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Fierce and fun, “The Longest Yard” scores on 4K UHD

Updated: Jun 7, 2023


4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS

Burt Reynolds plays ex-NFL quarterback Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, serving an 18-month sentence for beating up his wealthy girlfriend and stealing her Maserati sports car. His trademark mustache was shaved off as a new prisoner at the Flordia Citrus State Prison. Crewe assembles a prisoners football team to play the prison guards. No. 61 - All-Pro linebacker Ray Nitschke (Green Bay Packers) gives Crewe a number of extra hits and punches.


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“THE LONGEST YARD”

4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, 1974; R for profanity, violence, and brief nudity

Best extra: Commentary with writer/producer Albert S. Ruddy and star Burt Reynolds















BY THE mid-1970s charismatic actor Burt Reynolds had become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. The former Florida State Seminoles running back, who roomed with future college coach and ESPN College Gameday co-host Lou Corso, took up acting after a car accident ended his football career.

Reynolds moved back to Palm Beach, his hometown, and studied acting at the local junior college, which led to a summer-stock scholarship at the New York Hyde Park Playhouse. Next, The Actors Studio under the artistic direction of Lee Strasberg, where he landed a couple of Broadway roles, but nothing stuck. So, Reynolds headed to Tinseltown, playing bit parts in TV series during the late 1950s.

But in 1962, he found a steady job – 50 episodes – as Quint Asper, a half-Comanche/blacksmith on CBS’s top-rated Western “Gunsmoke.” Next, he followed Clint Eastwood’s footsteps bouncing from television to a leading role in the 1966 spaghetti Western “Navajo Joe.” Still, his career was jammed in neutral. Ultimately, he got his own TV series in 1970, playing homicide detective Dan August, but ABC canceled it after one season.



(1-3) Paul Crewe’s relationship with his wealthy girlfriend Melissa (Anitra Ford) unravels with a violent fight and he steals her Maserati sports car, which leads to a wild chase through the streets of Savannah, Georgia subbing for Florida. (4) Crewe is arrested after an exchange with two Flordia State Troopers (Chuck Hayward & Alfie Wise).




Finally, a decade after signing with “Gunsmoke,” Reynolds had his breakout year. First, playing macho survivalist Lewis Medlock, one of four guys on a weekend trip down the Chattooga River in the terrifying Oscar-nominated “Deliverance.”

He earned critical praise and hosted “The Tonight Show,” the first non-comedian to sit in for Johnny Carson. But his biggest gig was posing nude on a bearskin rug for a Cosmopolitan Magazine centerfold. He later regretted the photo session, blaming it on his Academy Award snub for “Deliverance,” but his career was taking off. For laughs, he took the cameo role as a sperm in Woody Allen’s comedy “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.”

In 1973, Reynolds starred in three back-to-back movies and got top billing. First, opposite Dyan Cannon as private detective “Shamus,” then B-Western “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing” with Sarah Miles, but his role as bootlegger Gator McKlusky in “White Lightning” skyrocketed his career toward a series of “good ol’ boy flicks.” In “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings” (1975) he played a Southern Robin Hood knocking off gas stations owned by a crooked businessman. He returned in the McKlusky sequel “Gator” (1976), which he also directed; “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977) was a huge summer blockbuster, co-starring with his then-girlfriend Sally Field; “Hooper” (1978) playing an ex-football player turned stuntman, and the sequel “Smokey and the Bandit II” (1980). Reynolds loaded the performances with his over-the-top comic attics, trademark laugh, and car chases, while fighting corrupt politicians and cops.

But during the 1972 production of “Cat Dancing” filmed in Bryce Canyon National Park, producer Al Ruddy (“The Godfather”), headed to Utah to pitch the role of ex-NFL quarterback Paul “Wrecking” Crewe to Reynolds. Crewe, a former MVP, has been banished from the league for shaving points and was a convict at the Florida Citrus State Prison, serving an 18-month sentence for beating up his wealthy girlfriend Melissa (Anitra Ford) and stealing her Maserati sports car.

Eddie Albert (“Roman Holiday”) plays football-fanatical Warden Hazen, gearing up his all-guard football team to win a national championship. Hazen forces Crewe to field a team of cons to play against the guards, and at the same time orders the guards, “To inflict as much painful damage on the prisoners as humanly possible.”




Florida Citrus State Prison

(1) Crewe’s mustache was quickly removed once at the state prison. (2) The head prison guard Captain Knauer (Ed Lauter). (3&4) Eddie Albert plays the football-fanatical Warden Hazen, and Bernadette Peters plays his secretary - Miss Toot. (5) Longtime black inmate “Granny” Granville (Harry Caesar) is forced to work beside Crewe on the chain gang. (6) Prison guards: Bogdanski (Ray Nitschke), Rasmussen (Mike Henry) and Walking Boss (Joe Kapp). (7) Crewe ends up mud wrestling with another inmate.




The guard’s team included several former NFL players with the toughest middle linebacker Ray Nitschke (Green Bay Packers), quarterback Joe Kapp (Minnesota Vikings), linebacker Mike Henry (Pittsburgh Steelers), and offensive lineman Jim Nicholson (Kansas City Chiefs). The prisoner’s team featured running back Ernie Wheelwright (New York Giants), running back Pervis Atkins (Oakland Raiders), wide receiver Ray Ogden (St. Louis Cardinals), and quarterback Sonny Sixkiller (University of Washington).

Director Robert Aldrich (“The Dirty Dozen,” “Flight of the Phoenix”) helmed “The Longest Yard,” and also played college football at the University of Virginia. The gritty and comical prison film, with shades of “Cool Hand Luke,” became one of Reynolds’ best performances and most popular. It finished as the 10th biggest box office film of 1974, with nearly 23 million ticket sales, landing between “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams” and “Murder on the Orient Express,” while “Blazing Saddles” and “Towering Inferno” topped the list.

EXTRAS

The 4K disc and Blu-ray include the carryover commentary with Reynolds and Ruddy, recorded 30 years after the production. The writer/producer reveals the genesis of “The Longest Yard,” an argument he witnessed at a high-end men’s shop in the Westwood section of L.A., between one of the richest women at the time and her husband, an injured and washed-up Los Angeles Rams player. She threatened to kick him out of the house and told him, he better take all three-sport jackets she was buying, since he would need them when he’s out on his own.


The real-life scene became the catalyst for the opening fight sequence, between the drunk Crewe and his rich girlfriend. Reynolds was extremely concerned about his persona and the violence his character was to inflect. “The audience will never forgive me,” he recalls telling the director, during the featurette “Doing Time on the Longest Yard.” Aldrich insured Reynolds that he could get away with it because Crewe would pay penitence for his wrongdoings. The violent scene was captured in just one take, and it’s a tough watch, as Melissa is pressed up against the front door and ends up on the floor. Reynolds says, “Cagney’s infamous grapefruit scene in “The Public Enemy” (1931) hitting Mae Clarke in the face would cost you $100,000 today, he said during the commentary. “But what I did would’ve cost me $200 million.” Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Silver says in the featurette, “Crewe is a reprehensible character, beating up a woman, he’s drunk, he’s stealing her car and insulting the cops, and yet he’s so funny.”




Assembling the Mean Machine

(1) Actor/stuntman Robert Tessier plays inmate Shoker. (2) 7' 2" tall actor Richard Kiel plays inmate Samson. (3&4) The rag-tag team of prisoners, while Crewe grades the player’s abilities with the team’s manager (James Hampton). (5) The African-American inmates decided to join the team.




Ruddy admits producing “The Longest Yard” was more gratifying than winning the Oscar for “The Godfather,” “Because no one expected this. Nobody and that’s the joy.” Also, the original script written by himself and screenwriter Tracy Keenan Wynn was not intended to be a comedy, but Reynolds’ “personality and infusion and improvisation made this movie what it was.”

Reynolds was physically fit and prepared for the football action, but he still asked Aldrich if the football scenes would have live hits and tackling. The only thing the director said, “Nitschke will be playing a game called, ‘Kill the actor.’” The football game runs 45 minutes onscreen and took 61 days to film with six cameras. Aldrich and his editor used split screens throughout the action, a common Hollywood technique of the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Steven Soderbergh revitalized the effect during his “Ocean’s Trilogy” with stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon.

Additional extras include a second commentary with film critics Alain Silver and James Ursini, who authored “What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich?” They end up covering similar ground as the Reynolds and Ruddy track. A second featurette, “Unleashing The Mean Machine,” highlights the production and the football game. Silver remembers seeing the R-rated movie as a nine-year-old with this father and “Caring about this group of prisoners winning the game.” Plus, its car chase – filmed in the streets of Savannah, Georgia – in the first five minutes, “What could be better?” he says. The car was a Maserati Citroën SM Coupé, with self-leveling suspension, front-wheel drive, top speed of 146 mph, and variable assist power steering. Reynolds liked the car so much that he bought one for his girlfriend at the time, performer Dinah Shore.

Originally, the production was to be filmed at an Oklahoma prison, but a prison riot killed that opportunity – especially after the football stadium was damaged. At the same time, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter wanted a Hollywood movie to come to his state, and the maximum-security prison in Reidsville was secured as the backdrop. Many of the prisoners worked on the film, and the prison got a free football stadium built on the grounds.

“The Longest Yard” was such a success Reynolds and Aldrich teamed up the next year for the crime story “Hustle” (1975). Reynolds is the LA cop and Catherine Deneuve the French prostitute.




Inmates vs. the Guards



VIDEO

The original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio) was scanned by Paramount and mastered in TRUE 4K with an assist from Kino Lorber. Both versions (4K, Blu-ray) have a healthy dose of natural film grain, but overall clarity is up several notches on the 4K. The higher resolution imagery is encoded onto a 100-gigabit disc and varies from 70 megabits per second to over 90 Mbps for excellent grain structure integrity, while the Blu-ray is encoded onto a 50 Mb disc and never tops over 40 Mbps.

The HDR (HDR10 & Dolby Vision) grading – especially the expanded color palette is a major upgrade over the 1080p video. Facial toning is natural, removing excess reds, which in one scene gave the impression that Reynolds was wearing lipstick.

AUDIO

The 4K and Blu-ray feature the restored 2.0 Mono DTS-HD soundtrack, which puts all the audio front and center. The dialogue never gets lost and features a brief music clip from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Saturday Night Special” and the all-time football favorite “You Gotta Be a Football Hero.”

“The Longest Yard” is another example of the great relationship between Paramount and the distribution contract with Kino Lorber. Originally, they only planned 16 films on 4K and 65 titles on Blu-ray. We hope those numbers are only the beginning.

Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer






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