The first R-rated movie I saw without sneaking in was Midnight Run (1988). A slight clarification: The first R-rated movie I saw in a movie theatre, alone, was Midnight Run. I saw it at the Catlow. I often tell people that my mother is a lot like Robert DeNiro’s Jack Walsh – gloriously profane language, I will fucking cut you glare, and essential gentle awesomeness.

Midnight Run DeNiro face

Jonathan Rosembaum’s various ways of looking at Midnight Run (his site is often uncooperative, forgive the vague link) certainly differ from mine, but less concerned with his assessment of the film (I have a soft spot for it, it colours my perception of it) than with his assessment of Burt Reynolds. In review #1 (of four) he begins by writing:

My first instinct regarding Midnight Run was to assign everything I liked in the film to Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, and to discredit everything and everyone else. The overall impression I had was of two gifted actors dutifully (if creatively) working their way through the kind of mindless sludge that Burt Reynolds participates in for the drive-in crowds, where every character, plot detail, and line of dialogue is guaranteed authenticity by having been encountered dozens of times before, and where the bad guys and the good guys are as easy to tell apart as cowboys and Indians.

He’s not wrong here. Burt Reynolds made some truly shit flicks in the late 80s: City Heat, Stick, Heat, Maloneand Rent-a-Cop to name a few. I don’t know if Rosenbaum’s odd word choice of “participates in for the drive-in crowds” is a way of finessing something in the neighbourhood of compliment into the criticism, but it grates.

I make the claim in a soon-to-arrive Post45 piece that it seems impossible to believe that Burt Reynolds films might be anything other than mindless. Any virtue belongs to the movie, or the director, and certainly not to Burt. Robin Wood does this for The Longest Yard. Lots of people do it for Deliverance.

Accordingly, let me praise Gator – on quite specific grounds (because it’s mostly terrible). Burt, playing the lead in an action flick set in the US South, not only doesn’t “get the girl”, but she tells him she’d rather have a career than him – and he’s cool with it. She drives away and he’s left alone – and that’s the happy ending. That’s the film Burt Reynolds made as his directorial debut. That’s someone with a bit of self-awareness that isn’t quite recognized.

Gator two sets of books