Written by / 9/07/2018 / No comments / , , , ,

BURT REYNOLDS 'RIVERBOAT' COMMAND & EXTERNAL TRIBUTE

Burt Reynolds in RIVERBOAT season one circa 1959
The late Burt Reynolds held a fine line between movie star and cult actor: Before he got really famous, he appeared in edgy movies like DELIVERANCE and THE LONGEST YARD, HUSTLE, SHARKY'S MACHINE, to name a few...

After he skyrocketed in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT and became a superstar, he'd been around the car movie block in more subtle vehicles like WHITE LIGHTNING and GATOR. And for some, his immense fame became a cult in itself. Following two Hal Needham directed BANDIT flicks was arguably his greatest "race car" movie (also directed by Needham), CANNONBALL RUN, and the entertaining stunt man tribute, HOOPER. Alas, like most big stars, a string of mediocre romantic comedies and sequels disintegrated these fun, frolicking romps that seemed made for everyone. Worse than even BANDIT 2 was the second CANNONBALL RUN, which hardly involved a race at all, and then... STROKER ACE provided the hammered nails in a coffin that'd already been pretty much closed...

Burt Reynolds with Vincent Price on Riverboat
From the middle 1980's until his four-season sell-out sit-com for old folks, EVENING SHADE, he starred in some cool action flicks like the stuff between DELIVERANCE and SMOKEY: the forgotten and dusty gems MALONE, STICK, HEAT and the underrated and relatively unknown BREAKING IN.

Backing up, hardcore Burt fans already knew that he'd been acting since the 1950's. The first television series to feature him in a co-starring role... even before his turn as a half-Indian blacksmith on GUNSMOKE... was called RIVERBOAT, centering on a charming gambler, played by a charming Darren McGavin, who runs the fancy title vessel, floating up and down the river finding adventures along the way. Burt, as the muscular, mellow ship's pilot, only appeared in 80% of the first of two seasons: and as he shared in a book and tons of interviews, he just kinda stood there, looking tough, even complacent. But he had three entire episodes pretty much all his own, which began with the 8th and most vapid, banal, flowing and fun titled WITNESS NO EVIL wherein Vincent Price, a con man who brings a zoo of exotic animals on board, has a gorilla (a man in a horribly dated ape suit) trained to steal money from loaded/lucky gamblers...

Burt Reynolds in Riverboat's Night at Trapper's Landing Episode 9
The entire episode was so wacky, poor Burt seemed unprepared for the captain's seat, and seemed half in a daze, even in his agile, Marlon Brando-looking youth...

But the following two episodes had more to offer Burt's concentrated and intense early style: A NIGHT AT TRAPPER'S LANDING and THE FAITHLESS, which ranged from from fighting to save young soldiers from dying by the hands of much more cunning and experienced Indians, to keeping a hostile mob from lynching a wrongfully accused, prison-bound doctor. In the other more lightweight episodes, his comedic skills, that would unbound years later (albeit perhaps too much), were either in hibernation or, like Jack Nicholson before EASY RIDER, he was letting his charm out slowly, meticulously, till the world was ready...

Darren McGavin getting a verbal load of that night's episode
And now, written on the day of Burt Reynolds's death... who was a legend long beforehand... what can be said? The man has been here, and now he's gone. Between that is a generation who's been alive as long as Burt's been acting, and we remember his heyday without belated hindsight sighs of "He could have done better films" because Reynolds was always exciting and energetic, and seemed to be hiding the true talents that it took many of us years later to fully realize (BOOGIE NIGHTS, for example)...

And, so, at the end of his three reigning RIVERBOAT episodes, Darren McGavin would show up at the epilogue... back from a prolonged trip to New Orleans... and Burt's character would tell him everything that happened in a nonchalant tone while McGavin would listen, stunned, at everything he'd missed, and that Burt had gone through and taken care of with the rudimentary signs of a style and charm that'd eventually rule the world. 
Pics of Burt vs a "gorilla" on RIVERBOAT and his site pics w/ the Orson Welles quote "Success is Burt Reynolds' only handicap"
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