Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With the Super Bowl happening on Sunday, we’ve lined up a week of movies about football and its fans.
The Longest Yard (1974)
Legendary tough-guy director Robert Aldrich delivers a pigskin treatise on what it means to be a man with The Longest Yard, in which incomparable ’70s stud Burt Reynolds discovers that if you act dishonorably by caring only about yourself, you get what you deserve. Reynolds plays former star NFL quarterback Paul Crewe, who opens the film beating up his sugar-mama girlfriend, stealing her Maserati, leading the police on a high-speed car chase, and then punching out a cop. Having lost his career to a point-shaving scandal—and thus been decried as a whore for selling himself to the highest bidder—Crewe winds up in the big house. A sadistic warden (Eddie Albert) and his right-hand enforcer (Ed Lauter) first work hard to break him, and when those plans fail, they force him to organize an inmate football squad (dubbed “The Mean Machine”) that’ll play a game against the prison guards’ excellent “semi-pro” team.
Aldrich and screenwriter Tracy Keenan Wynn push Crewe through several tests of virtue, devising situations that force him to bridge racial divides for the sake of the team or reevaluate the life he’s lived as a stooge. That last trial comes in the climactic game: Crewe is again given the choice between looking out for his own hide by making a deal with the devil, or sacrificing his own interests in favor of honorably siding with his comrades. Aldrich stages the final game with impressive brutality and realism, but The Longest Yard is Reynolds’ show. It provides a near-flawless vehicle for the actor’s don’t-tread-on-me manliness and—whether he’s joking with the boys or casually wooing Bernadette Peters’ beehived secretary with an offhand, “Did you ever do it standing up?”—his devil-may-care macho charm.
Availability: The Longest Yard is available on DVD, and is streaming on Netflix.