Archives for posts with tag: Gator (1976)

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

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This is a leftover observation from an article I’m just wrapping up. It’s really just a “look at this interesting little thing” kind of observation – it doesn’t really go anywhere in particular.

In Burt Reynolds’ first film as a director, Gator, Mayor Caffery is your garden-variety southern politician, the sort of guy who tells the crowd at his rally, “We gonna have the best city south of Baltimore. Who the hell gives a damn what’s north of Baltimore?”

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At the rally, Mrs Cavanaugh, carrying “Cafferey is a pinky commie” sign, is escorted aside by a police officer. After hitting him over the head with her sign, she explains, “You must understand that I am not hitting you. I am hitting Mayor Caffery and all his corruption. And here’s another blow for freedom!” As she’s being dragged away she yells to the onlookers: “What about unemployment? What’s Caffery gonna do about that? What’s he gonna do about supporting the underprivileged?”

Gator pinky commie

Gator police haul her away

What’s odd about all of this is that Cavanaugh, who’s mostly a crazy person (to the point of crazy-cat-lady absurdity), is right about pretty much everything except Caffery being a pinky commie. Cavanaugh is Aggie Maybank’s (Lauren Hutton) source for an expose. Cavanaugh reveals that there are two sets of books – and he doesn’t pay taxes on the big earning book: “Apex Finance. Dixie Entertainment. All those gas stations. All of them owned by Caffery and McCall. And all of them exploiting the masses.” Cavanaugh she leads Gator and Aggie to the courthouse’s archive, and at the courthouse there’s a slapstick chase involving two house cats, two accounting ledgers, two local cops, and a stolen police cruiser. Aggie, Gator and Cavanaugh give the evidence to the Feds and it’s legit evidence.

Gator two sets of books

There are two obvious readings of the pinky commie sign. The more obvious one is that Cavanaugh is using the “communism = bad” thinking that never fails, especially in the 1970s South. Or there’s the crazy like a fox reading of Cavanaugh using communism as a stick to beat the too-good-at-capitalism Caffery. Either way, Cavanaugh’s deployment of communism as a cudgel would be an interesting little piece of trivia were it not for another Burt Reynolds-directed film, Sharky’s Machine.

After getting busted down to the vice squad, Sharky’s sent out to arrest Mabel for prostitution. She demands fifty dollars from her potential John, which he finds a little bit pricey. Her response: “I’m a trained professional and I demand a decent wage.” All of this transpires in a long shot that keeps Mabel’s book – and its KARL MARX cover in frame. Then, in the police station after the arrest, Mabel makes a systemic critique of the criminalization of prostitution – and the approach that imprisons the women and lets the men go free. And, after that, it is Mabel’s reaction to a pimp under questioning that leads Sharky’s Machine to their first set of leads to a Big Case.

Sharkys Machine I'm a trained professional I demand a decent wage

In both cases, women who, though they are marginalized both within the narrative and by the film’s director, are proven right in the end.  It seems odd that one of Burt Reynolds’ signatures as a director would include women having a grasp on Marx and the essential information for the narrative.