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.

RE-POST: 007 moments in Oscars history

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Originally posted Feb. 5, 2009. Re-posting because this year’s Oscars on Feb. 24 will have the biggest 007 component in 31 years. We’ve added some links that weren’t available when the original post was published.

The Oscars (R) are coming up this month. That got us to wondering: What were the great James Bond moments at the Academy Awards?

There haven’t been that many, but here’s a partial list:

1965: Soundman Norman Wanstall picks up the first Oscar (R) for a James Bond movie for his work on Goldfinger. We weren’t watching, alas. But a film historian talked to Wanstall decades later. He described the sound effect when Oddjob demonstrates his deadly hat:

“That had to be really frieghtening. So we got an ordinary carpenter’s woodsaw, put it on a bench and just twanged it.” (Adrian Turner on Goldfinger, page 216)

To see Wanstall pick up his Oscar, CLICK HERE.

1966: We weren’t watching, alas. Nor was the special effects wizard of Thunderball, John Stears. In extras for Thunderball home video releases available since 1995, Sears said he didn’t know he had won the Oscar (R) until his arrived in the U.K.

To see Ivan Tors pickup the award for Stears, CLICK HERE

1973: Roger Moore, the incoming Bond, and Liv Ullmann are on hand to present the Best Actor Oscar (R). Marlon Brando won for The Godfather. But the new 007, and everybody else, got a surprise:

1974: Roger Moore is back, with one 007 film under his belt, and ready to film a second. He introduces Best Song nominee Live And Let Die, written by Paul and Linda McCartney. Instead of a performance by McCartney, the audio of the song is played while Connie Stevens dances to it. The song doesn’t win.

1978: The Spy Who Loved Me, nominated for three Oscars (R), is blanked, taking home none. Ken Adam, the production designer guru, loses out to Star Wars. Marvin Hamlisch is double blanked, losing out for best score and he and his lyricist fail to get the Best Song Oscar (R).

1980: Moonraker, nominated for Best Special Effects, fails to repeat what Thunderball accomplished. It’s just as well after we found out about the salt shakers in the rockets in the extras for the DVD. (Feb. 20, 2013 observation: Then again, given the lack of resources that Derek Meddings and his team had, relative to other nominees such as Alien, The Black Hole and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Moonraker nomination is pretty impressive.)

1982: Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, founding co-producer of the Bond franchise, receives the Irving G. Thalberg award, given to producers for a career of work. Then-Bond Roger Moore is on hand once again, this time to give Cubby the award.

Snaring the Thalberg award put Broccoli in some impressive company:

Note: Broccoli is shown twice in that video, once by mistake.

What’s more, the music director for the Oscar (R) show is Bill Conti, composer of For Your Eyes Only, which was nominated for Best Song. Sheena Easton performs the song as part of an elaborate Bond dance act. The long skit includes Richard Kiel and, shortly before his death, Harold Sakata, the actor who played Oddjob, for whom Norman Wanstall labored for his sound effect years earlier.

The only sour moment (from a Bond perspective): For Your Eyes Only didn’t win the Oscar (R). But it hardly ruined the evening for the Broccolis.

To view the Sheena Easton performance of For Your Eyes Only, CLICK HERE. To view Albert R. Broccoli getting the Thalberg award, CLICK HERE.

The Missouri Breaks Syndrome

Like other James Bond fans, we sample what other enthusiasts are saying about Skyfall on various Internet message boards. And there’s a school of thought that the 23rd James Bond film is a can’t miss proposition.

You’ve got a prestigious director (Sam Mendes), prestigious actors (Javier Bardem, Albert Finney, Ralph Finnes, Judi Dench and, of course, Daniel Craig as James Bond). You can bet your mortgage that this film will be a huge critical and commercial hit, this school of thought goes. This will transcend a mere genre film (spies) and be art!

Maybe it will. Still, it might be wise to keep in mind what we call The Missouri Breaks Syndrome.

What’s that? Well, if you dig back a ways, there was a film called The Missouri Breaks, released in 1976. It had a prestigious director (Arthur Penn). It had prestigious cast (Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, each who had recently won Oscars for Best Actor). And it was going to transcend a mere genre film (westerns) and be art!. You could bet your mortgage that it would be a critical and commercial hit.

Something happened on the way to that success. The film generated a mere $14 million at the U.S. box office. Bear in mind, when 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun scored only $21 million at the U.S. box office many people were wondering whether 007 was washed up. Thus, The Missouri Breaks, with 33 percent less ticket sales, was considered a bomb.

Before anyone objects, we’ll be the first to say that past events aren’t necessarily a predictor of future events. Still, before some 007 fans get too smug, movies are full of examples of unexpected hits and flops. Skyfall, of course, is part of an ongoing series, not a one-off like The Missouri Breaks. ‘

Maybe Skyfall will be an enormous hit. We suspect it will be. But nothing is ever for certain. The Missouri Breaks was approved by the same United Artists executives who in 1961 cut a deal with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to bring 007 to the screen. Were they geniuses one day and idiots the next? No. Sometimes your winning streak ends. Sometimes good things come out of nowhere.

007 moments in Oscar (R) history

The Oscars (R) are coming up this month. That got us to wondering: What were the great James Bond moments at the Academy Awards?

There haven’t been that many, but here’s a partial list:

1965: Soundman Norman Wanstall picks up the first Oscar (R) for a James Bond movie for his work on Goldfinger. We weren’t watching, alas. But film historian talked to Wanstall decades later. He described the sound effect when Oddjob demonstrates his deadly hat:

“That had to be really frieghtening. So we got an ordinary carpenter’s woodsaw, put it on a bench and just twanged it.” (Adrian Turner on Goldfinger, page 216)

1966: We weren’t watching, alas. Nor was the special effects wizard of Thunderball, John Stears. In extras for Thunderball home video releases available since 1995, Sears said he didn’t know he had won the Oscar (R) until his arrived in the U.K.

1973: Roger Moore, the incoming Bond, and Liv Ullman are on hand to present the Best Actor Oscar (R). Marlon Brando won for The Godfather. But the new 007, and everybody else, got a surprise:

1974: Roger Moore is back, with one 007 film under his belt, and ready to film a second. He introduces Best Song nominee Live And Let Die, written by Paul and Linda McCartney. Instead of a performance by McCartney, the audio of the song is played while Connie Stevens dances to it. The song doesn’t win.

1978: The Spy Who Loved Me, nominated for three Oscars (R), is blanked, taking home none. Ken Adam, the production designer guru, loses out to Star Wars. Marvin Hamlisch is double blanked, losing out for best score and he and his lyricist fail to get the Best Song Oscar (R).

1980: Moonraker, nominated for Best Special Effects, fails to repeat what Thunderball accomplished. It’s just as well after we found out about the salt shakers in the rockets in the extras for the DVD.

1982: Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, founding co-producer of the Bond franchise, receives the Irving G. Thalberg award, given to producers for a career of work. Then-Bond Roger Moore is on hand once again, this time to give Cubby the award.

Snaring the Thalberg award put Broccoli in some impressive company:

Note: Broccoli is shown twice in that video, once by mistake.

What’s more, the music director for the Oscar (R) show is Bill Conti, composer of For Your Eyes Only, which was nominated for Best Song. Sheena Easton performs the song as part of an elaborate Bond dance act. The long skit includes Richard Kiel and, shortly before his death, Harold Sakata, the actor who played Oddjob, for whom Norman Wanstall labored for his sound effect years earlier.

The only sour moment (from a Bond perspective): For Your Eyes Only didn’t win the Oscar (R). But it hardly ruined the evening for the Broccolis.