View from the Cheap Seats

Bud on Burt, plus New on Blu-ray

October 9, 2018 - 1:29 pm   |   by
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[What follows is a feature I wrote for The Daily Oklahoman about one of the greatest movie stars and human beings ever… Burt Reynolds]

Maybe it was the mustache. Or the unscripted quips. Or the genteel Southern manner.

Or just maybe it was that laugh, a cackle delivered by one comfortable in his own skin – inviting his audience gut bust with him, as though they were all in a private joke.

That’s our Burt. And he’s, unbelievably, gone.

Fame, according to Jeanine Bissinger, is “often conferred or withheld just as is love, for reasons and on grounds other than merits.” Burt Reynolds earned his fame with raw boned talent and insight into the business of filmed diversion. [Read on here...]

Like many actors with the power to do so, Reynolds would switch hit – a movie for his audience then one to satisfy his own substantial artistic sensibilities. For every White Lightning there was Starting Over; for every Gator there was Breaking In; for every Hooper there was At Long Last Love – there were also great films in between, like Sharkey’s Machine, Semi Tough and Boogie Nights, which earned Reynolds his only Academy award nomination.

But enough about Burt Reynolds the picture personality. In spite of his worldwide fame and multi-million dollar lifestyle and lovely, lovely female companions, he was, he would probably hate this, a sweetheart.

Left to Right: Gray Frederickson, Bud Elder, Burt Reynolds, and Albert S. RuddyLeft to Right: Gray Frederickson, Bud Elder, Burt Reynolds, and Albert S. Ruddy

Two time Academy award winning producer of The Godfather and Million Dollar Baby, Hollywood legend Albert S. Ruddy, who both wrote and produced Reynolds’ The Longest Yard, as well as producing both The Cannonball Run and The Cannonball Run II, considered the superstar totally free of pretention and a dear friend.

In an exclusive interview, Ruddy said that there has never been a movie star as well loved in their prime as was Reynolds.

“America cherished Burt Reynolds,” Ruddy said. “And unlike those actors who are both diffident and contemptuous of their fans, Burt loved them all from the bottom of his heart.”

According to Ruddy, Reynolds could be generous, almost to a fault.

“One Christmas, Burt bought a whole case of extremely expensive Cartier watches just for someone would consider as ‘hangers on.’ Burt was a soft touch – there’s a famous story about his buying of a portrait of John Wayne from a friend down on his luck for three or four times its value.”

Speaking of the Western legend, he once bragged on Reynolds in front of Ruddy.

“John Wayne once told me that Burt would come the closest to filling his sense of dedication and work ethic and character,” Ruddy said.

“It should also be mentioned that Burt felt he was always in training to do his own stunts or whatever that he rarely drank and never smoked,” Ruddy added.

In 2006, Ruddy and his longtime friend, Oklahoma’s Gray Frederickson, joined forces to produce Cloud Nine, a freewheeling girls’ volleyball movie in which Reynolds uses his comedy chops.

“There wasn’t one person in the cast or crew of Cloud Nine who didn’t love Burt Reynolds,” Frederickson said. “He was a total pro – always on time and eager to add productive ideas – one of the greatest leading men with whom I’ve ever worked.”

Music superstar Dwight Yoakam, again offering exclusive input for this piece, had an opportunity to learn of Reynolds’ good heart in a chance encounter.

“I met Burt one time inadvertently in the parking lot of a bookstore on Sunset,” Yoakam said. “and he was extremely gracious and complimentary of my music and acting work. It’s a memory I’ll never forget. God bless his soul and give him loving rest.”

OK, it’s time to now change the view of point. I, me, had the great privilege to know and love Burt Reynolds.

It’s been said that one should be wary when the opportunity presents itself to meet a favorite author, athlete or movie star. I know several people who have lived through encounters where the subject of their admiration was either drunk, or affected with other chemicals, snarky, disinterested or downright rude.

All this popped into my head when Gray Frederickson told me about Cloud Nine and Reynolds’ participation. Gray knew that Burt Reynolds had been my favorite movie star since I could drive to the theater and thus invited me to the set on Will Rogers Beach in Los Angeles.

So out I flew, along with my brother Todd, carrying enough things to fit in a wheelbarrow for him to sign along with a heart full of apprehension that he wouldn’t.

I needn’t have worried. When first we met, Burt noticed that I was wearing an OU cap or shirt or something and immediately name dropped that he knew coach Switzer. (Coach told me recently that he had filmed his Spirit of Champions television show at Reynolds’ California home). Actually, in a way, Burt Reynolds and Barry Switzer remind me of each other – beyond their life defining athletic passion, they both never met a stranger, were always willing to sign autographs or take pictures or just shake hands.

Gray had told Burt that I could hold my own in movie trivia. And so, for the rest of the time while I was on the set, we played. And I’ll add, with as much humility as I can muster, that I beat his butt every time.

Burt told me that he and the late actor Roddy McDowell were the two trivia champions in Hollywood. The game they created is easy to play but hard to describe and when I’d won enough, he started peppering me with what he thought were impossible questions (Who sang for Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not? – Andy Williams. What future leading man was covered in shadow during the first scene of Citizen Kane? – Alan Ladd.) That I could answer in the middle of the question became so frustrating for the superstar that he lovingly, or not, threw a water bottle at me.

He signed all my stuff to “the master of trivia” and gave me his mailing address for us to keep in touch, which we did. It was one of the best days of my life, not because I got to meet a real movie star, but because I made a friend.

On disc and pay-per-view now is Burt’s last starring role – The Last Movie Star, and it’s a treasure – an elegiac farewell to his audience just like when aforementioned John Wayne said goodbye in The Shootist.

Whether he was The Bandit, or Billy Clyde Puckett or Gator McClusky, Burt Reynolds brandished one of the brightest lights in the history of the movies. He was an American Treasure.

Burt Reynolds RIP (AP Photo/Red McLendon)Burt Reynolds RIP (AP Photo/Red McLendon)

New on Blu-ray

Lately, the Criterion Collection has outdone itself with incredibly rare, beautifully restored classic films from around the world. In this case, let’s discuss a new set called Dietrich and Von Sternberg in Hollywood.

Tasked by studio executives with finding the next great screen siren, visionary Hollywood director Josef von Sternberg joined forces with rising German actor Marlene Dietrich, kicking off what would become one of the most legendary partnerships in cinema history.

Over the course of six films produced by Paramount in the 1930s, the pair refined their shared fantasy of pleasure, beauty, and excess. Dietrich’s coolly transgressive mystique was a perfect match for the provocative roles von Sternberg cast her in—including a sultry chanteuse, a cunning spy, and the hedonistic Catherine the Great—and the filmmaker captured her allure with chiaroscuro lighting and opulent design, conjuring fever-dream visions of exotic settings from Morocco to Shanghai. Suffused with frank sexuality and worldly irony, these deliriously entertaining masterpieces are landmarks of cinematic artifice.

These movies have always been exhilarating on any format, but to watch them now is movie heaven. I’ll also mention that, in any decade, these movies are sorta nuts.

The set includes, with so many extras and historic features that it almost weighs down the box, are The Scarlett Empress, Morocco, Shanghai Express, Dishonored, The Devil is a Woman and Blonde Venus.

Over the years, many have asked me where to start with Criterion. I think this is one.

Also coming from Criterion is one of the great “played on TV until you know every line movies,” The Naked Prey, starring and directed by the great Cornel Wilde. I remember it because even on TV in the 70s they almost showed Cornel’s butt. But it’s great fun and I can’t wait to see it again.

Twilight Time is on fire – with some terrific, too forgotten gems. How about The Hot Rock, a comedy heist picture based on the terrific Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder series of books. The movie stars Robert Redford, George Segal and a whole band of looney tunes characters and is directed by Peter Yates, post Bullitt. Also a pulsing score from Quincy Jones.

Also recently available from Twilight Time is Gloria, the original masterpiece with Gena Rowlands, directed by her husband John Cassavetes; the foreign classic The Virgin Soldiers and Brandon Lee in Rapid Fire.

Warner Archive has been throwing Blu-rays from the collection of very rare titles – how about the late 70s classic, Big Wednesday, written and directed by John Milius with a strong performance by my friend Gray Frederickson (he’s really not in it that much, but what can you do?)Also recently available is the film version of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, Mitchum in Home from the Hill, The cult classic The Swarm, with Michael Caine, Henry Fonda and, I think, the last movie appearance of Fred MacMurray and Albert Finney in the sci-fi thriller Looker.

There’s been an address change for Warner Archive… it’s now

If you aren’t familiar with Flicker Alley, get your butt in gear – the company has partnered with the UCLA Film and Television Archive to completely restore classic film noirs – first there was Too Late for Tears and Woman on the Run, and now there’s The Man Who Cheated Himself, a movie that even I hadn’t heard of, which stars Lee J. Cobb. Here’s to many more from this partnership.

This fall the Shout! Factory has some serious titles, like The Jerk, and Neil Simon’s classic Agatha Christie spoof Murder by Death, and Clint Eastwood in Hang ‘Em High.

How in the world Kino Lorber keeps finding these ultra rare movies and putting them on pristine Blu-rays. How about the 60s rare bird Tiger By the Tail, with Christopher George or Trapeze, with Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster or Lee Marvin’s The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday, or the dastardly TV movies, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, with the great Darren McGavin playing Kolchak – a role he would repeat in a terrific series.

Kino has also honored Burt with some of his classics – 100 Rifles, Sam Whiskey, Fuzz, Navajo Joe, White Lightning and its sequel Gator, and Malone. What about W.W. and the Dixie Dance Kings?

Finally, there was a little movie that raised not a blip on the radar upon its release called Bound and it’s a beautiful new release from Olive. A groundbreaking work of LGBTQ cinema, Bound stars Gina Gershon (Showgirls) as Corky, a tough-as-nails ex-con, and Jennifer Tilly (Bullets Over Broadway) as her lover Violet. A chance encounter in an elevator ignites a torrid affair between the two women, who soon plot to steal $2 million in laundered mob money and pin the blame on Violet’s mafioso boyfriend, Ceasar (Joe Pantoliano, The Sopranos). A stylish neo-noir, fusing classic tropes with hyper-stylized camera work and color design, Bound is a crackling retro-thriller that never strays too far from its noir roots and would become the first in a line of visually dazzling films from The Wachowskis, the writing and directing team behind The Matrix trilogy.

Did I write “butt” twice?

See you around the flix.

- Bud Elder

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