TIME TO TAKE TO THE ROAD, FOR A QUIET LITTLE DRIVE IN THE COUNTRY… OR NOT.
Two wealthy Texans hire the legendary trucker Bo ”Bandit” Darville (Burt Reynolds) to bootleg 400 cases of beer to Georgia, offering him a lot of money if it can be done fast. One of the greatest box-office hits of the decade confirmed Reynolds as a huge star and inspired many ripoffs; he’s a lot of fun to watch as the laidback rascal driving a black Pontiac Trans Am. He has rapport with Sally Field, a runaway bride who’s drawn into the cat-and-mouse game between Bandit and the cops. Bucking authority is a key theme throughout. Set in the South, the film relies on rural charm and turns a racist sheriff into a buffoon, amusingly played by Jackie Gleason. Dated, but irresistible.
1977-U.S. 96 min. Color. Produced by Mort Engelberg. Directed by Hal Needham. Screenplay: James Lee Barrett, Charles Shyer, Alan Mandel. Song: ”East Bound and Down” (Jerry R. Hubbard, Dick Feller). Cast: Burt Reynolds (Bo ”Bandit” Darville), Sally Field (Carrie), Jerry Reed (Cledus ”Snowman” Snow), Jackie Gleason, Mike Henry, Paul Williams.
Trivia: Followed by two sequels, starting with Smokey and the Bandit II (1980); Needham also made four TV prequels in 1994.
Last word: “I was a stuntman for 20 years at the time, had doubled Burt Reynolds for 18 and had lived in his guesthouse for 12. I came up with the idea of ‘Smokey and the Bandit’, so I wrote it, took it home, gave it to him and I had no idea he was gonna do it. I was just trying to get a feel for whether he liked it or not. But he said ‘Hal, I got a space in my schedule,’ and then he said, ‘You wanna be a director?’ I said, ‘Okay!’ ‘If you find somebody to give you the money, I’ll star in it and you can direct it.’ The rest is history.” (Needham, Hot Rod)