Does a comedy get much better than “Smokey & The Bandit?” Stuntman Hal Needham pioneered the car chase comedy with this classic from 1977 featuring foul mouthed Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T Justice of Portague County, Texas pursuing the charismatic, cocky and lovable Bandit played brilliantly by Burt Reynolds. It still holds up as a hilarious film.
Big and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick, Paul Williams) challenge The Bandit to bootleg 400 cases of Coors beer from Texas back to Georgia in 28 hours; that’s 1800 miles total. They’ll pay him $80,000 to do it. Bandit recruits his best pal, The Snowman (the terrific Jerry Reed who also sings memorably on the soundtrack), to drive the truck hauling the manifests while he pilots the black Trans Am distracting law enforcement away from the truck. On the way back from Texas, Bandit picks up a hitchhiking bride (an adorable Sally Field as Carrie soon to have the handle of “Frog”), who has run away from her wedding to Sheriff Justice’s son, Junior (a great dim witted Mike Henry).
That’s all there is to it!
From there, it’s just one pursuit after another with the Trans Am doing ungodly stunts like jumping bridges and dodging roadblocks from state to state, while keeping Smokey Bear Sheriff Justice off his tail. A great on going slapstick gag is seeing the excessive damage piled on to the Sheriff’s squad car. He loses the roof, the driver’s side door, the muffler and so on. The car keeps up with The Bandit, though.
This film doesn’t belong to any one member of the cast. Collectively it belongs to all of them. Every character is memorably quoted and given great comedic moments to laugh at over and over again.
It’s impressive to think how influential this film actually became. The Trans Am became a classic car much like any James Bond vehicle. The hit series “The Dukes Of Hazzard” made its debut shortly thereafter and stole much of this film’s themes and gags. Tons of crash ‘em up stunt filled chase comedies attempted to duplicate the success of this film in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, including further team ups of Needham, Reynolds and Field (“Hooper,” “Cannonball Run”).
Hal Needham, with his cast and crew, really touched on something special with “Smokey & The Bandit.” It’ll still be watched and still be quoted 50 years from now.