Hail to the Bandit, Baby

So there I was, tooling around, stacking up my reviews in advance of Hubrisween… and then Burt Reynolds up and died.

Whenever a famous person goes to their reward, I don’t usually do the “Well, I guess I know what I’m watching tonight” thing. The one exception I can think of was watching Head the night Davy Jones passed away, but then I don’t need much of an excuse to watch Head again. For some reason the passing of Reynolds was different. Maybe it was because I was approaching horror movie overload:

Remember, most recently watched is at the left. This is the obstacle I hit.

I wasn’t a big Reynolds fan. I didn’t dislike him, it’s just that, by and large, he decided to make movies that didn’t much appeal to me. When I did watch one, I was okay with the time spent. He was immensely likable and smooth in delivery. He was very good at what he did. But I watched him more in Dan August than I did on the big screen. Nonetheless, that was a legend passing, and I did have this $5 DVD of Smokey and the Bandit sitting around in its original shrinkwrap against just such an emergency.

And no, I had never seen it before. I have this snob reaction to popular movies, and man, saying Smokey and the Bandit was popular in 1977 is like saying Star Wars might have been popular around the same time (Smokey was #2 at the box office that year. guess what was first).  Oddly, I had no problems watching Star Wars multiple times…

Anyway, now I can say I’ve seen it. It was, as I expected, largely harmless redneck fun.

  • In case you passed over watching it as much as I did, Burt is the Bandit of the title, a trucking legend who, along with his partner Snowman (Jerry Reed) agrees to a challenge made by rich douchebags Big and Little Enos (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams), to run 400 cases of Coors Beer from Texarkana to Georgia in 48 hours for their big party.
  • It was impossible to get Coors east of the Mississippi at this time, as it wasn’t pasteurized and had to refrigerated constantly. Therefore, this was considered bootlegging.
  • As a lifelong Texan, I am amazed at this mythic quality attributed to Coors. It was available in Texas by the time I hit drinking age -18 in 1976 – and it was worshiped like a heathen idol. Eh.
  • Anyway, the plan is for Snowman to drive the truck with the beer way over the speed limit, and Bandit in a Trans-Am to run interference.
  • It is safe to say that Pontiac had a very good year thanks to this movie. My friend Scott points out that my opinion of the ubiquitous Trans-Ams on campus was “I want to either own them or blow them up.” I replied that was my attitude on a lot of things.
  • For the record, it still is.
  • On the way, Bandit picks up a literal runaway bride (Sally Fields), who will be his love interest for the rest of the movie and its sequel (and several years in reality).
  • I’d like to say that this viewing made me fall in love with Sally Fields all over again, but that would be a lie. I never fell out of love with her. She is just so goshdang adorable.

  • This pickup will also put him in direct conflict with Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), whose idiot son (Mike Henry) was the groom in the wedding Sally is running away from. Yes, this is the Smokey of the title.
  • They have adventures. There are many car crashes.
  • Besides Pontiac, makers of Citizen’s Band radios probably had a very good year.
  • God, remember CB radios? Never mind, you’re all children.
  • I wish Jackie Gleason had actually been given something funny to do. Richard Boone was up for the role, but Reynolds wanted someone who could actually be funny, and not quite such a drunk.
  • I have bad news for him about that. Gleason was a comedy genius, but whenever he asked his assistant to bring him a “hamburger”, he meant a glass of vodka.
  • This is director Hal Needham’s first movie – before this he had been a well-respected stunt guy (and this shows in his movies). This one of the least episodic of his flicks, but it’s still… pretty episodic.

Generally speaking, as mentioned above, I didn’t begrudge Smokey and the Bandit the time I spent on it. I probably resent the flood of truckers-as-modern-cowboys movies that followed more, like High-Ballin’ and Convoy. And The Villain. I will never stop resenting The Villain. Thank God Needham returned to car crash movies for most of his directing career (*cough* Megaforce *cough cough*).

Recovering from a Burt hangover

I’m more interested in how this derailed my planned movie watching for a while. As you can see below, I tried to jumpstart the Hubrisween train with Eaten Alive, which is a good documentary about Italian cannibal movies (Umberto Lenzi’s claiming to invent the genre is almost as entertaining as his claims in the similar documentary Yellow Fever that his giallo flicks are the best of all time), but obviously that didn’t take. Hence, Bikini Drive-in, which my Crapfest compatriots hardly suspect will be dropped on them at our next gathering (don’t tell them). That seemed to satisfy whatever beast had been awakened by the rural drive-in charms of Smokey, and I’ve got back into my questionable groove.

I hope whatever way you chose to give tribute to Reynolds’ career was as painless and somewhat nostalgic as mine.

Hubrisween is coming, so gird whatever version of loins you may possess.

3 Comments

  1. One of my favorite movies growing up in my Matchbox-and-Hot-Wheels laden childhood. Snowman is the real hero, though. I still love his scene with the bikers.

    • Oh….and I was always mildly put out that they never released the broadcast TV version on DVD as an extra. They had to replace what felt like half of Gleason’s dialogue (with Fred Flintstone’s voice!), introducing so many wonderful new phrases to the world.

      “You scum bum.”

    • Yeah, Reed’s hugging of the diner owner after getting beaten up was a surprisingly heartfelt moment that completely caught me off-guard. After forgetting about the stunts and chase scenes, that moment is going to stick with me.


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