Charleston City Paper

From Deliverance to Smokey, Burt Reynolds was a southern film icon in his own right

Stud of the South

Kevin Young Sep 7, 2018 13:02 PM

In the second episode from the second season of The Golden Girls, the girls return from an overnight stay at the local jail. You see, they were mistaken for hookers and ... just check the episode out. Well anyway, they return home and Dorothy's mom, Sophia, comes to the door with her friend, celebrity guest star, Burt Reynolds. Being that it's 1986, this was a pretty big deal for the ladies. At one point, Reynolds leans over to Sophia to ask, "Which one's the slut?"

Blanche, Rose, and Dorothy raise their hands in unison, "I am!"

His Golden Girls appearance came 10 years before his Academy Award nominated performance as porn director Jack Horner in Boogie Nights, and Reynolds was in the twilight years of his studdom — but the ladies still liked him, to put it politely, and the guys still admired him. And in spite of beefy commandos and robots, kids were still pushing around their toy Trans Ams on the dirt of their backyards saying " Errrr vrooom nud nuuuuuuud, I'm the Bandit!"

Last night, I went YouTubing, re-watching old movie clips: Reynolds' final film, The Last Movie Star; his numerous talk show appearances; the aforementioned Golden Girls appearance; Norm MacDonald's impression of him in SNL's popular Celebrity Jeopardy! sketch; and Burt singing "Where Stallions Run" in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, the musical co-starring Dolly Parton.

Maybe it's the bubble I lived in as a kid but sometimes, despite evidence to the contrary, Burt always seemed like a Southern thing. I'd guess it stems from the films he made, the TV shows he created, and his brief flirtation with country music. It all started the same year he posed nude in Cosmopolitan, for Deliverance.

Deliverance, 1972

It's funny how many people know the hillbilly horror and the song derived from this 1972 movie. It's moved past people even knowing of the film from whence it came. Whenever someone sings "ba da ding ding ding ding ding," the phrase "squeal like a pig" will be uttered as well. (That horrific scene involved a city guy (Ned Beatty) getting raped by a hillbilly, FYI.) John Boorman's Deliverance starred Jon Voight, Ronny Cox, Beatty, and a then un-moustached Reynolds as city guys who decide to canoe through the backwoods of Georgia. The initial contact they have with a few of the locals is friendly-ish until it turns tense, then ugly, then violent. The notorious rape scene and the "Dueling Banjos" song are so etched into pop culture that it has diminished the powerful grit that actually dwells within John Boorman's movie.

A year later, Reynolds released his one album, a country type affair called Ask Me What I Am, and starred in another Southern fried tale.

White Lightning, 1973

In this film, Reynolds' Gator McKlusky, a jailed moonshine runner agrees to a plea deal so he can take down the corrupt sheriff (Ned Beatty — the city slicker victim from Deliverance) who killed his brother. Moonshine is run and cars are chased. It's around this time when Reynolds, in an interview with Gene Siskel, recalled "the beginning of a whole series of films made in the South, about the South and for the South. No one cares if the picture was ever distributed north of the Mason-Dixon line because you could make back the cost of the negative just in Memphis alone. Anything outside of that was just gravy."

Two years later, Reynolds, the guy with the mustache and a smile decided he'd give directing a try when he took on the White Lightning sequel.

Gator, 1976

While the film is nothing much itself, I wanted to mention it for a few reasons. Gator's love interest was portrayed by none other than Charleston's own Lauren Hutton (who would go on to star with him in the '80s actioner Malone and romantic comedy Paternity). The film, described by Roger Ebert as "yet another Good Ol' Movie," still showed he could make a competent movie which would help with future films The End, Stick, personal favorite Sharky's Machine, and his numerous episodes for the underrated early '90s series, Evening Shade. Also, the film's main villain Bama McCall was portrayed by country singer Jerry Reed (who also sang the film's title track). A year later, Reed would go on to sing another song for Burt's most memorable Southern role in Smokey and the Bandit.

Smokey and the Bandit, 1977

The comedy, directed by stuntman Hal Needham, successfully showcased Southern audiences' love for Burt. The story of a mischievous soul known as Bandit and his best friend Cledus (Jerry Reed) running a tractor-trailer full of beer over state lines while being pursued by another asshole sheriff (Jackie Gleason) and romancing a fleeing bride-to-be (Sally Field). Thin on premise, but heavy on Bandit humor and car crashes, the movie did poorly in its first week. A week later, it opened in the South, where the reception was much different. By the end of the year, it had done so well that it was the second highest grossing film of the year behind some George Lucas space epic. Reynolds, with Needham again at his side, naturally decided to cater to our love of car chases, car wrecks, and loopy humor in a Smokey sequel, the star-heavy Cannonball Run films, Stroker Ace (which starred his future wife Loni Anderson), and another personal favorite, Hooper.

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