“All right, men, now here’s the play we’re gonna use. I don’t think the guards know this formation. It’s called ‘incidental punishment after the ball is blown dead.’ Remember, any man you tackle gets an elbow, knee, or kick in the mouth.”
In 1972 Albert S. Ruddy made motion picture history. He went from the writer of a television sit-com to landing a producer job at Paramount with almost no credentials but his nerve. Once there, this inexperienced producer delivered one of the most iconic films in history. That film was The Godfather, and it would shatter records at the Oscars and is considered one of the best films ever made. In my opinion it is the best film ever made. When the film was finished, it was a no-brainer that there would be a sequel. Sequels weren’t quite so common then, but there was a lot of material in the best-selling novel to continue the story. Ruddy was offered the job of producer once again. He turned it down. He had another movie, one in which he wrote the story, that he wanted to do instead. Paramount gave him the nod, and The Godfather Part II. without Ruddy or Marlon Brando would go on to shatter records for sequels at all of the awards shows. But what happened to that passion project that Ruddy decided to do instead? That film never came close to hauling in the awards and cash that The Godfather Part II would rake in, but we do still remember that film today. You recall it, don’t you? Well, in case it slipped your mind, it was a little football/prison hybrid called The Longest Yard, and while it can’t compare to The Godfather in all of those mentioned metrics, it did accomplish something The Godfather never did, and never should do. It was remade twice since then. More on that later, and Kino Lorber has released it on UHD Blu-ray in 4K just in case you need a little help in remembering.
Paul Crewe, played by Burt Reynolds, is not a good guy. He’s a former professional football player who was caught shaving points and driven from the sport in disgrace. Since that time he’s lived a life financed by rich women who eventually tire of his ego and entitlement. One such woman is about to throw him out, and in return he takes her expensive car out for a joyride, racing away from cops and planting the ride into the river when he’s finished. He fights the cops who try to arrest him, and he ends up in prison on an 18-month stretch. He’s not too happy about it, but the warden, played by Eddie Albert, couldn’t be happier with his new inmate. You see, he’s a big football guy, and his prison guard team keeps getting beaten, and he wants a championship so much that he’ll pressure Crewe into helping him get there. He breaks Crewe and asks him how to improve the team. Crewe informs him they need another team to toughen them up. Maybe a team of the convicts. Great idea. Guess who the warden’s going to get to run that team? You guessed it. But will he betray the inmates by slipping back into his old routine? Let’s just say Eddie Albert isn’t known for playing this bad of a villain, but he really pours it on. He’s known for mostly sweet good guys. Not here.
Crewe starts looking for the toughest guys to make a team. Those guys include characters played by real football players. Green Bay Packer great Ray Nitschke plays Bogdanski, Washington State all-star quarterback Sonny Sixkiller plays “The Indian”, and while he wasn’t a football player, he should have been. Richard Kiel plays Samson, and don’t mess with his hair. Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp plays one of the guard’s players. Burt Reynolds was, of course, a standout halfback at Florida State, who lost out on a pro career when he blew out a knee. All of this casting makes for one of the hardest-hitting football films to come down the pike. They were really hitting each other out there. Nitschke would announce that he wasn’t playing football. He was playing kill the star. The result is not the typical glossy Hollywood sports films you’re used to. This one is visceral, and the actual inmates/guards game takes up more than 40 minutes of screen time, almost as long as a real game, minus the time-outs and commercial breaks.
Another aspect of authenticity is the inclusion of actual prison inmates in the cast and a shoot that occurred at an actual prison. In 1973 when Ruddy started to work on the film, it was scheduled to be shot at an Oklahoma State Prison, but a riot broke out just weeks before production was about to start. It was deemed by the Oklahoma Corrections officials that the movie would now be too dangerous. They had to find another prison fast. Burt Reynolds wanted to shoot in his home state of Florida but just couldn’t pull off the permission. Understand this is pre-Smokey and the Bandit,and Reynolds wasn’t quite the name he was soon to become. It was future President and then Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter who personally stepped in. He met with Ruddy and Reynolds and ended up offering a Georgia State Prison for the shoot, and while in the film it’s supposed to be Florida, it’s actually filmed at the Georgia prison with real inmates and guards appearing in the film.
The film has all of the tropes of both football and prison films. You get the come-from-behind fairy-tale ending, and you get the prison staples of solitary and the heat box as well as some chain-gang action thrown in for good measure. You get that older con who has seen it all, and that’s Pop, played by John Steadman, and the wise con, here played by Hill Street Blues alumni Michael Conrad, who spent his Hill Street years working with another former Minnesota Viking, Ed Marinaro. He plays Nate, an old football name who helps Crewe. put together the team. James Hampton is solid as Caretaker. He’s the soft-spoken guy who befriends Crewe. His fate leads to some of the inmates’ motivation to get back at the guards. Bernadette Peters plays a role she has so many times as the clueless sexpot secretary for the warden. All of the traditional elements are here with just that little extra pump of heart that makes the film memorable.
The Longest Yard is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is arrived at with an HEVC codec at an average of 70 mbps. The film was shot on 35mm so is native 4K. There has also been effort to restore. The team did a good job of retaining that 1970’s film stock look, and that means not cleaning up the grain that allows the film to retain its organic atmosphere. Colors are a bit drab here except for the short prologue. This is a prison, after all, and you’re not going to get bright lighting or vibrant colors. The HDR stands out during the game with nice black levels revealed in the inmates’ uniforms. Long shots aren’t very impressive. They are soft and short on detail, and that’s really attributed to the way the film was shot. That’s kind of what football looked like on television in the 1970’s. The detail allows you to feel those hits and catch the clumps of dirt kicked up from those tackles.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio presentation doesn’t take away from the original film’s presentation. It’s really there to service the dialog and some of those hits on the field. No sub action here, and some of the game dialog is hard to catch. This is minimal audio to serve minimal function.
The extras are all legacy extras imported from an earlier release.
In 2009 the film was remade with Adam Sandler in the lead and Burt Reynolds along for a coaching role. It doesn’t have near the heart or authenticity of this film. It was remade in England as The Mean Machine, which was the name of the inmate team in the original and the original film’s working title. The 2001 English remake starred Vinnie Jones in the lead. Burt Reynolds has been kind in his comments about these films. It’s hard to picture that Reynolds might have been an NFL star instead of acting. He was once asked what went through his mind when he knew football was over for him. He said that he could try acting or washing cars. “I couldn’t find a car wash.”