Culture

Burt Reynolds' 6 Best Performances

Burt Reynolds sits on a 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am at the world premiere of "The Bandit" at the Paramount Theatre during the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP)

One of the biggest stars in Hollywood history passed away on Thursday. Burt Reynolds was 82 when he died of a heart attack, and he left behind a legacy of iconic performances.

Reynolds made the South the milieu of most of his film and television roles, and the film industry of my home state of Georgia is grateful that he made the Peach State one of his primary filming locations. He even lived in Georgia for a time.

Now, it’s true that Reynolds wasn’t exactly a critical darling, and his acting style largely consisted of variations on his own smirking personality. But Reynolds made a career his way, and as a result, we have some classic moments.

Here are six of Burt Reynolds’ best performances. Bear in mind that some of these video clips are NSFW, but enjoy them nonetheless.

6. The Longest Yard (1974)

In this decidedly un-PC comedy, Reynolds plays Paul Crewe, a pro quarterback who winds up in prison. He forms a team of prisoners to play a game against a team of guards headed by the most sadistic warden imaginable (Eddie Albert).

It’s not for the easily offended, that’s for sure, but Reynolds begins to perfect his schtick here: the flippant antihero who gets out of a jam with a grin and a wink. Some of the film’s roughness hasn’t aged well, mostly due to political correctness, but the movie — and Reynolds’ performance — packs a definite punch.

5. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)

Dolly Parton co-starred in and wrote the songs for this musical comedy in which Reynolds plays a Texas sheriff who overlooks the local brothel while carrying on a secret romance with its madam (Parton). While it’s true that the movie bears Parton’s distinctive stamp, Reynolds is charming and funny as the sheriff, and he even demonstrates a decent singing voice and ability to harmonize!

4. Evening Shade (1990-1994)

Reynolds took his first starring role in a television sitcom at the dawn of the 1990s, playing Wood Newton, a former NFL star who returns to his hometown to coach the perpetually losing high school football team. Surrounded by lovingly quirky Southern character tropes, Newton attempts to readjust to small-town life.

With smart writing and a terrific supporting cast, Reynolds won an Emmy for Evening Shade in 1992. Even though we don’t think too much of the show these days, it has held up relatively well, and Reynolds comes across as genuine, even if the role is a far cry from what we’re used to seeing him do.

3. Starting Over (1979)

Casting Reynolds alongside Candice Bergen and Jill Clayburgh in a James L. Brooks romantic comedy sounds like a mistake, but Reynolds was looking for a more sophisticated part than he had been playing when he took the starring role in Starting Over. Reynolds plays a man torn between his ex-wife and new girlfriend, and he does more with a facial expression or a quick one-liner than many actors do with a monologue.

Starting Over is 180 degrees different from most anything Reynolds did before or since. But he’s charming, sweet, and funny, and the film is a delightful look at romance at the end of the 1970s. Just try to get Bergen’s off-key crooning out of your head.

2. Deliverance (1972)

John Boorman made James Dickey’s epic novel Deliverance into a tense action picture. The director wanted a cast with names like Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, and Jack Nicholson, but he wound up instead with an astonishingly good cast that included Ned Beatty, John Voight, and, of course, Burt Reynolds.

Reynolds plays the overconfident Lewis Medlock, an Atlanta man who leads three of his friends on a canoe trip that goes horribly wrong. Reynolds makes both Lewis’ heroics and his arrogance believable. It’s a chilling film, especially if you’ve ever rafted the Chattooga River in North Georgia where it was filmed.

1. Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Is there any other choice for number one? Bandit was the role that defined Reynolds’ career for better or worse. There’s so much to love about Smokey and the Bandit: Jerry Reed, Sally Field, and Jackie Gleason. But the glue that holds all of it together is Reynolds’ cocky yet cool performance. It’s abundantly clear throughout the movie that Reynolds is giving it his all and having the time of his life.

For the rest of his career, Reynolds had to live with a series of lesser films that played on the same character type — including a sequel. But nothing matches the fun and mayhem that is Smokey and the Bandit.

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There you have it. What are your favorite Burt Reynolds roles? Share them in the comments below.