Friday, September 12, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Longest Yard (1974) ***

R, 121 min.
Director: Robert Aldrich
Writers: Tracy Keenan Wynn, Albert S. Ruddy
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Michael Conrad, Jim Hampton, Harry Caesar, John Steadman, Charles Tyner, Mike Henry, Jim Nicholson, Bernadette Peters, Pervis Atkins, Tony Cacciotti, Anitra Ford, Michael Fox, Joe Kapp, Richard Kiel

Long before 7’2” tall actor Richard Kiel portrayed one of the most famous James Bond henchmen in “The Spy Who Loved Me”, he appeared in a smaller role in the Burt Reynolds prison football comedy “The Longest Yard”. You wouldn’t have noticed from his performance as Jaws in the two Bond films in which he appeared, but Kiel had a very clear speaking voice. Seeing him speak in “The Longest Yard” is somewhat shocking, because you’re really expecting him to sound a little more like he has marbles in his mouth.

His voice gave him the reputation of the gentle giant in Hollywood. He was the first actor cast in the role of the Hulk in the television series “The Incredible Hulk”. Lou Farigno replaced him after a day of filming because he wasn’t bulky enough. The was at the peak of his acting popularity, which might explain why the producers of the show let it go to filming before they realized he Kiel didn’t really look right for the part. He also appeared in such films as “Silver Streak”, “Force 10 From Navarone”, “Pale Rider” and “Cannonball Run II”. He was one of those actors you really couldn’t forget.

Kiel died Thursday, September 10, 2014, at the age of 74. Details about his death have been scarce. It seems clear, however, that although he wasn’t incredibly prolific, due to his unusual appearance, he was much respected by those who worked with him.

As for “The Longest Yard”, Kiel had one of the more memorable moments during the big game. He clotheslines one of the guard team’s linemen and says “I think I broke his “f*@%in’ neck!” A trainer then confirms “You broke his f*@&in’ neck!”

The rest of the film depicts a more abrasive world, having been made during a time when films could get away with coming a little closer to the truth. Adam Sandler’s 2005 remake of the film shows us a more fanciful version of prison. The 1974 version feels much closer to a real prison experience. It something more akin to “Cool Hand Luke” than anything Sandler has ever produced. As such, it isn’t exactly a knee-slapper, but it’s a little different than what we’re used to today, and that makes it interesting and much more compelling. 

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