James Dickey (left) wrote "Deliverance" the novel, and movie starring a young Burt Reynolds (right).
Photo: File
Photo: File

From the archives: all films shot in Georgia from 1941 to 1982

Thank you Burt Reynolds!

Originally posted Wednesday, August 7, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

I am working on a story about Ed Spivia, a former Georgia film commissioner who almost single-handedly built up the film business in the state in the 1970s and helped craft the tax credits in the 2000s that led to where we are today. Spivia passed away late last month from Lewy Body dementia at age 77.

When I visited his wife Barbara at their lovely home on Lake Lanier last week, she showed me a photo album filled with clips from Spivia’s time as film commissioner. One of the stories was from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1983 listing every movie that shot scenes in the state of Georgia from 1941 to that year. 

The total? 45 over 41 years. (In comparison, we have 48 active TV and film productions happening as I write this.)

Most of the movies happened after Spivia showed up on the scene and became film commissioner in 1972. Back in the day, there were no tax credits. Hollywood came for the scenery and in part, Spivia’s lobbying. 

I took pictures of the articles and they are all available in the two photos below. They may be hard to read so I’ll list some of the more notable films below. 

Some highlights from the films shot here from 1941 to 1982:

“Swamp Water” (1941): This was the first “talkie” film shot in the state of Georgia in the Okefenokee swamps. Celebrated French director Jean Renoir convinced 20th Century-Fox to send the entire cast and crew to this swampland so Walter Brennan could play a fugitive. It’s one of his most notable roles. A re-enacted the role 11 years later in the 1952 film “Lure of the Wilderness” in color.

“The Great Locomotive Chase” (1956): Disney re-enacted the real-life incident in many of the same North Georgia locations where the events actually took place from the Civil War. Yankee soldiers stole a train and made a getaway toward Chattanooga.

“The Green Berets” (1968): John Wayne directed and starred in this Vietnam War epic, which received some of the most scathing reviews ever written about any movie during a time when anti-war fervor was at fever pitch. It was still a big box-office success. Much of the film was shot at Fort Benning.

“Deliverance” (1972): This film convinced Spivia that Georgia could promote movie-making as a profitable industry and opened Hollywood’s eyes to the scenic possibilities to be found here. It’s based on James Dickey’s best-selling novel about city slickers having a rough trip down the Chattooga River pursued by crazy redneck. (Cue “The Dueling Banjos”). Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds and Ned Beatty were among the stars. Reynolds met Spivia on set and they became life-long friends. 

“The Longest Yard” (1974): This football drama starring Burt Reynolds pulled in $43 million in box office gross, a huge amount back in the day. Reynolds played a pro football player in prison where the prisoners play a game against the sadistic guards.

“Return to Macon County Line” (1975): Want to see a very young Nick Nolte and Don Johnson? They are a pair of wanderers who run afoul of  a redneck lawman. Much of the car chases were filmed in Forsyth. 

“Let’s Do It Again” (1975): A few scenes were shot in Georgia. This cult-classic farce featured some big names from the day: Sidney Poitier, Jimmy Walker and... Bill Cosby.

“The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings” (1975): This comedy about black baseball players during the days of segregation featured Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones (14 years before “Field of Dreams”) and Richard Pryor.

“Gator” (1975): Burt Reynolds is back with this moonshine comedy and his directorial debut. There are a lot of boat chases through the South Georgia swamps and a few scenes in Savannah. Lauren Hutton is his love interest.

“Greased Lightning” (1976): A second film in Georgia starring Richard Prior, this time as a black racer in the professional stock-car circuit. 

“Smokey and the Bandit” (1976): Burt returns! This was the No. 2 highest grossing film of 1977 behind only “Star Wars” and ahead of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Saturday Night Fever.” It became the most successful film shot in Georgia during that era and shot Reynolds to the top of the A-list of film actors.

“The Prize Fighter” (1979): Set during the Depression era, Tim Conway plays an inexperienced fighter and Don Knotts his bumbling trainer. 

“Little Darlings” (1979): This teen comedy starred Kristy McNichol and Tatum O’Neal competing to see who would lose their virginity first. It became a solid box-office hit, generating $34 million in 1980, 20th most that year. Matt Dillon also starred in the film.

“Carny” (1979): This film, shot in Savannah, starred Jodie Foster, Robbie Robertson and Gary Busey. 

“Hopscotch” (1979): This comic spy thriller starred Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson and Ned Beatty. A young Sam Waterston is in the film as well. Scenes set in D.C. used state office buildings. 

“Smokey and the Bandit II” (1980): Only a few scenes were shot in Georgia but one included the actual destruction of a roller coaster at Lakewood fairgrounds. Jerry Reed and Burt Reynolds return and Jackie Gleason chased them. The film only pulled in $66 million, half of the original. 

“The Cannonball Run” (1980): Burt Reynolds sure liked cars. This comedic romp includes him, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis and Dom DeLuise. It pulled in $72 million in 1981, the sixth-highest grossing film of the year. 

“Escape from New York” (1980): Director John Carpenter shot a few scenes here for his futuristic thriller. Some of MARTA’s biggest concrete slabs are recognizable. Kurt Russell starred as a rogue forced to rescue the U.S. president from Manhattan, a giant penal colony in 1997. 

“Sharky’s Machine” (1981): Burt Reynolds is back, starring and directing in this $15 million police thrilled based on the Bill Diehl novel. Reynolds plays an Atlanta cop who uncovers the existence of a high-powered gangland syndicate. The entire film is shot in Atlanta. 

“Six Pack” (1982): Kenny Rogers made his feature-film debut in this action comedy filmed in Atlanta and North Georgia. He plays a stock-car driver trying for a comeback. Rogers ended up living in the state for many years. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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