Growing up in the 1970s, Burt Reynolds was pretty much the biggest thing going. He was rugged; the ultimate man's man. He was a college football player - then he had his own QM (Quinn Martin) TV series, Dan August, that ran for one season. He'd be running after cars, jumping over people; taking down the bad guys. All to cool Dave Grusin music. But the show was gone and Burt went into the movies. One of his earlier films was certainly one of his best---maybe his very best: Deliverance. A huge hit in 1972, Burt played the super cool, ultra-macho, wilderness-man who thought he knew everything about navigating the white waters of this North Georgia mountain river. Well, he was wrong. It's an interesting portrayal, because of Burt's approach to the film, but also how his character reacts to the disaster that befalls him and his friends. The movie is a classic and holds up very well. It still has the power to shock and awe. His performance is a highlight.
He then went on to star in many action films that played off his super-likable onscreen persona. Smokey and the Bandit was a monster hit, and he made a lot of Hal Needham flicks that cashed in on that one. The subsequent ones weren't great - The Cannonball Run was a smash, but it's barely a movie. It's just him and his buddies (Jim Nabors, Dom Deluise, etc) just hamming it up for the camera. They were goofy movies, and didn't do him justice. The End was a film he directed that was many cuts above most of his other work from the late 70s. It's a forgotten work, but quite well done. In the early 80s, he did a Bill Forsyth (Local Hero) called Breaking In - and that film started showing his more mature side. From there, he backed away from movies, but he triumphantly returned as the porn movie producer in JTW's Boogie Nights. He's great in it - maybe the best performance of anyone in that big, sprawling film.
I recently saw his last film, The Last Movie Star - it's on Amazon Prime. It's a fitting end - a small movie about a Burt Reynolds like movie star, who has been forgotten, but it coaxed into going to a Nashville Film Festival. But it is not THE Nashville Film Festival. It's a festival held at a dive bar. He meets his fans. There is copious amounts of melancholy, but also some self-deprecating humor. And that's what made me like him as a person - he didn't take himself too seriously. There are many YouTube clips of him on the Carson show getting ribbed by Don Rickles and other comics. He just eats it up, and laughs with that odd, high-pitched squeal of his. He knew who he was - a movie star. But he was also a quality actor. An athlete who worked hard to become better at his craft, and that work paid off. Search out his films. Laugh at Smokey and the Bandit - but please see his more serious efforts. Deliverance, The End, Breaking In, Boogie Nights and others. That's where you see the true Burt Reynolds show off his stuff. RIP Mr. Reynolds - you were a big part of my childhood and that won't be forgotten. - Mark