In this rough-and-tumble yarn, filmed on-location at the Georgia State Prison, the cons are the heroes and the guards are the heavies. Eddie Albert is the sadistic warden who'll gladly make any sacrifice to push his guards' semi-pro football team to a national championship.
Football and prison is a recipe for brutal mirth. Disgraced former pro football quarterback Paul Crewe is sent to prison after a drunken night to remember. The prison is run by Warden Hazen, a football nut who spies an opportunity to utilise Crewe's ability at the sport to enhance the prison guards' team skills. After initially declining to help, Crewe is swayed into putting together a team of convicts to take on the guards in a one off match, thieves, murderers and psychopaths collectively come together to literally, beat the guards, but Crewe also has his own personal demons to exorcise. This violent, but wonderfully funny film has many things going for it. Directed with style by the gifted hands of Robert Aldrich, The Longest Yard cheekily examines the harshness of gridiron and fuses it with the brutality of the penal system. The script from Tracy Keenan Wynn is a sharp as a tack and Aldrich's use of split screens and slow motion sequences bring it all together very nicely indeed. I would also like to comment on the editing from Michael Luciano, nominated for the Oscar in that department, it didn't win, but in my honest opinion it's one of the best edited pictures from the 70s. Taking the lead role of Crewe is Burt Reynolds, here he is at the peak of his powers (perhaps never better) and has star appeal positively bristling from every hair on his rugged chest. It's a great performance, believable in the action sequences (he was once a halfback for Florida), and crucially having the comic ability to make Wynn's script deliver the necessary mirth quota. What is of most interest to me is that Crewe is a less than honourable guy, the first 15 minutes of the film gives us all we need to know about his make up, but much like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest the following year, The Longest Yard has us rooting for the main protagonist entering the home straight, and that is something of a testament to Reynolds' charm and charisma. The film's crowning glory is the football game itself, taking up three parts of an hour, the highest compliment I can give it is to say that one doesn't need to be a fan of the sport to enjoy this final third. It's highly engaging as a comedy piece whilst also being octane inventive as an action junkie's series of events. A number of former gridiron stars fill out both sides of the teams to instill a high believability factor into the match itself, and the ending is a pure rewarding punch the air piece of cinema. 9/10