February Shame: So The Longest Yard is not really a comedy by @007hertzrumble

the longest yard

I am an unapologetic fan of Burt Reynolds. When I talk about Burt Reynolds films in the 1970’s I occasionally slip into a diatribe not unlike something that would come from the mouth of Sterling Archer.

I’m under no delusions. Most of Burt’s cinematic output is, objectively, bad. But it’s pure entertainment. Just listen to that trademark Burt Reynolds laugh and try not to smile. Go ahead.

In Entertainment Weekly’s Guide to the Greatest Movies Ever Made, one of my inspirations for the CinemaShame project, The Longest Yard was ranked as the highest “comedy” I had not yet seen. And it starred Burt Reynolds. No more excuses.

When, within the first five minutes, The Longest Yard offered me a drunken Burt Reynolds man-whore; a car chase; an unexpected appearance by Bernadette Peters and “the laugh,” I was convinced The Longest Yard might be the best movie ever made. Clearly, I’d become wrapped up in the moment.

And then a funny thing happened after about 30 more minutes. I realized that The Longest Yard wasn’t really comedy at all. Sure, there are funny moments. Indisputably funny. In addition to Richard Kiel’s “I think I broke his fuckin’ neck” bit, this scene in particular had me rolling:

In the end, however, The Longest Yard is about race and privilege, the corruption of the prison system and the culturally accepted violence in sport. For every laugh there’s dire consequences. The warden, played with wonderful, slithery menace, by Eddie Albert (Green Acres) doesn’t pull any punches. He’s not in this movie for cloying broad comedy. He coerces an inmate to burn another inmate (a main character, mind you) by locking him in a cell and rigging the light fixture to explode. Names have been removed to prevent spoilerfication. And even though Burt Reynolds summons all of his mid-70’s superpowers, including a gag about shaving his mustache, he’s only half inside the comedy can and gives a performance that somehow, someway balances and cements the erratic tone of the film into something coherent, funny and dramatic. Burt Reynolds had range, goddammit.

In fact, the influence of The Longest Yard can be felt in nearly every football movie since, comedy or otherwise — yet none can touch the  brutality displayed in 1974. Even when it’s funny, it’s a touch uncomfortable. Much like the scene above. Once is funny. Twice is funnier. Three times and I started to feel sympathy pains. Take for example Any Given Sunday — the movie of similar subtext that sets out to acknowledge the socially-approved manslaughter. The gloss and sheen of a modern big budget film makes the violence seem safe and less terrible. The gritty, grainy film stock used in the 70’s, coupled with the trending cinematic realism blurs the line between horror and humor.

Is The Longest Yard a great cinematic achievement? Maybe. Maybe not. What is, however, is a miracle in light of our current, disposable expectations for sports movies and sports comedies in particular. This is something much more… even if I’m not quite sure how to stock it on the video shelves.

Confession of Shame by @007hertzrumble

When I first conceived this idea, I had no idea how hard it would be to pick the 12 movies I most regret not having watched. When you really start to think about it, there are so many acclaimed and essential films that we just haven’t taken the time to watch. Maybe because the subject matter never interested us. Maybe because we got so tired of being told we “had to watch” a certain movie that we just grew numb to the idea. Why watch Deliverance when you can watch The Spy Who Loved Me again? The latter just sounds like more fun. I mean the opening sequence when Bond jumps off the mountain on skis before releasing the Union Jack and giving way to “Nobody Does It Better.” That’s gold. Now, Deliverance on the other hand, I know a lot about… I’ve read about it, heard about it and I’m pretty goddamn sure it doesn’t have Roger Moore dropping a fish out of a Lotus submarine I’ll tell you that much.

I made my choices of shame based on a couple of criteria. First I considered the critical mass and general omnipresence of a film. How often does the movie come up in popular culture or casual conversation? Second, I focused on my own favorites. For example, I’m a massive fan of Burt Reynolds, but I haven’t seen The Longest Yard. I’ve seen every Stanley Kubrick movie except for Barry Lyndon. How is something like that even possible? I considered movies during which I’d fallen asleep, movies that were introduced to me during film class, but only in 10-15 minute clips. Basically if I were involved in a conversation about such and such film and I would have had to yadda yadda my way through, the movie warranted the Cinema Shame treatment.

Without further adieu, my 12… no, 13 selections of shame. And no, despite this being the perfect opportunity, I’m still not watching Titanic. I have morals.

January: Ben Hur (1959)

February: BURT! Deliverance (1972) and The Longest Yard (1974)

March: Rashomon (1950)

April: Ride the High Country (1962)

May: Godzilla (1954)

June: The Dirty Dozen (1967)

July: City Lights (1931)

August: Barry Lyndon (1975)

September: Deer Hunter (1978)

October: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

November: Cabaret (1972)

…and last and perhaps the most shameful of all…

December: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

There you have it. I’ve laid my soul bare. Now all that’s left is the shame, the penance… and eventually the salvation.