Jul 20, 2005

Smokey and the Bandit

My interest in wanting to see Smokey and the Bandit again all started from a family ride back from The Cheesecake Factory last Saturday. My father-in-law George was riding shotgun and popped in a cassette tape he had lying around in the console of the car to add some music to our ride home down Route 9. Suddenly a very familiar song started playing and we all started talking about how that song defined the movie Smokey and the Bandit. I said, "Oh, I should rent that movie from Netlfix. I LOVED that movie when it came out."

Here are a few bars of the classic Jerry Reed song Eastbound and Down just to set the mood so hold on tight because this is going to be a long Blog.

East bound and down, loaded up and truckin',
We're gonna do what they say can't be done.
We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
I'm east bound, just watch ol' "Bandit" run.
Keep your foot hard on the pedal. Son, never mind them brakes.
Let it all hang out 'cause we got a run to make.
The boys are thirsty in Atlanta and there's beer in Texarcana.
And we'll bring it back no matter what it takes.


Probably the reason why I’m so passionate about this movie after watching it a second time nearly 28 years later is because my dad made his living by driving a 18-wheeler. He was a long-haul trucker and proud of it. He hauled Puma sneakers, delivered frozen fish up and down the East Coast to a popular Fish & Chips fast-food chain called Arthur Treachers and delivered Moosehead Beer.

In fact, he was even what some might consider a scab during a big trucker’s union strike in the early 80’s because no one wanted to take any chances driving on the interstate. It wasn’t uncommon to hear stories about drivers getting shot at from highway overpasses and I can remember being so worried that my dad was going to get hurt doing his job.

But really I just always thought he did a cool job. He was never one of those dads who dressed up in a suit and tie every day to go to work. He got to wear blue jeans with rolled up packs of cigarettes in his T-shirt and eat cheeseburgers at Truck Stops (a.k.a. Choke ‘N Puke) and had a CB Radio with a handle. In case you’re interested, his CB handle was Hi-Ho Silva and mine was Little Beaver. I’m not kidding.

Here’s a bit of background on the movie before I get into the details of the plot. It was filmed in 36 days and cost $4.5 million to make. Smokey and the Bandit was released in 1977 and was the 2nd highest domestic grossing movie of the year earning over $200 million in US and Canada alone. (In case your curious, the #1 movie was a little film called Star Wars).

The plot is pretty simple: Bo ‘Bandit’ Darville (Burt Reynolds) takes on a bet from Big Eanus Burdette (Pat McCormick) and his son Little Eanus (Paul Williams) that he can drive from Georgia to Texas and back in 28 hours with a tractor trailer full of Coors beer (400 cases to be exact) within 28 hours.Bandit gets a whole bunch of cash from Big Eanus to buy a gorgeous Trans-Am so he can use this fast car as a blocker on the highway, but has to convince his best friend Cledus Snow (a.k.a. Snowman) to drive the truck. It doesn’t take much convincing and with his Basset Hound Fred in tow, they’re off with the clock running.

Along the way, the Bandit picks up a stranded bride named Carrie (Sally Field). It seems Carrie just left her husband-to-be at the altar and who just happens to be the son of Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) who quickly becomes in hot pursuit of the Bandit.

Carrie and Bo...hmmm....sounds like our finalists in our American Idol competition. Weird.

Everyone loves the Bandit and I have to say that Burt Reynolds must have been having the time of his life playing him. Smokey and the Bandit is the movie you have to watch to understand why women found him so sexy and why everyone loved this movie back in the 70’s. He spent most of the movie just driving the Trans-Am making jumps over ponds and crashing up cars, but it was his playful banter with Carrie and his cat-and-mouse chase with the sheriff that just makes this movie work.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on this movie. I discovered that Jackie Gleason received hardly any money to be in the movie, but wanted to do it only if he could play the character of the sheriff in his own unique way. He created his signature phrase, "SumBitch" especially for the movie and ad-libbed his entire part from beginning to end. I seriously doubt the movie would have been so popular had it not been for him playing the cantankerous sheriff.

There are some really, really funny lines in this movie that made me laugh out loud. Considering that I saw this back in 1977 when I was seven years old, most of the catchy dialogue must have went right over my head. Such as when a fellow trucker called The Silver Tongued Devil says to Bandit, "Keep your wheels spinning and your beavers grinning" or after Bandit has just used a broken bridge to jump a river. Carrie says, "That was great! I want to jump something else! I want to jump a car, or a house, anything!" to which Bandit replies (still shaking) "Then jump me!" Classic!! [Click here to read more classic quotes]

Since the film did so well, the producers went on to make the sequel in 1980 and then the last of the trilogy Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 in 1983. I’m definitely going to rent them so I can see if these sequels ended up standing the test of time as much as the original.

If my experience watching Smokey and the Bandit means anything, you should think about one of your favorite movies back when you were a little kid and watch it again. Nostalgia can prove interesting because it reminds you of where you’ve come from. Back in the day, people smoked all the time in movies, calls were made on payphones not cell phones and romance was a deep, meaningful kiss between the stars rather than the soft porn it’s turned into today.
Goonies, anyone?

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