Smokey And The Bandit Review
I have seen this film more times than any other film yet made. Back in the early-80's, the only person I knew who owned a VCR only had two tapes - Smokey And The Bandit and The Sound Of Music. At the age of 11, it wasn't cool to like The Sound Of Music so when it came to watching a video, I was limited to this and as a result, I have re-watched Smokey And The Bandit many, many, many times.
Smokey And The Bandit has informed my tastes in ways that only now, with years passed in between, can I admit - I wouldn't wear them, but cowboy boots worn under jeans don't look half bad. I bought and drove a black Ford Capri simply because it was the closest thing you could get to a black Pontiac Trans Am on these shores. I've grown a moustache. On a business trip to the US, I rented a car, which turned out to be a Pontiac, closer to a Mondeo than a Trans Am, but I still felt thrilled to be driving it.
It would be fair to say that this film has had a sizeable effect on my life. But is it actually, really and honestly, any good.
Smokey And The Bandit
stars Burt Reynolds as the Bandit, who opens the film as a trucker at a Roadeo - and that spelling is correct - at which he is the main attraction. Big and Little Enos, father and son (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams), bet the Bandit that he cannot go to Texarkana, pick up a truckload of Coors beer and transport it back to Atlanta, Georgia in 28 hours. The problem is that this is bootlegging and, therefore, illegal. If he does it, Bandit will be $80,000 richer but runs the risk of being caught by the law. Bandit loves a challenge and can't say no so he picks up the challenge and enlists his buddy, Snowman, played by Nashville star Jerry Reed, to drive the truck containing the beer while Bandit will drive a Trans Am to act as blocker and distract any law officers from the truck.
Along the way, Bandit picks up Frog, played by Sally Field, running away from her wedding to Junior (Mike Henry), son of Sheriff Buford T. Justice, superbly played by Jackie Gleason, who, despite being far outside his county and state jurisdiction, is in hot pursuit of the Bandit.
At its most basic level, which is pretty much the only level this film works at, it is just an incredibly stupid car chase with Bandit driving from Texarkana to Atlanta at close to 100mph throughout though Snowman, in a truck with a trailer full of beer, does manage to overtake him. No doubt this has much to do with the love interludes between Bandit and Frog. The police cars and bikes crash in pretty much the same ways over the length of the film - nearly always into each other or into rivers and lakes. The greatest levels of damage are reserved for Sheriff Buford T. Justice's car, which deteriorates throughout the film, starting off with numerous dents before having its roof cut off, losing a door and, finally, just collapsing as he gets close to capturing the Bandit.
The cast, Burt Reynolds in particular, appear as though they are simply playing themselves - the character of the Bandit is identical to how I always imagined Burt Reynolds to be in real life. Reynolds' most famous instance of believable acting early in his CV is in Deliverance, a role completely unlike the Bandit and after this film, and until Boogie Nights, Reynolds phoned in reruns of the Bandit in every role he played. Sally Field, nailing a character here she has since repeated elsewhere, has never been better. Jerry Reed never really developed any roles beyond Snowman both in this film and the sequels but has a Country 'n' Western career to concentrate on and he sings all of the songs here.
Gleason, however, has a fantastic role in Sheriff Buford T. Justice - a great character, rich in every cliché as a bent, southern cop. With his idiot son Junior in the car with him, what is most striking about Smokey And The Bandit is how funny it is with Gleason getting the pick of the lines:
Junior: My hat blew off, Daddy.
Sheriff: I hope your goddamned head was in it!
The ending of the film, as Snowman, Bandit and Frog approach the finishing point, police cars closing in, being followed by helicopters and with Snowman in the truck moving to the front, is still thrilling. There are no great surprises but the film does end with a flourish and clearly sets up a sequel which, given the success of this film, inevitably followed - not once, but twice.
Deep down, it would appear, amid all the destruction, to be quite a moral film, mainly concerning loyalty. Snowman, Frog and the Bandit are all completely loyal to one another, as are Big and Little Enos and for all his apparent annoyance, so Sheriff Buford T. Justice is to Junior. The only act of disloyalty is from Frog to Junior, when she walks out on their wedding, which sets up most of the unspoken conflict between the two parties. This is actually touched on in the trailer included as an extra but that is probably reading more into Smokey And The Bandit than it actually requires - this is not a film that holds up against intense scrutiny and analysis and nor does it need to. Think of this as little more than a wonderfully paced 92min blast of car chases, friendship and love.
The film is presented in 1.33:1, which is disappointing given that it was originally released in 1.85:1. The picture quality is not that great - it can be incredibly soft at times, particularly in the scene where Frog and Bandit take a break from the action to walk in the park. If you grew up watching Smokey And The Bandit on television or VCR, it will be in line with what you will have seen before, but DVD should really be an improvement. The Region 1 release, also by Universal gets the Original Aspect Ratio, why not Region 2?
Only English and German Mono Soundtracks are available, which are adequate, if not that impressive. I don't think a Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS remix are necessary for this film but the Mono soundtracks have not been cleaned up and are occasionally noisy.
With a little imagination, it would have been possible to come up with some extras beyond what is available here:
Trailer (2m35s): This is not all bad as because it is such a fine example of late-70's trailers, it is practically a textbook example.
Scene Selection: Is this still considered an extra?
A view on the number of films that followed Smokey And The Bandit in the CB/car chase/trucks genre would have been interesting, as would a review of the success this film had when released up against Star Wars in the southern states of the US prior to a worldwide release when, commercially, it held its own against the biggest film at that time.
Well, you don't get a free pair of cowboy boots and Stetson with every purchase but who needs them when the film is of this quality.
Watching this again after years away from it brought back so many memories of watching this and I was relieved that, as a film, it is actually really good. There is not much in it that is not to be liked, even if you were trying to be critical towards it, but that is surely down to Smokey And The Bandit not really trying to be something more than a giant car chase from Texarkana to Atlanta. In this, it is wholly successful, assisted by a great cast barely able to contain their enjoyment of driving fast, firing off great one-liners and liberally insulting one another. Rumour has it that Hitchcock loved this film as it captured the joy there must have been on set during the making of Smokey And The Bandit.
I'm not recommending you buy this DVD unless you really love Smokey And The Bandit and must have a copy today. I can't help but feel there will be a better version of this film one day as Universal have issued a poor version here. If you can wait, do so and petition Universal but if you see it for £5 next to the checkout at a supermarket, as I did, then it's not bad value.