PG – 95mins – 1977
PEDAL TO THE METAL
“We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there…”
Originally conceived as a low budget B-movie by director and stuntman Hal Needham, with a little superstar clout from Burt Reynolds (at the time the world’s #1 box office draw) Smokey and the Bandit went on to become 1977’s second biggest grossing movie – behind only Star Wars.
Grossing $300million against a budget of just $4.3million, the film spawned a further two sequels (released in the same years as the subsequent instalments in George Lucas’ original space opera), a 1994 series of TV movies and made the Pontiac Trans Am a must-drive car – five years before K.I.T.T. graced our television screens!
Reynolds plays the legendary Bo Darville, whose C.B. radio handle is Bandit. He’s a smooth-talkin’, cowboy hat-wearin’ stud renowned for his big ego and fast driving. He’s contracted by dodgy father and son duo Big and Little Enos (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams) to bootleg four hundred cases of Coors Beer (illegal east of the Mississippi) from Texarkana to Atlanta in just 28 hours.
Dragging his reluctant old buddy, Cledus “The Snowman” Snow (country singer Jerry Reed) into the operation to drive the rig while Bandit drives the Pontiac as a “blocker”, the pair seem to be making good time, until they run – almost literally – into bride on the run Carrie (Reynold’s soon-to-be-girlfriend, Sally Field) whose alter-jilted ex, Junior (Mike Henry), and his short-fused pa, Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), are on her tail. Can the bandits dodge ‘n’ duck old Smokey (CB slang for cops) for 700 miles and make their deadline to still get paid?
“For the money, for the glory, for the fun!”
Bright, pacey and farcical, Smokey and the Bandit is a bridge jumpin’, country music singin’, car chasin’, corny jokin’ hoot of a road movie! Sure it’s dated somewhat now (“redneck heaven”), but it still has a certain seventies charm to the upbeat patter (“You have a lyrical way of cutting through the bullshit”). The bad guys are the heroes while the law is caricatured into buffoonery (“You moose twit!”), making this a harmless if frivolous escapade.
Spouting all manner of verbose nonsense as his face grows ever-redder, Jackie “sombitch” Gleason and his slow-witted son typify the over the top, cartoony tone. However, the accompanying soundtrack (most famously “The Legend” and “Eastbound and Down”) also accentuate Smokey’s lack of subtlety, literally spelling out the plot. The musical score – rather loud in the mix – also serves to signpost the mood, plucky and upbeat when the jokes are flowing and sweetening any romantic scenes with explicit ardour.
Bundled into a new Fabulous Films blu-ray boxset alongside the rest of the trilogy, the original Smokey is the only disc of the three with the templated Universal menu screens (clearly the industry giants did not feel the sequels justified hi-def upgrades). There are, disappointingly, no extras on the disc but the remaster job is adequate for a film approaching its 40th anniversary. Only during the rare night time sequences does any grain on the film stock stand out.
My reviews of the next two sequels in the Smokey trilogy will be posted over on The 80s Picturehouse website in the coming week(s), so keep your eyes peeled for those. My esteemed thanks to Isabel in the PR division of Fabulous Films for the promotional discs she provided.
CR@B’s Claw Score: