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  Longest Yard, The The Mean Machine
Year: 1974
Director: Robert Aldrich
Stars: Burt Reynolds, Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Michael Conrad, James 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, Pepper Martin
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Paul Crewe (Burt Reynolds) is a disgraced football player who is awoken by his girlfriend Melissa (Anitra Ford) one morning, but he's not interested in her attentions and throws her to the floor. He then gets up, pulls on his clothes and fixes himself a drink as she berates him for his failings until he can take no more; he pushes her around, sending her to the floor once again, and goes out for a drive in her car. Melissa telephones the police to go after him and a car chase ensues with Crewe eventually dumping the car over the side of the docks, and then visits a bar where the police catch up with him. Crewe resists arrest, meaning a prison sentence is on the cards...

Reynolds was one of the biggest stars, if not the biggest star of nineteen-seventies Hollywood, and it's films like The Longest Yard that kept his place secure throughout the decade. Surely among the most testosterone-fuelled movies of its era, it features that most American of sports, football (not proper football that's played everywhere else, of course), but at its heart is a power struggle, and a struggle for Crewe to win back his integrity as much as anything else. Ostensibly a comedy, it's actually very serious in tone in many places, as you might expect where the anti-heroes are criminals serving long stretches in jail.

Scripted by Tracy Keenan Wynn from a story by producer Albert S. Ruddy, the going is tough from the outset. When Crewe is admitted to prison, after his moustache is shaved off in a display of the power the jail has over him, the warden, Hazen (Eddie Albert on despicable form), is surprisingly pleased to see him. The reason for that is he has organised a Semi-Pro football team consisting of the guards and wishes Crewe to train them as their coach. However, Crewe has been told by the Captain (Ed Lauter) to turn him down, so he says to the Warden that he just wants to do his time and get out. The Warden isn't happy, and it's not long before Crewe is doing time with the other prisoners in the swamp, clearing it out for land reclamation, and being picked on not only by the guards but by his fellow inmates as well.

Naturally, he begins to win the respect of the prisoners by talking back to the guards and spending hours in the solitary confinement box, but eventually the plotline about the football game has to arise. It comes when he and Hazen are having a conversation about the guards' team and Crewe suggests a game against a lesser team to prove themselves worthy of the league, and Hazen hits upon the idea of getting the guards to play the inmates, with Crewe as the convicts' captain. Crewe isn't keen but is forced into it by Hazen's threats of extending his sentence, so he begins to assemble his men from the toughest prisoners he can find.

Not afraid to tackle the racism and bullying of the guards, The Longest Yard has a heavily anti-authoritarian message. Those in charge are the first to abuse their position, and wear down the self respect of the convicts; you might think, well why not? They're in the penitentiary for a reason after all. Yet the film takes the side of them as the underdogs, and when the big game arrives, taking up nearly half of the film, you're backing the prisoners all the way and positively looking forward to seeing the guards beaten. However, Hazen makes it clear that Crewe will suffer if this happens, so will he throw the game like he has a habit of doing? If there's a theme here, it's not so much that you can fight back against the Man, it's that the more you fight the more you'll be battered back down: despite Crewe sticking to his principles for once, you know he and his fellow prisoners won't be victorious for long. Still, every dog has its day if you want to be optimistic. Music by Frank De Vol.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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