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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Drama > Sports > The Longest Yard - Lockdown Edition

The Longest Yard - Lockdown Edition (1974)

 

Picture: B     Sound: B-     Extras: A     Film: B+

 

 

To coincide with the remake, Paramount has released the Lockdown Edition of 1974's The Longest Yard, complete with a much-appreciated audio commentary by star Burt Reynolds and producer Albert S. Ruddy. Sadly, many of Reynolds old films have been given bare bones DVD releases with some (especially Sharky's Machine and Hooper) inexplicably only available in full-frame format. The Longest Yard - Lockdown Edition also marks the first time Reynolds has recorded an audio commentary, which is long overdue considering he's one of the most entertaining raconteurs in show business.

 

Released theatrically in the fall of 1974, The Longest Yard was Reynolds' biggest hit in the five-year period between the film that made him a star, Deliverance (1972), and the film that made him a bona-fide superstar, Smokey and the Bandit (1977). The Longest Yard is also significant because it's the first sports-themed movie of its kind to become a major hit, paving the way for dozens of other underdog-triumphs sports films.

 

Reynolds, who played college football at Florida State University until a knee injury ruined his career, is perfectly cast as Paul Crewe, a former star quarterback who winds up in a Georgia prison. While there, Crewe is persuaded by the smug, scheming warden (the great Eddie Albert) to recruit a football team comprised of inmates who'll take on the warden's prized team comprised of prison guards. It's only supposed to be an easy practice game for the guards, but it's a forgone conclusion that Crewe will defy the warden and really attempt to win the game. It's no surprise how this ends, but it's a lot of fun getting there.

 

The Longest Yard is full of then little-known performers who would go on to become recognizable character actors including Ed Lauter (Magic, 1976's King Kong remake) as the head prison guard; Michael Conrad, who already played Mike Stivic's Uncle Casimir on All in the Family and would go on to win an Emmy as Sgt. Phil "Be Careful Out There" Esterhaus on Hill Street Blues, portrays an inmate named Nate Scarboro, a former professional football player who becomes Crewe's assistant coach -- Scarboro is the character Reynolds plays in the remake; James Hampton (Sling Blade) as the prison scavenger called Caretaker, who's played by Chris Rock in the remake; big Richard Kiel (best-known as the intimidating henchman "Jaws" from the James Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker in the late 1970s) makes his film debut as (what else?) a big inmate; and Bernadette Peters is cast as the warden's horny secretary.

 

The Longest Yard was filmed on location at a real Georgia prison, which enhances the authentic feel. And director Robert Aldrich does a great job of filming the football scenes. As Reynolds correctly states in the commentary, football is best filmed straightforwardly, not with the kind of hyperactive camera and constant quick cuts used in Any Given Sunday and especially Friday Night Lights. The always-underrated Aldrich ranks with Sam Peckinpah, Walter Hill and Don Siegel as one of the preeminent makers of men's movies, and he's right at home with the nearly all-male cast of The Longest Yard.

 

My biggest reservation about the film, though, is how it manipulates the audience to root for the convicts. The inmates are supposed to be lovable misfits and the various reasons they're locked up are glossed over, while the guards are supposed to be villainous brutes. It's doubtful that most real-life prison inmates are as charming as Burt Reynolds. And like the similar Slap Shot, which would come out a few years later, The Longest Yard is morally dubious in its glorification of dirty play to justify a means to an end. The message of defeating dirty play with even dirtier play is troubling.

 

Nevertheless, the original Longest Yard is highly entertaining and still holds up nicely three decades and countless similar films later. The remake will have it's work cut out for it, especially with Adam Sandler as Paul Crewe, a character Reynolds seemed born to play, and non-distinct comedy director Peter Segal replacing the great Robert Aldrich, who gave the original just the right mix of gritty toughness and humor.

 

Paramount's Lockdown Edition of The Longest Yard gets the kind of treatment many older films (and many Reynolds films) deserve but seldom get.  The picture quality in anamorphic 1.85 X 1 widescreen is good while the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound is merely adequate. The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix is new to the disc and the preferred way to listen to the film if you can, not being a sonic knockout, but making everything clearer versus the basic mono-only original DVD release. The extras are what make this DVD a must-have. The feature-length audio commentary by Reynolds and Oscar-winning producer Albert S. Ruddy (The Godfather, The Cannonball Run, Million Dollar Baby), who came up with the original story idea for The Longest Yard, is one of the most entertaining I've listened to in a while --Reynolds has hundreds of amusing stories and he's an encyclopedia of gridiron knowledge. There's also newly recorded interviews with Reynolds, Ruddy and longtime Reynolds friend, James Hampton, as well as the original theatrical trailer and an exclusive look at the 2005 remake. Few $10 dollar DVDs get any better than this.

 

 

- Chuck O'Leary


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