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DVD SAVANT

The Longest Yard
Lockdown Edition


The Longest Yard
Paramount
1974 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 121 min. / The Mean Machine / Street Date May 10, 2005 / 14.99
Starring Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Michael Conrad, James Hampton, Harry Caesar, John Steadman, Charles Tyner, Mike Henry, Bernadette Peters, Anitra Ford, Richard Kiel, Robert Tessier
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Production Designer James Dowell Vance
Film Editor Michael Luciano
Original Music Frank De Vol
Written by Tracy Keenan Wynn from a story by Albert S. Ruddy
Produced by Albert S. Ruddy
Directed by Robert Aldrich

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

I'd like to think a renewed interest in director Robert Aldrich was behind the appearance of a special edition of The Longest Yard, as he's a fascinating and underappreciated filmmaker. Of course, the real reason for this Lockdown Edition is to tout its hotly un-anticipated remake. As with The Manchurian Candidate, Get Shorty and dozens of other special editions, The Longest Yard has resurfaced only to promote another movie. The trend makes Savant wish they would do remakes of all his favorite films not yet on DVD. I can ignore the remakes and enjoy the newly repromoted classic films. How about Cedric the Entertainer as Judex?

The Longest Yard was a blockbuster hit of 1974 that helped launch six or seven years of juvenile Burt Reynolds audience pleasers. He may have earned serious notices in Deliverance and goosed his popularity through Dinah Shore's talk show and a jokey nude centerfold, but Reynold's real super-stardom as an athletic, good humored hunk probably began with this testosterone-fueled tough-guy comedy. His movie is a rude 70s answer to the traditional "good sportsmanship" clichés of older gridiron movies: honor on the field is reduced to brute survival and dignity is hard to find.

Synopsis:

Disgraced pro player Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds) beats up his girlfriend Melissa (Anitra Ford), steals her expensive foreign car and destroys it in a police chase. Sent to the prison of warden Hazen (Eddie Albert), he's given a rough choice - the Warden will find him an early parole if he forms a prisoner-manned football team to give the official guards' team training for their big season games. Crewe has no trouble finding convicts eager for a chance to beat up the guards. Even the black players back Crewe because they think his team is on the up 'n up. But Crewe hasn't told them that he's promised to throw the game for the Warden, a decision he soon regrets. Winning will cost him dearly --- like, no parole and a longer prison term.

After being his own boss for twenty years and riding a rollercoaster of big hits and major flops, Robert Aldrich took a job as a director-for-hire on The Longest Yard and brought in an enormous success for his producer Al Ruddy. I remember asking Paramount studio drivers in 1978 what their idea of a good film was. This movie was their answer: It had lots of believable football, Burt Reynolds slapped women around, and it gave the drivers great vacations taking equipment from Hollywood all the way to the Georgia locations!

The Longest Yard is perfectly suited to Robert Aldrich, a noted fan of pro football who in his own films tended toward liberal-minded seriousness. His follow-up picture with Burt Reynolds turned out to be the ultra-sober Hustle, a movie of quality but not an audience pleaser. Producer Ruddy takes credit for the film's story idea, which is really nothing more than an extension of the football game at the end of Robert Altman's M*A*S*H* crossed with the jokey macho-violent stance of parts of Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen - and the pale ghost of the theme of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Movie fans wanting entertainment over enlightenment were tickled by the sight of gigolo Burt Reynolds wiping the floor with his unappreciative girlfriend, and then giggling himself into prison with a winning what-the-hell good-ol-boy swagger.

There's nothing subtle about The Longest Yard, either in the humor or in the playing. Burt Reynolds undeniable charm takes credit for keeping the rather ridiculous story from getting too heavy. The overall tone is slapstick violence. Until the picture reaches for sentimental touches, it conciders anything short of dead babies a humor resource. The movie chooses its own terms. A crazy driver almost killing pedestrians is a laugh riot and prisoners being beaten half to death just another amusing incident. In other words, this is a locker-room movie, far more civilized than later incarnations (Porky's, Roadhouse) but still only a just-for-laughs beer-drinking comedy. M*A*S*H* made R-rated history when a football player say the "F" word on the playing field; The Longest Yard makes a bigger joke by replicating the moment - and having three players repeat the word, one after another.  1

Burt is pitted against Aldrich's favorite nasty heavy, the former light comedian Eddie Albert. He plays a villain with no coloration, just a perpetual sneer. Always a team player (Aldrich named his own production company Associates and Aldrich to honor his collaborators) and an authoritarian tough guy in his own right, Aldrich put together a budget cast of rough jocks - real NFL players and retired stars - and imposing tough guys like Robert Tessier, a reputed Hell's Angels leader. Most of the movie capitalizes on their macho interaction - threats, violence and demonstrations of the same, as when ex- linebacker Ray Nitschke punches holes in the locker room wall with his head. Ex-caveman (Eegah!) and future Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me) Richard Kiel looks tall and fierce but is probably the creampuff in this aggressive bunch; he has a nice moment bawling over a broken nose given him by Tessier, who is made to meekly apologize ("I'm ... sorry") by their new coach Reynolds.

What puts The Longest Yard far ahead of the macho wannabes is Aldrich's dedication to getting "real" rough football on screen. The budget wouldn't stretch to hiring all of the director's stock company of expensive actors (Ernest Borgnine, etc.), and a lot of the line readings are weak. But Ruddy did reserve enough production time to film the marathon football game without fakery. Most of the action is "real" in the sense that if Reynolds was told to score a point, a play was run as many times as it took him to overcome a real defense. Football fans can tell the difference, or at least claim that they can. What's on screen indeed looks rough, although it's unlikely that older players like Michael Conrad (Hill Street Blues) were really placed in jeopardy. Anyone can let a bunch of jock-strap bruisers loose and encourage them to get mean and dirty, but Aldrich was tough enough to keep things under control. It's an unusual Hollywood director who could go nose-to-nose with a guy like Reynolds or Lee Marvin and retain the upper hand.

Harry Caesar and John Steadman are good support characters, with James Hampton a standout as Reynold's cellmate who comes to a painful end. Third-billed Ed Lauter has the plum role as a jerk head guard who gets to show himself to be an okay guy after all. To give the film a bit of female presence, Bernadette Peters is in for a couple of funny scenes as a secretary with a beehive hairdo.


Paramount's Lockdown Edition DVD of The Longest Yard will please its fans to no end. The enhanced transfer is fine. Like many other Aldrich pictures there are few visual graces to speak of but the image is clean and colorful. The key extra is a full commentary with Burt Reynolds and producer Ruddy. They have a fine time talking about all the fun had while making the picture and praising Aldrich and their large cast of athletes, a group that made ex-athlete and stuntman Reynolds feel right at home. Reynolds gets all excited over what he thinks is an ending-shot homage to The Searchers, a pretty feeble attempt to elevate this show to a classier perch.

A new featurette is split into two parts and covers a little bit of the same territory as the commentary - don't try watching it right after the film because it's at least 30% film clips. There's also a trailer (in 1:85 and slightly squeezed) and an EXCLUSIVE LOOK! at the new version of The Longest Yard. Savant didn't check it out.

One big thing in Paramount's favor: This disc is priced to be Wal-Mart friendly but the encoding is still widescreen letterbox - another studio would have made it Pan-Scan to please what they perceive to be a Yahoo consumer base. Kudos.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Longest Yard rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
Supplements: Commentary by Burt Reynolds and writer/producer Albert S. Ruddy; Two new featurettes, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 17, 2005


Footnote:

1. Early 70s movies were full of rough laughs as well as far more violent (in terms of ugly violence) rowdy and sexist. One could depend on audience participation at a film like The Longest Yard, even in Los Angeles theaters, with (male) viewers "getting into the fun" and shouting pleasant things at the screen like "Kill 'em!" (heard at Death Wish, many times) and "F--- her!" (heard at Straw Dogs, many times). At first it felt liberating - at least people were getting into the spirit of the movies ... until the practice seemed to be taken over by very dangerous-sounding voices!
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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