SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977)
Normally Tomb Of Nostalgia is reserved for horror or sci-fi flicks, but occasionally I throw an action flick or comedy in and this beloved classic is certainly both. The movie starts out with filthy rich pranksters Big and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams) wagering on truckers who they task with transporting a shipment of Coors Beer from Texarkana, Texas to Georgia in 28 hours…which, at this time, was not only nearly impossible, but also considered bootlegging and illegal…all fail. The father and son duo set their sights next on local legend “The Bandit” (Burt Reynolds) with a sweet lure of $80,000. Bandit accepts the challenge and with best bud Cledus Snow (Jerry Reed) in tow, Bandit and ‘Snowman’ are in hot pursuit of the prize money. And hot pursuit is the operative word as Bandit blazes the way in his Pontiac Trans Am for Snowman’s rig and upon picking up a pretty hitchhiking bride (Sally Field), attracts the attention of her former future father-in-law, one Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason). Now Justice and his dim witted son/deputy Junior (Mike Henry) are burning rubber across five states in a high speed pursuit of the legendary Bandit and the woman who left Junior at the alter… and with every cop in their perspective counties joining in the chase.
This low budget romp opened two days after Star Wars and held it’s own becoming one of 1977s biggest box office grossers and garnering equal recognition as a classic…and why not? Smokey And The Bandit may not have Wookiees and robots, but it has some of the best car chase sequences ever filmed and is just an all around blast of fun. The whole film seems like less a movie and more of a bunch or friends getting together with a camera and some cars and just having a wild weekend. And this really works in the film’s favor as the fun the cast is obviously having is really infectious and spreads to the audience. Not to mention that the movie is legitimately funny with a lot of quotable lines…especially from Gleason’s ornery hick sheriff. Aside from the sidesplitting scenes, it has a lightening-fast pace with some truly great car chase sequences. Not to sound cliché but it truly is a high octane party and we’re all invited. On a technical side the stunts and chases are all really well staged and shot and, in terms of it’s leads, it’s perfectly cast…
Reynolds is an absolute hoot in one of the best roles ever in his legendary career. He is having a blast as the egotistical Bandit and is more then happy to let it show in his performance. The equally talented Sally Field holds her own and even one-ups Burt a few times and Jerry Reed makes a fun sidekick as the loyal and enthusiastic Snowman with trusty Bassett Hound ‘Fred’ by his side. As for Jackie Gleason, he delightfully chews up the scenery and steals the film with his appropriately over-the-top portrayal of the redneck lawman literally driven to the breaking point by finally meeting an outlaw who can outsmart him. Writer/director and former stuntman Hal Needham keeps everything moving at a speed limit breaking pace and keeps the action and jokes flying as fast as the cars. He gets some fun and slightly over the top performances out of his talented cast and acknowledges from the first frame that this is a silly good time and that this is a movie to put your feet up, crack open a beer and for the next 90 + minutes forget your troubles and laugh your ass off…and this approach created a legit comedy classic and in it’s own way equaled George Lucas’ sci-fi juggernaut in the sheer fun department.
Sure it has it’s flaws, but you’re having too good a time to notice. It’s certainly not too bad for the first feature from a former stuntman from Tennessee. Reynolds and Needham would team for five more movies including a sadly mediocre Smokey sequel, but their first collaboration remains their best. A true classic and pure, silly fun that still holds up four decades later.
4 Classic Cars!
And how could I not post this… ENJOY!