The Longest Yard (1974) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language, brief nudity, some sexuality and some violence
Running Time: 121 min.

Cast: Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Michael Conrad, Jim Hampton, Harry Caesar, John Steadman, Charles Tyner, Mike Henry, Jim Nicholson, Bernadette Peters, Richard Kiel, Ray Nitschke
Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Tracy Keenan Wynn
Review published May 14, 2005

Showing once and for all that Burt Reynolds (Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper) can act if he shaves off his moustache, The Longest Yard is a mixture of two genres, the sophomoric sports film and the sadistic prison flick, both of which were enjoying a heyday in the exploitative decade of the 1970s.  What's more, it also set the precedent in casting Burt Reynolds as the loveable outlaw, a typecast that would carry him to superstardom just a few years later. 

Reynolds plays Paul Crewe, a former football star that ended up a washed up gigolo once it was discovered he was involved in a points shaving scandal.  Feeling lots of negative pressure from a domineering woman using him for sex, Crewe busts out by destroying her car after a lengthy police chase that sees him land in prison for a short stint.  Due to his pro sports background, Crewe is shuffled down to a Florida prison run by Warden Hazen (Eddie Albert, Roman Holiday), who controls a semi-pro football team featuring his guards, and he wants them to be #1 this year.  Hazen hopes to get Crewe's assistance in coaching the new team, but lots of other factors are tossed in that makes this prospect an impossibility.  They finally do come to terms when Hazen suggest that Crewe can help the pro team by coming up with his own team of cons, giving him a month to round up enough inmates to put up a half-hearted opposition for the pros to practice against.

Clearly, The Longest Yard is a bit of a mixed bag, alternately silly and somber from scene to scene in a way that doesn't always mesh.  The direction by Robert Aldrich (The Choirboys, The Dirty Dozen) is perhaps the biggest reason why film scholars have occasionally praised the film, although one could presumably argue that Aldrich simply didn't know how to make a sports movie and instead made a political movie instead.  There is an existential quality to the film that makes it transcend being a mere "pros vs. cons" football flick.  There is a moral center to it that is sometimes difficult to grasp, yet always present, showing that you can take a man's freedom but you should never take a man's dignity along with it. 

Despite the dated quality to the movie, there is a sizable crowd that does consider The Longest Yard to be a classic film.  As entertaining as I found it, I cant quite go that "extra yard", as it is too uneven at times, with a very predictable story that often gets too juvenile and cheap to take seriously as social commentary.  Still, the football action does make for a riveting finale, and Aldrich's use of split-screen technique is a perfect way to capture all of the drama and tension that needed to be in there without prolonging the game into actual time.  Somewhere underneath the goofiness there is an intelligent core that lends a certain appeal for those looking for it, but really, this is a movie that tries harder to score points in entertainment than in themes.  It's not a touchdown, but it gets close enough to score easily from field goal range.

-- Remade in 2005 with Burt Reynolds in a supporting role.

 Qwipster's rating:

2005 Vince Leo