July 24, 2015
The Longest Yard (1974)
Sometimes being a man means doing something stupid. Most women would probably agree that’s the case and, upon honest reflection, most men may very well concur.
The Longest Yard is all about men doing dumb things. Men committing crimes, treating people poorly, defying social order, betraying friends, farming shame.
And it’s also about playing football, which some might opine is also not the wisest thing.
This 1974 film showcases Burt Reynolds in perhaps his finest, most unfeigned role as a former NFL quarterback whose life has fallen apart and he lands in jail. His character, Paul Crewe, is quickly exposed to a prison environment in which he is abused and revered, shamed and put-upon as he tries to survive his new reality, and perhaps find a shortcut out of it.
The prison warden is played by Eddie Albert who engineered to have Reynolds behind his bars because of his football skills. Eventually, Reynolds, instead of playing for the prison, essentially plays against it – or is the other way around? – as he forms a team of inmates to play the guards.
The result is a quest for the inmates to find humanity and respect, while the guards and the warden want to flex their muscle and create humiliation.
Certainly in real life we would pull for the guards, wouldn’t we? But this is a movie and it’s Burt Reynolds and what makes The Longest Yard not just a fun, and funny, action movie but a terrific study in power, character and manhood is that it shows us the lines between good and bad are often not nearly as thick and sturdy as prison bars.
It is a movie about men doing dumb things to satisfy their egos and get an extra scrap. It is a movie that reminds us that you can accomplish a lot when you don’t give a damn. You can also create a lot of pain.
Ed Lauter, the late, wonderful, Ed Lauter, plays a prison guard and is perfect. So are Joe Kapp, Ray Nitschke, Michael Conrad, Harry Caesar and James Hampton under Robert Aldrich’s direction of Tracy Keenan Wynn and Albert S. Ruddy’s screenplay.
Men spend half their lives doing dumb things and the other half trying to atone for them. It’s a constant struggle. It’s a football game in the mud. It’s a long, tough fight.