Blast From The Past: Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
It would seem a shame to make a stop in 1977 without addressing the second-highest grossing film of that year, Smokey and the Bandit. The highly favored action comedy managed to hit the big screen against all odds, and although it was confined to a budget under five million dollars, it went on to make over $126 million domestically. The film starred Burt Reynolds as Bo “Bandit” Darville, Jerry Reed as Cledus “Snowman” Snow, and Sally Field as Carrie. The supporting cast also featured Jackie Gleason, Mike Henry, Pat McCormick, and Paul Williams.
The film begins with a truck driver being busted by a highway patrol officer for bringing Coors beer into Georgia. At the time Coors was considered a fine beer but was not allowed east of the Mississippi River. Wealthy Texan Big Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick) and his son, Little Enos (Paul Williams), search out someone daring enough to smuggle more Coors from Texas back to Georgia. They approach legendary trucker Bo “Bandit” Darville (Reynolds) to make the run within 28 hours for $80,000. Bo recruits his best friend and partner, Cledus Snow (Reed), to complete the job. Cledus drives the truck while Bo drives the “blocker,” a black Trans Am meant to divert attention away from the truck and its illegal contents. After a fairly uneventful journey to retrieve the beer, Bo is hailed down by a bride stranded on the side of the road on their return. Carrie (Field) quickly hops into the vehicle and explains that she has backed out of her own wedding. However, her spurned bridegroom is the son of Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Gleason), which puts the cops on their tale as they race back to Atlanta in order to meet their deadline.
So, I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve ever seen this film in its entirety until this week. However, it didn’t take me long to figure out why this film became one of the highest grossing movies of the year. It was such a fun ride (no pun intended), and the chemistry between Reynolds and Fields is fun to watch. Reynolds delights as this cool under pressure rogue, and Sally Fields is a standout with her quippy remarks. Gleason is the idiotic opponent who gets outsmarted at every turn, and his performance along with Henry’s is hilarious to watch.
This is definitely a summer action comedy at its finest, and it contains a lot of tropes about the South. The accents are thick. The main beverage being consumed is beer, and the cops are easily outwitted along the way. The music also highlights its setting, and that theme song provided by Jerry Reed is not easily forgotten. While this is not the South that I necessarily grew up knowing, I can appreciate the fact that so much of it was shot on country roads and highways outside of McDonough and Jonesboro.
However, in my opinion, the best part of this film is the car chases and stunts. This should come as no surprise seeing as the director, Hal Needham, was a former stuntman and one of the best of his era. I feel like this is obvious not just from the amount of chase sequences throughout the film but also the way they were shot, and the actual type of stunts that were attempted. Needham himself performed the bridge jumping scene, and all of those moments were brilliantly executed.
Smokey and the Bandit is the same fun, summer film it was when it was released forty years ago. It’s not a film loaded with themes or deeper issues of the heart, but it is full of laughs and action sequences. However, for those with little ears around, be warned that the PG rating it received in 1977 doesn’t quite translate to our understanding of a PG rating today. There is quite a bit of language throughout the film, and while most of it comes hilariously from Sheriff Buford T. Justice, considered yourself forewarned. However, this is a great flick to revisit for a movie night at home.