Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Smokey and the Bandit - 1977

"Smokey and the Bandit" - 1977
Dir. by Hal Needham - 1 hr. 36 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

If you'd never watched "Smokey and the Bandit" before, I'm not sure how it could be explained.  On the surface, it's a fairly slight film: Bandit and Cledus go get some beer a couple of states over.  And in every conceivable way, it's a product of it's time.  But at the box office, it was barely behind "Saturday Night Fever" as one of the top grossing films of 1977 (third and fourth, for the record).  What the heck is going on, here?

Seriously, the entire film is pretty much about Bandit (Burt Reynolds) and Cledus (Jerry Reed, who also sang the iconic theme song, "Eastbound and Down") accept a wager to drive from Georgia to Texarkana to retrieve four-hundred cases of Coors beer, and return within twenty-eight hours.  Due to the laws of the time, this constitutes bootlegging, and there's roughly eighty-thousand dollars dangling in front of Bandit and Cledus, versus running afoul of the law should they fail.  Early on in the film, Bandit picks up a fleeing bride, Carrie (Sally Field), which means that in addition to whatever other legal obstacles they might encounter, they're also being doggedly pursued by Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) and his jilted idiot son, Junior (Mike Henry).

For a movie that's based on driving fast, there's not much fancy driving to be found.  There are plenty of cop cars that get trashed (a visceral delight, to be sure), there's a ton of truckers, and Burt Reynolds drives a pretty rad Trans-Am.  As a viewer, if you don't have any kind of recollection or nostalgia for this time period, you might be doing a lot of eye-rolling.  And you'd completely miss the point of "Smokey and the Bandit."  It's a straight-forward film that included a lot of what was popular at the time.  CB radios were a big deal, so that's how everyone communicates in this film.  Cars were a big deal, and racing is an eternally-solid plot device, so everyone drives either big rigs, cool cars, or police cars that are sure to get wrecked (the abuse that Buford T. Justice's car takes over the course of this film isn't quite up to what the car in "The Blues Brothers" goes through, but it's not far off).  There's hot pants, feathered hair, tight jeans, over-done make-up... everything you'd think that 1977 looked like is here on display.  And while people now are too meta-aware to buy into current fads on film, that wasn't a problem back then.  Besides, it's no worse than a "MySpace" mention I saw the other night on an episode of "American Dad."

So if you're over-thinking this film, let me help you out.  Sometimes, it only takes a cute girl and a sexy guy in a cool car who share an easy, charming chemistry to fill an hour and a half.  You can round that out with Jackie Gleason's unique way of pronouncing "sumbitch" and destroying automobiles, and boom, you've got a film.  And it's a fun film, too.  Nobody likes southern police and silly laws, least of all Sally Field.

You can try to hate "Smokey and the Bandit" all you want, but it's not going to matter.  "Smokey and the Bandit" is a bulletproof film.  It's fun, playful, has a rad car and a legitimately great theme song (I sing along at full volume every time it pops up on random), and it's as fun to watch the fifth time as it is the first time.  And if you want to roll your eyes at the seventies on full display, you and your tweets' time to be the butt of the joke is coming.

3 / 5 - DVD

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