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Never have I come across a movie (or trilogy of movies) to polarise an audience so.
Smokey & The Bandit is one of those films which, if you like it, you become totally engrossed in, and if you don't it makes you want to leave the room! Very few people fall into the 'on the fence' category.
Fortunately, several of my friends and I fall into the first set.
Unfortunately, my wife falls into the second!
The series falls into the 'car chase' genre popularised in this 1970's era by Knight Rider, Dukes of Hazard and a handful of others.
The original and the best!
The first movie was released in 1977, and grew from a very simple idea inspired by several true stories of modern day 'bootlegging'.
Bo 'bandit' Darville and his trucking buddy become involved in a high speed cross-country chase with a local Texas sheriff (a 'Smokey') after crossing paths. As well as a truck full of illegal booze, Bandit picks up a hitch-hiker who turns out to be the sheriffs daughter-in-law to be!
Each state in the USA has different laws regarding the transportation and sale of alcohol. In some it's strictly forbidden (so called Dry states), in others it's freely allowed, and in others it's only legal to sell booze brewed within the state lines.
It is this idea that Smokey and the Bandit sprang from.
Two local hustlers, businessmen and general big-shots named the Enos Brothers (played perfectly by stalwart actors Pat McCormick and Paul Williams) contract local cocksure playboy trucker type Bo 'Bandit' Darville (Burt Reynolds) to haul a trailer full of Coors Beer from a warehouse in Texas to a party they are attending in Georgia within 28 hours.
They do this for their own fun as they know it can't be done - the distance required in that time means the drivers need to speed the entire way, attracting police attention, and when the police pull them over and inspect the load they end up arrested.
Knowing the trouble they're likely to run in to, Bandit decides to rope his truck driving pal Cletus 'Snowman' Snow in to drive the rig while he acts as a 'blocker' in a high speed sports car - something to attract the police attention while his pal rolls across the state line unimpeded.
The car chosen is a black Pontiac Trans-Am, and the movie helped shift them by the thousand in the late 70's! Even now the Trans-Am is thought of by most as the Bandit car.
Snowman is played by Jerry Reed, a mega-star country & western singer who turned out to be perfect for the role!
As mentioned, after picking up the beer they run into trouble in the shape of Sally Field - a runaway bride looking for a ride. Bandit happily obliges, therefore incurring the wrath of our Smokey - Buford T Justice (another inspired casting with Jackie Gleason filling the boots) and his idiot son Junior (Mike Henry) who was to marry 'Frog' (Sally Field).
As a dedicated lawman Buford Justice will go to any lengths to catch the villainous Bandit, but is bested at just about every turn. These continuous defeats just make him more determined though, and he relentlessly breaks out of his jurisdiction to chase the bootlegging pair across the state line!
With a running time of just over 1 1/2 hours this movie zips along at a fair pace. Most of the action takes pace on the highway, with one or two little detours through the swamps and dirt-roads and a couple of distractions for the audience with short stops along the way.
It's fairly clear who is going to come out on top in the end, but still I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it!
One thing that really shocked me with this DVD was the language! I grew up watching these movies on the TV and I was amazed at how much dialogue had been cut or dubbed in order to make them fit for pre-watershed viewing! Odd, because it all seems like good wholesome fun. No real violence or drug reference, and only moderate 'romantic' content...
The storyline is easy to understand, but not really necessary. Not until close to the end do any of the pursuing police suspect the Snowman of a crime, it's all about the car action with various police cruisers and the star Trans-am and that's what propels the story and keeps us (mostly men I suspect!) glued to the screen! I still get a thrill watching that 'streak of black lightning' power along dusty back roads or along sections of empty desert highway!
Originally intended to be a straight to TV 'B' movie, Burt Reynolds actually got involved in the project as a favour to a friend, propelling this to the top of the charts across the USA and beyond with such a huge name pushing it. It eventually grossed a hugely respectable $127million giving Universal Pictures another runaway success and spawning a sequel....
Oh dear, Number Two;
The sequel was released in 1980, three years after the original, and was quite well received. All of the original cast returned and once again the box office numbers were strong ($67million grossed).
Sadly, while it might have looked ok at the time it is now looked on as a very poor relation of the first movie. While not absolutely terrible I do feel this is tough to watch now, even for fans of the original!
The basic story is similar to the first. Big Enos is in the running to be Governor of Texas and learns of an important package being delivered by his main rival to a party convention in Dallas. He decides to steal it and deliver it himself, therefore taking all his opponents credit. Once again, he contracts the Bandit to make the less-than-legal delivery!
Skip to the bandit. Over three years he has become a self obsessed alcoholic, drinking away his possessions (including the prized Pontiac) and chasing away his friends until he's a total recluse. Frog, the character played by Sally Field has returned to marry Junior and he's back to being a nobody.
After Enos offers up $400,000 for the job, Frog again leaves Junior at the alter, buys Bandit a new model Trans-Am and along with Snowman sets about sobering up the bandit and getting him back behind the wheel!
So aside from the cargo, the story flows about the same from here. Buford Justice chases him cross-country for the same half personal/half professional reasons, and apart from a bit of self-discovery and a couple of lessons in hubris the Bandit is the same ego-maniac he was in the first movie, minus a bit of the charm sadly.
Now, somewhere in the first half hour we discover that the cargo is actually a huge elephant! This makes it quite uncomfortable viewing for me personally. I know in the 1970's there wasn't as much fuss about animal cruelty, but this movie must be guilty of it on a couple of occasions and I don't like the idea of the animal being trundled across the state in a box for laughs.
A new character in the form of Dom De-Luise is introduced as a doctor (a gynaecologist!) who they draft in as resident vet, tracked down early on in the movie and bribed to accompany the animal. He's a superb comedy actor and provides some great comic relief, but I really think the movie could have survived without him. He and Burt Reynolds did a lot together in the 1980's so I can only assume he was brought in as a favour - 'Jobs for the Boys' as it were.
The Bandit puts money before the elephants well-being at every turn and becomes quite an unlikeable character after being the peoples champion in the original. It's not a clever move, I don't think the audience really warm back up to him after the way he's introduced.
Buford Justice is the main villain of the piece again, but the writers bring his two brothers (Gaylord and Reginald - both played by Gleason!) as assistance - maybe to make us feel that the Bandit is finally outnumbered and beaten. It's a pretty weak idea and poorly executed in my opinion.
Overall this is watchable as part of the series, but not very diverting with a weak storyline and very poor choices for character development.
Still, could be worse - it could be the third one.
Smokey IS the Bandit....
Catchy title this one;
Smokey And The Bandit Three: Smokey IS The Bandit.
The title sums it up quite well. Buford T Justice has finally retired, given up his badge and taken residence in a South Florida retirement community. Needless to say, he's bored! No action above a game of shuffle-board just don't cut it for the most fearless lawman of Texas.
Luckily, the Enos brothers are bored too!
They hunt him down and make him a brainless proposition - transport a giant stuffed fish adorning a restaurant logo from Florida all the way to Texas. If he succeeds he pockets a quarter of a million dollars.
In order to save themselves some cash, the hapless duo set up various traps to stop the former Sheriff from completing his task but fail every time, so resolve to bring in an old friend to do the job for them.
Enter the Bandit... Or rather, the new Bandit!
Discounting Burt Reynolds character as an ego-maniac, they put truck driving Snowman (Jerry Reed) behind the wheel of the Trans-Am and send him fishing!
What ensues is almost a carbon copy of the original movie with the roles reversed. The Bandit pursues Smokey across states while trying to steal the huge swordfish, with Smokey briefly reverting back to chasing the Bandit when he loses the fish.
Once again there is a romantic interest in the passenger seat of the Trans-Am, this time in the shape of newcomer Colleen Camp as Dusty. The whole set-up is the same as Smokey & The Bandit with Sally Field (minus a wedding dress) and feels pointless, contrived and a bit lazy from the writers I must say.
The film is great fun, but again the action is a bit more comedic than cutting edge, and the character development is a bit forced. Ridiculous scenes are shoe-horned in for laughs and the whole thing feels a bit cheap.
Burt Reynolds gets a last minute cameo just as the Snowman is finally apprehended and struggles to summon up the original Bandits silver tongue in order to get away. The camera cuts away and pans back to Reynolds in the driving seat, saying all the right things to weasel his way out of bother!
It's quite a cool scene actually, and sets the scene for a decent climax to what would be the final moments of the series' conclusion.
After a good 85 minutes of car-chase heaven the series grinds to a halt with Sheriff Justice offering the Bandit a five minute head-start as they continue to chase across the USA - anything not to have to return to his mundane retirement!
This movie barely scraped $5million at the box office and was wisely dropped after this. 1983, six years after the original, the series was put to bed.
I have a special spot for these films because as I say, I grew up with them. As a child the cheesy lines were uber-cool, and the physically impossible car chases were the greatest thing I'd ever seen, so as an adult I allow them a bit more slack than I'd give other cheese from that generation.
The dynamic between the two main protagonists is great to watch though, Reynolds and Gleason seem to just spark off each other and you can see that they both enjoy the roles given them.
Casting in general is very good actually - it's just the latter storylines that let the side down somewhat.
The ultimate casting, of course, was the car! As iconic now as the 'BluesMobile' from the Blues Brothers, or the Ghostbusters Cadillac ambulance 'Ecto 1', the Trans Am will forever be synonymous with Smokey and the Bandit.
The first movie is a classic. It oozes 70's style and captures the American South perfectly. The following films are passable when tied onto the first, but not great in their own right.
As a box-set for a ten-pound-note this is essential in my collection. My version actually cost a bit closer to £15, but came with a free matchbox sized model Trans Am, so was obviously worth the extra couple of quid!
If anyone hasn't seen any of these movies, I'd suggest sitting down and giving them a go.
The first one at any rate.
Burt Reynolds charismatic 'Bandit' will charm your socks off even if the subject matter isn't your usual fare and I challenge anyone not to side with the fun-loving bootlegger over the stiff stickler for the rules Sheriff Justice.
Once you've given it a go, you'll know if you fall into the 'love' or 'hate' camp.
Personally, while I know they aren't cinematic masterpieces, I'm a lifelong member of Team Bandit.