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Smokey and the Bandit
Release year: 1977
Director: Hal Needham
Screenwriter: Hal Needham, Robert L. Levy, James Lee Barrett, Charles Shyer, Alan Mandel
Starring: Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed, Mike Henry, Paul Williams, Pat McCormick, Alfie Wise, Jackie Gleason
Ratings: 1 Oscar nominations: Best Film Editing. 1 Golden Globe nomination: Best Actress Comedy/Musical (Sally Field)
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #230, week 46 2018
Unable to refuse a challenge and the prospect of big cash, Bandit (Reynolds) and Cledus (Reed) accept a dare to bootleg beer within a time limit that seems impossible. Bandit clears the road of police in a fast car, but when he stops to pick up a runaway bride (Field), he suddenly gets bulldog sheriff Buford T. Justice (Gleason) on his tail.
In the 1970s, trucking movies was a big hit, with Smokey, Convoy (1978), Every Which Way But Loose (1987) and the less cheerful Duel (1971). Smokey is a perfect example of the fun you can have with the genre, with Reynolds (The Cannonball Run, 1981) in top form and Field (Steel Magnolias, 1989) at her most charming, not to mention the real star of the movie: The 1977 Pontiac Trans Am. The movie was the second biggest financial success of the year, second to a certain movie taking place in a galaxy far, far away, and was allegedly the guilty pleasure of acclaimed director Alfred Hitchcock, and no wonder why. Watching the movie, it quickly becomes clear, that the cast had a laugh filming and the positive energy is infectious, leaving you feeling entertained and smiling. It helps that the movie is accompanied by a very suitable and excellent soundtrack by one of the movies’s stars, Jerry Reed, a collection of cheerful soundtracks putting the innocent battle between the truckers and the law enforcement into lyrics with added catchy tunes. Needham, who also directed Reynolds in The Cannonball Run (1981), keeps the action moving along at a steady pace and the chemistry between Reynolds and Filed is sizzling while the jokes shifts between snappy one-liners and slapstick comedy in fast gear. This is not high art but it is fun, very fun.
“Buford T. Justice” was the name of a real Florida Highway Patrolman known to Reynolds’ father, who was once Police Chief of Riviera Beach, Florida. His father was also the inspiration for the word “sumbitch” used in the film, a variation of the phrase “son-of-a-bitch” that, according to Reynolds, he uttered quite often.
Hal Needham asked Jerry Reed to write a theme song for the film. A couple of hours later, Reed presented “East Bound and Down” to Needham. With an acoustic guitar, Reed started to play it and Needham immediately stopped him. Thinking Needham didn’t like it, Reed offered to re-write the song. To which Needham replied: “If you change one note, I’ll kill you!” The song went on to become one of Reed’s biggest hits.
Hal Needham was better known in the film industry as a stunt man, and had great difficulty in getting any producers interested in this project. Only when his close friend Burt Reynolds agreed to star in the film did he manage to gain studio attention.
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Picture copyrights: UIP