Originally published on Frags and Beer on October 21, 2020
Remember a time when comedy was funny without trying? Maybe I’m old, but I still laugh more at this movie, released in 1977, than most modern ‘comedies’ combined. It’s irreverent, and just on the virtuous side of vulgar, and it would offend quite a few people today I expect. But, it was clear who the bad guy was because he was the one being awfully offensive while the ‘hero’ was just macho enough to make a gender studies class roll their eyes right out of their heads. It was meant to be so, but I expect that would be lost on a few. For those who get it, this movie is for you.
Smokey and the Bandit is a clear predecessor to movies like The Fast and the Furious, and games like Grand Theft Auto. It carries a simple plot, get a load of illegal alcohol (yah bootlegging is still a thing when you consider dry counties and distribution zones), and deliver it to a giant party before it’s too late. Cledus “Snowman” Snow (played by the charismatic Jerry Reed) drives the rig while Bandit (Burt Reynolds) is the ‘blocker’. Bandit’s job is to use his Trans Am to keep cops busy and run interference for Snowman.
Oh, the 1970s…too-tight bell bottoms (“That’s some serious male cameltoe ~Julie), porn ‘staches and hair for days is all over this classic. Salty language to burn your earballs, a great soundtrack by Reed, and the incredibly adorable Sally Field. Oh, and a fast car. This movie really has it all and you’re doing yourself an injustice if you haven’t seen it. And, let’s not forget Fred. The giant basset hound pulled his own weight on screen, delivering his own comedy at just the right moments. The movie is genuinely fun to watch, helped by the great chemistry between Reynolds and Field.
We can’t forget the late Jackie Gleason’s contribution to this movie. He’s the racist, homophobic, bigot of a Texas sheriff, or Smokey, in the movie’s parlance. One of the things this movie did well was clearly define garbage behavior in its villain. No one likes him, and no one is supposed to. And, rather than avoid the topics of hate and bigotry, the writers approach it like a runaway big rig. Sheriff Buford T. Justice is a terrible human being. The movie also makes him out to be a loser, and his son is a complete idiot. There’s no need for plot breaking lectures on why his behavior is unacceptable. It’s all given to us in the story. While Justice isn’t subtle, the story and lesson is. Just as subtle as Frog’s smirk, and “Thank you” after Cledus whispered “Nice ass.” We don’t need a plot bludgeon to get the hint.
One of the things that might surprise modern audiences is, once again, an older movie delivers a woman with agency and plot importance. Field’s character, nicknamed Frog for her CB handle, isn’t led around by Bandit. She saves his ass once, drives the car well, and even makes the call when things are going to get steamy. There’s no pressure from Reynold’s character for a romantic engagement, just some flirting. He doesn’t treat her as incompetent when she’s driving the car. The movie doesn’t make her a flighty, screaming sex object. There’s this impression that was all movies did back then, but this time it’s just not the case. Field is a full-blown co-star with Reynolds, and that’s one reason the movie worked.
We paired the movie with Whiskey Sours, though Coors may have been a more appropriate beverage. I imagine Burt drank his share of Whiskey so I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. We enjoyed the movie, one my wife hadn’t actually seen and that I haven’t seen in ages. I remember loving this movie as a kid. Fast cars, subtle fourth wall breaks, and big rigs. Not to mention jumps, racing, spinning tires, and just good humor. This movie has the full package. If you haven’t seen it in awhile I suggest you get to watching it. If you’ve never seen it, and you like action comedies, give it a whirl. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.