Film Review: Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
When film crew and cast have great fun on the set, the result on the screen usually doesn’t bring much fun to the audience. One of the most successful exceptions to this rule is Smokey and the Bandit, 1977 action comedy directed by Hal Needham.
Protagonist, played by Burt Lancaster, is Bo “the Bandit” Darville, professional truck driver whose skills of delivering all kinds of cargo in record time and without interference of law enforcement made him legendary. As such, he is approached by two eccentric businessman in Texarcana, Texas and asked to deliver shipment of unlicensed Coors beer to Atlanta, Georgia in less than 28 hours; in exchange he would receive 80,000 US$. Bandit agrees and recruits his friend Cledus “the Snowman” Snow (played by Jerry Reed) to actually drive truck while he would drive as a “blocker” and deliberately cause traffic violations in order to distract police from his friend. During the trip he picks Carrie “Frog” (played by Sally Field), beautiful dancer who has just left the groom Junior Justice (played by Mike Henry) at the altar. This, however, complicates the endeavour because Junior’s father happens to be Bufford T. Justice (played by Jackie Gleason), county sheriff who is determined to bring Frog back and, with determination and little concern for jurisdiction, pursues Bandit across county and state lines.
Before this film Hal Needham was known exclusively as a stuntman and his directorial debut was unsurprisingly devised as low budget and unambitious effort, with production actually starting without finished script. It was Needham’s good fortune of having his good friend Burt Lancaster, Hollywood superstar than at zenith of career, interested in project. He brought big studio and relatively big budget (mostly spent on cars being wrecked) into the film. Script, however, remained mostly improvisational with most of the lines add-libbed and the simple plot was just an excuse for one long chase and series of stunts. Lancaster, quite comfortable with charismatic screen image, was quite relaxed at the set and this resulted in one of the most iconic roles of his career. Sally Field was also comfortable in potentially thankless role of his love interest and had great chemistry with Lancaster, which, unsurprisingly, coincided with two of them becoming real life couple on the set. Huge contrast, on the other hand, was provided by comedian Jackie Gleason in the hysterical role of bumbling lawman which played right into the anti-authoritarian and anti-establishment sentiments of the audience. Another important element to the film was provided by Lancaster’s co-star, country singer and songwriter Jerry Reed whose catchy theme song “Eastbound and Down” became big hit. But the most memorable element of The Smokey and Bandit was making CB radios, extensively used by protagonists and various other characters on the road, popular by combining that kind of technology with anti-authoritarian attitudes. Critics, predictably, didn’t like the film, but the audience disagreed, making Smokey and the Bandit most popular film of the year after Star Wars. Lancaster later explained such success with “film never pretending to be something it wasn’t”. This spontaneity and authenticity combined with talented people having fun is seldom seen these days and, unsurprisingly, film that provide entertainment in a way Smokey and the Bandit does are rare.
RATING: 7/10 (++)
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Movie URL: https://www.themoviedb.org/movie/11006-smokey-and-the-bandit