Movie Review: Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

Quote from Smokey and the Bandit by Cledus Snow: “Hey, we really ought to pay somebody for the mess we made.”

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Hail to Reynolds and Needham

When Burt Reynolds died, I hadn’t seen many of his movies.  I had seen five of his movies (Deliverance, The Dukes of Hazzard, Without a Paddle, Striptease, Boogie Nights, and six if you count his voice in All Dogs Go to Heaven).  Now, I can say seven because I watched Smokey and the Bandit.  This movie was not only a Hollywood success for Hollywood itself, but for the writer and director, Hal Needham.  He left behind a legacy (appearing in 4,500 TV episodes and 310 movies) and is still regarded as one of the highest paid stuntmen/stunt doubles.  The movie was the second highest grossing movie in that year, behind Star Wars: Episode IV.

Git in the Damn Car and Shut Up

Smokey and the Bandit is a movie whose story and direction was under Hal Needham.  Known for his stunt work in movies and television spanning 30+ years, he sought the help with his story idea from Robert L. Levy and hired James Lee Barrett, Charles Shyer, and Alan Mandel to write to screenplay.  The story centers around two friends, Bo Darville (Bandit) and Cledus Snow (Snowman), who are willing to risk their freedom for a large payout to carry Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas to Atlanta, Georgia.  Everything goes smooth on the ride from Georgia, but coming back is a different story.  Watch out for the big bad Smokey.  The movie stars Burt Reynolds as Bo Darville (Bandit), Jerry Reed as Cledus Snow (Snowman), Sally Field as Carrie (Frog), Jackie Gleason as Sherrif Buford T. Justice (Smokey), Pat McCormick as Big Enos Burdette, Paul Williams as Little Enos Burdette, and Mike Henry as Junior Justice.  It is a Universal and Rastar Pictures Production.  It had the release date of May 27, 1977.  The rating is PG for language, violence, smoking, and some sexual references.  It has a running time of 96 minutes.  There are a few spoilers in this review so you have been warned.

A Few Cowboy and Trucker Hats on the Long Road Trip

There’s nothing like seeing a man with a cowboy hat snoozing in a gaudy looking hammock at an Atlantic fairgrounds and then being woken up by a tall Texan man and his short Texan son in equally gaudy outfits, but this is how Smokey and the Bandit begins.  The question is will Bandit be up to the challenge: driving 400 cases of Coors beer back from Texas so the Enos’ can celebrate after they win the truck rodeo.  Never mind the Enos’ are that confident with themselves.  The real issue is the 28 hour time constraint and whether it will be successfully accomplished by Bandit and his trusty friend, Snowman, who seems a little too attached to his blood-shot eyed basset hound. 

As one would expect, Bandit flies down Southern roads with a purpose with Snowman effectively driving the truck behind him.  He reaches Texas with little trouble and they load up the truck with ease.  But what good is it to hire an actor solely for his distinctive speech and laugh such as Burt Reynolds?  Enter Sally Field, as Carrie, who is the first nemesis to Smokey and his son, wannabe Smokey Jr.  She comes complete with a wedding dress and no cake when she hops into Bandit’s car and away they go at high speeds back to Georgia.

The chase continues and here is where you see the core of why this movie was made.  In front of the humor and hijinks, the stunts are what you watch: high-speed chases, driving through crowds, trucks ‘dancing’ with each other in close proximity, cars jumping bridges, cars landing on flat beds, etc as we watch them cross each state line.  Texas?  Check.  Alabama?  Check.  Mississippi?  Check.   Arkansas?  Check.  Georgia?  Not looking so hot.  Yet, Bandit and Snowman were given a job to do and even though it’s illegal, it’s do or be put behind bars for a long time time.  Good thing for persistence and equally good that the Enos’ probably own more cars than both sets of teeth combined.  What’s better than for Bandit, Cledus, and now Frog to gain even more reward for all their work?  The answer is simple: another chase across states lines.  Boston?  Here we come.

Over the Top, but Under the Roof

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Here is where I might get the backlash from readers of this and viewers of the movie.  I have no clue what the original dialogue was supposed to be for Smokey.  I would like to think it was somewhere in between the slapstick comedy of Gleason and maybe, some more serious lines of the script.  While I realize the movie is supposed to be a comedy first and foremost, the character of Smokey played off a little too much like a cartoon to me.  I understand the concept that Southern law men have a different way of ‘doing things’ and is always right when it comes to the law, but to me the interaction between the father and son seemed lopsided.  If Gleason didn’t ab lib and/or tone it down a notch during the emotional scenes (and by emotional I mean getting angry because that’s all he really did in terms of emotion) as much throughout the movie, I feel it would’ve been better.  Or, if the son wasn’t so terrified of his father and actually said a few lines that showed he had a backbone, it also would’ve ended on a better note for me.   Yet, I understand some actors you don’t direct and let them do their own thing. It goes without saying that Gleason is one of the best comedic actors from Hollywood back in the day, but its a given some of the dialogue used wouldn’t sit well with some people today.  Therefore, I found many of the words he used to make the scene further comedic falters by 2018 standards, but as a viewer I understand the decade in which it was made. 

The Road Continues On

I sometimes grapple with the concept of what is considered a good movie by today’s standards, but more important, what is acceptable.  You can’t be overly rigid because it restricts expression, but you also can’t go into thinking how you portray something doesn’t matter.  I find this a big slippery slope and currently I’m not sure where I fall on the mountain.  Would I recommend Smokey and the Bandit?  Yes, I would.  The thing to remember is this is an action movie when you compare it to 1970 standards.  There are plot holes in the script and certain things didn’t make sense to me based on what I knew about the characters (mainly the Smokey character).  I forgave the lack of attention on the son and suspended the absurdity at the end.  I forgave the mishap of Cledus leaving his beloved dog, Fred, behind and miraculously appearing again in the truck.  Would I watch it again?  Probably not.  Would I watch the sequels?  Maybe.  I struggled with this one a bit.  It isn’t a great movie, but it is a good movie.

Pisaries Creator’s Rating

I rate Smokey and the Bandit with Three Fingers at 80%.

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One Sheet and Trailer by Universal/Rastar

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