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Smokey and the Bandit
2 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Hal Needham

Written By:
Hal Needham, Charles Shyer

John Schneider, Hank Worden, Sonny Shroyer, Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, Mike Henry, Paul Williams, Pat McCormick, Susan McIver

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Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
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Movie Review by Eric Somer
June 10th, 2006

According to a memorable line from the 1984 cult classic This is Spinal Tap, there exists "...a fine line between stupid and clever." The same might be said about longtime stuntman Hal Needham's directorial career, even though his debut in the director's chair became one of the surprise hits of 1977. Newly reissued on DVD, Smokey and the Bandit retains all of the qualities that made it so popular at the time, and perhaps even has achieved some type of classic status at this point.

In one of the DVD's two documentary shorts, Burt Reynolds recalls telling his old friend Needham, "...it's the worst script I've ever read in my life...but I'll do it." True enough, the script ain't much. For the uninitiated, Bo "Bandit" Darville (Reynolds) and his trucking buddy Cledus "Snowman" Snow (Jerry Reed) reach an agreement with the Burdettes (Paul Williams and Pat McCormick) to haul 400 cases of Coors illegally from Texarkana to Atlanta in time for the Burdettes to "celebrate in style." Along the way, Bandit picks up runaway bride Carrie (Sally Field), and the two find themselves attracted to one another (as was the case off screen). With the benefit of a hot new Trans Am, Bandit "blocks" for Snowman's truck, which requires incredibly reckless driving that occasionally interrupts the piss-take road stops of rock-stupid cops, while Reed's original songs provide appropriate accompaniment to the preposterous but always enjoyable 96 minute narrative.

The film is especially effective whenever the great Jackie Gleason takes over. Sheriff Buford T. Justice is a terrific comic creation, with his large midsection, carefully trimmed moustache, and irascible demeanor. Much of the humor in Smokey results from the sheriff's troubled attempts to communicate with his knucklehead son (Mike Henry). Reportedly, much of Gleason's dialogue was improvised.

Although this is a film I recommend wholeheartedly, and I've seen it about a dozen times, repeated viewings certainly are not kind to the mechanics of Needham's fast-paced filmmaking style. With each new viewing one notices more editing glitches, continuity errors, and atrocious dubbing. My favorite error shows an open car door being ripped off by a bypassing truck, though a previous shot revealed the car door to be shut. Also apparent is Field's disinterested delivery of some of her dialogue; especially her seemingly forced comment on Reynolds' "great profile."

The pairing of Reynolds and Needham would never again be as successful commercially or critically, though Hooper (1978) and Cannonball Run (1981) are both fun Reynolds vehicles. However, viewing Smokey and the Bandit II (1980) is a truly hellish experience; likewise for Cannonball Run II (1984), another one-way ticket to hell. But despite later films that could no longer stand on weakly scripted structures, Smokey manages to entertain.

The newest DVD release from Universal Studios Home Entertainment provides a new digitally remastered 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation with 5.1 Surround Sound for a pleasing recreation of the original theatrical experience. Also included are the documentaries Loaded Up and Truckin': The Making of Smokey and the Bandit, in which Reynolds, Needham, and Williams offer some fun facts about the film that are not common knowledge, and Snowman, What's Your 20?, a brief short meant to bring the viewer up to speed on CB lingo, some of which would still sound pretty cool in more modern cell phone communication.
--Eric Somer, 6/10/2006

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