4 o’clock in the morning in the morning — and he’d taken a nasty spill off a horse a few days before so he was hurting like hell. He wasn’t going to take anything, he wanted to tough it out. But he was bent over double, just exhausted. So I said, ‘Think William Holden.’ And he knew exactly what I meant — William Holden, all beaten down but still walking proud in The Wild Bunch. So he went on and did the take. And he was stunning.”
Director Jesse Moss’ up-close-and-personal documentary about the making of the genre-defining action-comedy Smokey and the Bandit (the No. 2 top grossing movie of 1977, after Star Wars) features candid interviews with two good buddies, Reynolds and the late director Hal Needham, who joined forces to produce an improbably popular and enduringly influential pop-culture phenomenon showcasing Reynolds as a modern-day outlaw — Bo “Bandit” Darville — that became, throughout the rest of his life, his signature role. At one point, the film notes that two men became friends back when they worked on the ‘60s TV western Riverboat — a series, judging from his comments here, Reynolds did not remember fondly.