BMD Picks: Our Favorite Burt Reynolds Roles
With today's passing of Hollywood legend Burt Reynolds, we thought it would be appropriate to offer a humble list of our favorite Burt Reynolds roles. A lot of them are missing, but that's just a testament to the impact Reynolds had as well as his slightly underrated range as a performer. We hope you enjoy:
Hooper  (d. Hal Needham, w. Thomas Rickman & Bill Kerby)
In an entire filmography filled with irresponsibly dangerous motion pictures, Hooper is arguably the most irresponsible movie ever made. “There ain’t nothing like the life of a Hollywood stuntman,” go the lyrics of Bent Myggen’s country/Western theme song, as Reynolds pays tribute to the body double who essentially made him the box office draw of the late ‘70s (via the car chase spectacular Smokey and the Bandit). Cast with some of Needham and Reynolds’ best buds – including James Best, Reynolds’ early acting coach, and Sally Field, the superstar’s girlfriend and muse – and stuffed with Hollywood in-jokes (like literally watching one of Burt's other great roles in Deliverance), the real draw is the good ol’ boy camaraderie and totally insane practical stunt work (how Needham pulled off the POV motorcycle jump without killing anyone remains a mystery to this day). It’s crazy to think that the professional colleagues-come-bachelor pad roommates essentially made a movie immortalizing themselves, while they were living that debauched lifestyle: a feat you certainly couldn’t pull off today without infuriating half the planet. - Jacob Knight
Navajo Joe  (d. Sergio Corbucci, w. Piero Regnoli & Fernando di Leo)
There isn’t a lot of what we all came to love about Burt Reynolds in Navajo Joe, but that’s part of what makes it so special. The other part, of course, is that it is a brutal Spaghetti Western from the great Sergio Corbucci (Django, The Great Silence, Campañeros).
Navajo Joe offers an alternative take on Reynolds, one where charm, laughter and good old boy rebellion takes a backseat to a mostly silent, extremely violent anti-hero whose fury crosses over into frightening on more than one occasion. I absolutely adore the film (and the performance), and when news hit of Reynolds’ passing today, I couldn’t help but think of this great article Phil Nobile Jr. wrote for us on the subject of Corbucci and this film. As Phil notes, Reynolds claims he picked the wrong Sergio when choosing his Spaghetti Western. While I’d love to have seen him in a Leone Western, I respectfully disagree. - Evan Saathoff
Burt Reynolds Vs. Marc Summers
In 1994, a terrible mistake was made behind the scenes on Jay Leno's Tonight Show: Burt Reynolds and Marc Summers were both booked as guests on the same night. It quickly became apparent - mere moments after both men were onstage - that Reynolds' hyper-masculine, surly, no-nonsense energy did not pair well with Summers' upbeat, squirrelly, eager-to-please demeanor.
The result is the absolutely immortal late night clip embedded above, which progresses quickly from not-so-friendly sniping to water-throwing to, ultimately, a goddamn pie fight. Reynolds comes off as a bit of a grumpamoose here, it's true, but also he clowns the everloving shit out of Marc Summers, so it's definitely something you need to watch. - Scott Wampler
Boogie Nights  (d. & w. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Burt Reynolds famously hated Boogie Nights. Hated the experience of working on it, clashed with the youthful Paul Thomas Anderson, and spoke freely of never having seen a movie he felt beneath him. Yet it’s the movie from the latter part of his career we’ll remember most fondly, a Tarantino-like resurrection in his portrayal of porn director Jack Horner which speaks deeply to the changing complexion of film and film stars and the way the movie industry erodes the very humanity the stories it tells seek to elevate.
As the paterfamilias of his bunch of misfits, Reynolds reaches deep beyond the character’s primary goal of keeping the party going, most keenly in the back of a limo with Rollergirl making a dingy reality porn, the inner revulsion at the world he finds himself in bubbling through his slick showmanship. It tracks with Reynolds’ own public commentary about selling out and surrendering art to the call of the dollar, and yet, just as Horner finds a way back to the work and the people he loves, Burt Reynolds, beloved by all, never surrendered his dignity. – Jof Gurd
Sharky’s Machine  (d. Burt Reynolds, w. Gerald Di Pego)
Burt Reynolds’ third feature directorial effort – behind Gator and The End – is arguably his very best: a grimy cop picture that opens with one of the greatest aerial shots of all time, gliding along the skyline of Atlanta Georgia (while Randy Crawford’s “Street Life” blares) before picking up with our hard-nosed hero, Tom Sharky (Reynolds, in full “burly tough guy” mode), who’s about to have the worst bust of his life. Following that botched Op, Sharky’s demoted to Vice, where he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy involving high-class hooker Dominoe (Rachel Ward), a gubernatorial candidate (Earl Holliman), and a maniacal drug-sniffing hitman (Italo-crime legend Henry Silva). Cast with a gaggle of lumpy character actors (including Bernie Casey and Charles Durning) and shot with a real feel for muscular buddy cop procedurals, Sharky’s Machine found Reynolds evolving with the times and entering a phase of his career where he left the cowboy hat behind and started playing sensitive dicks who don’t take no shit. Essential viewing for anyone in love with early ‘80s sleaze. - Jacob Knight