If films such as Deliverance and The Longest Yard helped Burt Reynolds’ status as a star, then this classic film truly made him a superstar as he unleashed one of his most iconic roles.
Bo “Bandit” Darwell is considered a trucking legend who can accomplish virtually anything. When businessman “Big” Enos Burdette decides to give Bandit a challenge to illegally truck Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta, Bandit realizes he will need to be the blocker while getting his reluctant best friend Cletus Snow to become the driver of the truck. When both learn they will make $80,000 if they can accomplish the mission in 28 hours, they decide to go all the way.
However, en route to Atlanta after successfully getting the beer, trouble ensues. First, Bandit finds a runaway bride named Carrie and decides to take her along for the ride at her request. To make matters worse, Carrie’s would-have-been father-in-law, Texas sheriff Buford T. Justice decides to make it his personal mission to make sure Bandit is caught and to make sure Carrie gets what comes to her for leaving his dimwitted son Junior at the altar. Who will come out on top?
Making his directorial debut was a stunt legend named Hal Needham, who had a script that was perfect for Burt Reynolds, who takes on the role of the titular Bandit with legendary comedian Jackie Gleason playing the other titular role of Smokey, in this case, Buford T. Justice. The chemistry between these two and their bickering is a highlight of the film and while Gleason, before this film, was forever known as Ralph Kramden of The Honeymooners, this marked another iconic role for the legendary comic.
Showing terrific support on the side of the Bandit are Jerry Reed and Sally Field. Reed, who also did the music’s score with Bill Justis and performed the film’s theme song, is a great sidekick to Reynolds. The script even allows Reed to get in some solo hijinks involving some bikers at a local “choke n puke”. As for Field, she and Reynolds have that chemistry that starts out bickering and playing each other off in comic fashion eventually leading to both an on and off-screen romance. As for Gleason, the comic foil of his son Junior couldn’t be better played by Mike Henry, who is a friend of Reynolds, having appeared with him previously in The Longest Yard. Where Henry played a more serious role in that film, Henry proves he’s got the comic chops in the role of Junior.
Another highlight of the film is due in part of Needham’s work as a stuntman. And that comes in the form of some fun-filled chase sequences where the Bandit will find himself against various lawmen throughout the film. The car chases are just great to watch, including a few jumps and seeing Justice’s numerous and often unsuccessful attempts at nabbing the Bandit just add to the comic mishaps that occur and make this a classic!
Smokey and the Bandit is an unforgettable classic full of humor, good ol’ country music, and some fun-filled car chases and hijinks with iconic roles from both Burt Reynolds and Jackie Gleason.
WFG RATING: A
A Universal Pictures production. Director: Hal Needham. Producer: Mort Engleberg. Writers: James Lee Barrett, Charles Shyer, and Alan Mandel; story by Hal Needham and Robert L. Levy. Cinematography: Bobby Byrne. Editing: Walter Hannemann and Angelo Ross.
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Jackie Gleason, Sally Field, Jerry Reed, Pat McCormick, Paul Williams, Mike Henry, Alfie Wise, George Reynolds.