Back in the good old days when Burt Reynolds was one of the leading contenders for the industry’s box office champ, he starred in and directed this black comedy that nails my funny bone with a perfect bullseye.
Under a full beard and looking perfectly healthy, Burt gets the worst news possible from his doctor Norman Fell. A great straight man when called upon I should add. Norman proceeds to tell him just what the future holds over the next few months and the crying and pouting only increases from our star player to great comical effect. With Burt a broken man, Fell looks quite proud of himself and the knowledge he possesses of just what is to come for the dying Burt due to a rare blood disease he has contracted.
A good majority of the film that ensues deals with a comical slant towards closure. Obsessed with his own death, Burt experiences something of an epiphany when passing a local church and seeking confession is shocked to find a just out of high school priest played by Robby Benson. It’s all rather amusing as Burt relates his sexual trysts to the wide eyed kid in the confessional who seems as if he’s about to begin hero worshipping the older man.
The day becomes somewhat of an odyssey towards suicide which is what Burt has decided upon. Off to see girlfriend Sally Field and some sympathy sex! After which he can’t get over what he believes she sees as a poor performance. Over to the ex-wife’s place where the arguing continues on over years of grievances. Joanne Woodward has stepped in to the script to play the role of the ex who has moved on to younger men.
For a touch of class, Burt has added Myrna Loy and Pat O’Brien to the comical shenanigans playing his parents. Surely they have some sleeping pills they could spare for his everlasting slumber he plans on at the end of the day. One more stop to make and it gives the film a bit of heart. He’ll need to make apologies for his waywardness as a parent so he spends an afternoon with his teenage daughter, Kristy McNichol. It’s tearful goodbye even if he’s screwed up by taking her to the kids playground and concerned about her blossoming youth.
Time for Burt to take those sleeping pills which results in his awakening in a psych ward overseen by Strother Martin and Carl Reiner. That thought alone has to entice laughter. And hey, isn’t that James Best as a fully bandaged patient playing for laughs in the back ground? Best actually scored a producer credit here as well. Still determined to take his own life, Burt enlists the help of a deranged inmate looking for a friend played by Burt’s frequent costar in the decade ahead, Dom DeLuise. The duo will engage in various suicide attempts that never quite seem to work out as originally planned.
“It ain’t high enough!”
To the sounds of Sinatra’s My Way over the soundtrack, Burt finally figures out the ultimate solution which in itself is going to result in some great one liners from Reynolds over the final reel. Black all the way but a comedy gem for my own personal tastes.
“I wanna live!”
Connecting the dots, Burt cast his then girlfriend off screen, Sally Field once again as his leading lady though her part here is far smaller than the Smokey flicks and Hooper. Long time pal Hal Needham was brought in as the stunt co-ordinator. Hal had just directed the monster hit, Smokey and the Bandit with Burt and would also helm the sequel and Cannonball flicks that brought Dom along for the ride as well.
While Burt himself directed four features during what I would call his prime years, I think this was probably the most successful as a whole. The others being Gator, Stick and another I’ve enjoyed over repeated viewings, Sharky’s Machine. Smokey and the Bandit’s Paul Williams (Little Enos) is credited with the music and along with Sinatra I do believe I heard Glen Campbell in here as well on The End’s soundtrack.
With all due respect to Pat O’Brien, wouldn’t it have been nice to see William Powell step in here to reunite with Myrna Loy as Burt’s parents. Powell was still alive at this time but had been retired since Mister Roberts, released in 1955. For fans it’s a no brainer to think up these ideas. Nick and Nora! I wonder if the casting director gave it any thought.
A fun look back at the prime years of what Burt Reynolds could bring to the screen without climbing into a racing car and playing the good old boy. Give it a look. Shouldn’t be too hard to find a copy. For more on “The Burt” click here for a fun look at a starter kit.