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May 28 - The Longest Yard

Note from TheMirl.com: This is the newest installment of a regular series by Joel Blumberg reviewing
sports movies from all eras.

It boggles the mind that when a good film is made, producers, trying to catch lightning in a bottle,
remake the same film. And rarely is the newer version an improvement over the original film. This is
exactly the case in the recent release of “The Longest Yard” a remake of a 1974 classic about the
incongruous mixture of prison and football.

I admit that the previous statement is based on reviews that I have read on the film and not my personal
viewing of it, but to be honest, it would have been doubtful that I would go to the local cinema to see this
even if it got nominated for several Oscars.

I recently had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing Burt Reynolds, who starred in the 1974 version
and made a cameo in the recent film.

He did an honest job in talking about the differences in the two films. In fact, he told me that in the
original screenplay by Tracey Keenan Wynn, son of Keenan Wynn and grandson of Ed Wynn and Albert
S. Ruddy who produced the film (Ruddy a couple of years prior produced “The Godfather”), had no
comedic elements at all. And that director Robert Aldrich wanted a gritty film. In fact, Reynolds said that
in the first draft of the script he was killed at the end.

But there was a sense, as Reynolds put it, of “relationship humor” and, despite the fact that working for
Aldrich was worse than working for Lombardi, halfway through the film the director came to the
realization that the Reynolds character was too likeable a guy to have killed. So “darn it”, the protagonist
Paul Crewe had to live at the end.

Reynolds recounted that the filming was often rougher than an actual game. One of the actors was
former Green Bay Packers middle Linebacker Ray Nitschke, who loved contact. According to Reynolds,
Nitschke would tackle him going to the huddle. This was coming from a pretty good college football
player.

In this new addition, the accent had to be more comedic and, with the lead players being comedians
Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, more doubles were used for the new film.  

But the major surprise of this new film was the acting performance of Michael Irvin, former Cowboys
receiver, who was a natural in front of the camera. The fact that Irvin was a regular on the ESPN football
shows, gave him experience, but Reynolds was impressed by Irvin’s acting ability.

It was Sandler who approached Reynolds and respectfully asked him to be in the film. Sandler felt that
this film could not be made without Reynolds presence. Reynolds wanted to do the film, but did not just
want a cameo. Reynolds, a former Florida State Seminole, suggested that he play the oldest running
back in the world, and thus the 69-year-old star became just that.

For Reynolds, the renaissance of his halcyon days continues. His 1981 “The Cannonball Run” has
been announced as a remake project as well. In addition he has five more films in production.

The only sad note of this film was on the day of its release, Eddie Albert, who co-starred in the original
version of “The Longest Yard”, died at the age of 99. Albert who had a comic flare as an actor, delivered
two of his finest dramatic performances for Bob Aldrich - “The Longest Yard” and the 1956 anti-war
masterpiece “Attack”.