Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

*. Smokey and the Bandit was the second-highest grossing movie of 1977, the top spot going to Star Wars. I think it’s fair to say that it hasn’t held up as well as Star Wars, though I think it’s a movie everyone still recognizes by name even if they haven’t seen it.
*. It’s quite forgettable. I’d forgotten pretty much everything about it except Burt and Sally grinning at each other. I had even completely forgotten why everyone was driving around so fast, running away from the police. (In case you did too, it’s because they’re transporting a truckload of Coors beer over state lines.)
*. I had also forgotten Jerry Reed’s “East Bound and Down” theme song, which is actually very good and was a big hit. In my head I’d always associated this movie with the music from The Dukes of Hazzard.
*. But instant forgettability is what you’d expect from a movie that had little script, in terms of plot or dialogue (with most of the latter apparently being improvised). Only the stunts were planned. Reynolds, even at the time, considered the movie to be “a little like Chinese food. An hour after seeing the movie you may want to go see another one.” He then immediately added that it is also, in this way, like sex. So by way of syllogism sex is like Chinese food. I think.
*. It’s a movie that has something to answer for. Hal Needham would continue to cash in, dragging Burt along with him through vehicles like Smokey and the Bandit II and The Cannonball Run. And there would be The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985) and other indistinguishable crap featuring good ol’ boys, scofflaws, and downright sumbitches racing circles around the moronic authorities.

*. But Smokey and the Bandit didn’t come out of nowhere. It develops out of the countercultural road movie popularized in the early ’70s with films like Easy Rider, Vanishing Point, and Two-Lane Blacktop. What has changed is the cheerful cynicism of the proceedings. The Bandit isn’t a real rebel or outsider, or even a folk hero, but just a show-off and local celebrity. And while those earlier films usually had some notion of a wager driving the plot, here it’s just a dash for cash sponsored by a beer company. Money is the only reason anyone does anything.
*. Sally Field also represents another point of transformation. Her Frog is worldly but wholesome, a type that we wouldn’t be seeing again anytime soon.
*. I was surprised to hear CB (or Citizens band) radios being discussed as a new technology. They weren’t new, but their widespread adoption by drivers (especially truckers) apparently only began after the 1973 oil shock and the adoption by the U.S. government of a nationwide 55 mph speed limit. So I guess the way they talk about the radios here is accurate. Live and learn.
*. I was also surprised to see Snowman’s Bassett Hound Fred swimming. I didn’t think hounds were big swimmers. I mean, most dogs can swim, but are hounds water dogs? Do they like swimming? They really don’t seem built for it.
*. Little Enos is Big Enos’s son. They seem like they should be brothers. Paul Williams was 13 years younger than Pat McCormick but they look the same age.
*. For being a pure popcorn (or Chinese food) movie it’s not bad. Jackie Gleason steals every scene he’s in, and he probably still would even if he weren’t trying so hard. But I don’t think the banter has aged well, and all the driving around gets pretty dull. It even seems as though the vehicles keep driving down the same stretch of forested highway over and over. There is, however, some evidence that Needham was at least trying to make a real movie. Not necessarily a good movie, but a movie. That’s more than I can say for some of his later efforts.
*. But he did make a lot of money. And as we’ve seen, that is the only proposition the movie stands for in the end.

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