Legends of the follicle

"Three mustache rides with Burt Reynolds"

TRIPLE FEATURE It may be hard to fathom now, but Burt Reynolds was probably the biggest movie star of the 1970s. Other actors of his generation have gained more prestige, made fewer flops, or carried above-the-title status to the grave or today (like Robert Redford, who arguably has zero marquee value left). Reynolds put up a feeble fight as his career ebbed into TV shows, supporting roles, and self-parody. But he had many hits, both high- and lowbrow. He was the first since Bing Crosby to be the top box office star five years in a row. More, he exuded the defining territorial scent of Me Decade masculinity: wearing open wide-lapel shirts with an exposed medallion, smelling of Jovan Sex Appeal ("a provocative blend of exotic spices and smoldering woods interwoven with animal musk tones"), and equally at ease ogling the new secretary, prowling singles bars, and being the complete angler ... in a hot tub, preferably.

This supremely confident archetype sported the au naturel mossy mounds of an athletically fit chest. (Later Reynolds became a notorious patron of the topside kind of rug.) He wasn't "hairy" — he was hirsute, virile. His swagger might've evaporated like Samson's had that pelt — or the manly 'stache typically hovering above it — been shorn.

Billed as "Three Moustache Rides with Burt Reynolds," Midnites for Maniacs' Castro Theatre salute presents the star in the very prime of his beef. Two artifacts on the triple bill must be counted among Burt's greatest misses — one is practically a lost film — while the last was indeed his single greatest hit. But they're all Burtalicious.

A college football star whose pro prospects ended with a knee injury, Reynolds was discovered onstage in New York, reached Hollywood in 1959, and spent subsequent years doing episodic TV and B movies. He seemed stuck in the second tier until cast as the most defensively capable of four suburban guys facing extreme redneck peril in 1972's Deliverance. That did it. Even in a harrowingly unpleasant movie, Reynolds oozed charisma. Such cock-of-the-walk confidence led him to pose nude (hand covering genitals) that year in Cosmopolitan. He later complained this particular career move had typed him as a sex symbol who couldn't be taken seriously. But Burt Reynolds was always first among people not taking Burt Reynolds seriously.

The public liked best the amused wise guy of talk show appearances, particularly when he was running from–slash–smirking at the law in action comedies ideal for the drive-in circuit. His biggest (if not best) was 1977's Smokey and the Bandit, Midnites for Maniacs' midnight show. Not far removed is the program's middle feature, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a felicitous pairing with Dolly Parton that stalled in the transfer from the Broadway stage.

But Reynolds didn't want to be forever moonshinin' and doggin' the sheriff. He wanted to be suave and elegant, like his idol Cary Grant. Thus he dove into At Long Last Love, a film so excoriated in 1975 that it's never been released on VHS or DVD. This Castro showing might well be its first United States projection since the original run. Love is a throwback to giddy, art deco 1930s musicals. Unwisely, it had Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd, and others not known for their song and dance skills performing vintage Cole Porter tunes live on set.

A gorgeous-looking soufflé that failed to rise, the film met with complete commercial and critical rejection. Hollywood gloated, director Peter Bogdanovich having impressed too many as an arrogant arriviste foisting a "talentless" model-actress girlfriend on the public.

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