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Hal Needham: Remembering A Real American Badass

Americans lost a real badass this past weekend. Hal Needham passed away, reminding us that we're losing more legends in the world of stuntmen. For many of us, Needham gave us blockbuster films that maybe didn't move us, but sure did entertain us for a couple hours.

Long before he was Hal Needham: Screenwriter and Director, he was a stuntman. Like many in the 1960s and 1970s, Needham was taking falls, performing stunts to make guys like Clint Walker and Burt Reynolds look good. Like many stuntmen in that era, Needham was always looking to help perfect and bring safety to the trade. Needham's laid-back attitude and work ethic created a lifelong friendship with Reynolds, who gave Needham a home in his guest house towards the end of his stunt career.

From his friendship with Reynolds, a working relationship blossomed. Needham, knowing his battered body would prevent him from getting more gigs, turned to writing films based on his knowledge of fast cars and death-defying all-Americans. Reynolds encouraged Needham to direct his first effort, Smokey and the Bandit. After the studio balked at Needham's script, Reynolds was able to sell what would turn into one of that year's highest grossing films.

If you look at Needham's most-notable films, the Smokey and the Bandit series, the Cannonball Run films and Hooper, you can see that he knew Americans love fast cars, stereotyped characters and zany plots. Needham even introduced the concept of having the end credits feature a blooper reel, showcasing all the fun Reynolds and the gang were having on set.

Needham knew that he was never going to win an Academy Award, but he did make a ton of money. Critics may have panned the simplistic plots and the pointless gags in Needham's movies, but even I enjoy getting lost in a mindless showing of Stoker Ace. You look at his most successful films, and chances are they were among the top grossing films of the year. Then you add all those VHS and DVD sales — Needham did well.

Needham made films that blue collar people could enjoy. Even Alfred Hitchcock said he loved Smokey and the Bandit. Hell, I enjoy Smokey and the Bandit. I know Reynolds did, cause it helped him pay off his divorce from Loni Anderson.

Radiohead's High and Dry is said to be about the attitude of the daredevil Evel Knievel, but you could say it applies the same to Needham. He loved being around speed. He was a stuntman, made a film to honor the work of stuntmen, even ran the real race that served as the basis of Cannonball Run. NASCAR fans remember him for owning Harry Gant's racing team, and he tried his best to break land speed records.

I've always admired people with a fearless attitude and desire to break the limits of speed.

Hal, we'll miss ya!
Hal Needham: Remembering A Real American Badass Reviewed by Seth Pohorence on 10/27/2013 Rating: 5

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