Burt Reynolds at 80: the (could-have-been) Bond

Burt Reynolds and the cast of Hooper in the film's final scene

Burt Reynolds at the end of Hooper (1978)

Feb. 11 was the 80th birthday of Burt Reynolds. For a time, in the very early 1970s, some (such as director Guy Hamilton) thought he could have been a good James Bond.

That wasn’t meant to be, but the actor’s milestone birthday is worthy of a pause for reflection.

Reynolds was a better actor than a lot of his critics gave him credit for. At the same time, for a long time, Reynolds was quoted as acknowledging that he accepted some roles because it would be fun, rather than stretching his acting chops.

Regardless, Reynolds worked his way up. For a time in the early 1960s, he was a supporting player on Gunsmoke as Quint Asper, a half-Indian blacksmith in Dodge City. Reynolds also had a memorable guest appearance on The Twilight Zone, where he played a pompous actor, doing a spot-on impersonation of Marlon Brando.

Reynolds later became the lead actor in police dramas such as Hawk and Dan August.

The latter, which aired during the 1970-71 season on ABC, was a turning point. Not because it was successful, but because Reynolds took a copy of the show’s “blooper reel” with him on talk shows. (See the book Quinn Martin, Producer for more details.) For the first time, audiences could see what his colleagues already knew — Reynolds had a sense of humor.

Reynolds could be serious when he wanted to, such as the 1971 movie Deliverance. But, for some (such as the Spy Commander), one of his best performances — where drama and comedy were required — was 1978’s Hooper.

In that Hal Needham-directed film, Reynolds played the lead stunt man on a James Bond-like movie being directed by an “A” list movie director (Robert Klein). The latter character was based on Peter Bogdanovich, who directed 1976’s Nickelodeon, a film where Reynolds worked as an actor and Needham as stunt coordinator.

In 1978, it was inconceivable that an “A” list director would ever do a Bond movie. So, in some ways, Hooper was a sort-of preview of the Sam Mendes-directed 007 films of the 21st century.

Anyway, here’s a hearty happy birthday for Burt Reynolds.

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5 Responses

  1. You say it’s inconceivable that an “A list” director would do a Bond film. Steven Speilberg wanted very badly to do a Bond film. He asked twice and the producers turned him down supposedly they wanted to Bond films to be all British. I think this is a shame. I’d love to see what Speilberg would have done with Bond.

  2. “…and the produced turned him down.” And that’s why it’s inconceivable an “A” list director would do a Bond film in the period we’re talking about. Albert R. Broccoli wasn’t interested in them.

  3. What do you think Speilberg would have with Bond?

  4. Strictly a guess: something similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

  5. Back in the early days (1977-1993), Spielberg aimed his films with a twinkle from his childhood eyes. It was not uncommon to see a young boy or girl in his films running along side the protagonist. This would not have worked with James Bond, having a little boy running next to Bond during some of the more hair-raising chases similar to Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom. However, the real reason for Broccoli not asking Spielberg to direct was that he did not want to pay more than what was required for low end directors such as John Glen.

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