Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Smokey and the Bandit

Directed by Hal Needham and screenplay by James Lee Barrett, Charles Shyer, and Alan Mendel from a story by Needham and Robert L. Levy, Smokey and the Bandit is the story of a trucker who is helping to carry some bootlegged beer from Texas to Georgia as he’s being chased by a highway state trooper. The film is a mixture of the chase film and the car movies all set in the American South where a lot of things ensue. Starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed, Mike Henry, Paul Williams, and Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Smokey and the Bandit is an exhilarating and exciting film from Hal Needham.

Set in the American South, a trucker and his friend are asked to travel to Texarkana, Texas from Atlanta to carry and transport 400 cases of Coors Beer, which is illegal to sell east of Texas, back to Atlanta in the span of 28 hours where they will be paid $80,000. That is pretty much what the film is about where a trucker is driving a black Trans Am as a blocker while his friend would drive the 18-wheeler truck to carry all the beer as they’re later chased by a Texan highway state trooper who is angry that his son’s bride has jilted them and join this charming trucker. It’s a film that is a road movie but also a chase movie, a buddy comedy, and a romance as it meshes a lot of genres but do it with such style.

The film’s script doesn’t just play into the events of the chase but also what the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) is doing it for though there is that risk of failure as he has to drag along his friend Cledus (Jerry Reed) to drive the truck who takes his dog Frank with him. Upon picking up Carrie (Sally Field) on the way back, the Bandit finds himself dealing with all of these patrolmen but also Sheriff Buford T. Justice of Texas whose son was supposed to marry Carrie but is jilted at the altar. During the course of the chase, there is this grudging respect between Justice and the Bandit where the latter sees the former as a formidable adversary. Though Justice has no idea what the Bandit is doing, the fact that the Bandit has Carrie just riles him up as he’s kind of this idea of the old school ideals as it’s something the Bandit actually respects.

Hal Needham’s direction is quite stylish in terms of the crazy stunts and chase sequences that are created. Shot largely in Georgia with a few set pieces shot in California, the film does have this look and feel that is very Southern from its trees and rivers as well as some of the locations where it featured restaurants and people that really defined the South. Needham’s compositions are quite simple with its usage of wide and medium shots to capture the location while the close-ups help play into the intimacy and some of the humor. Even as he knows when to give some of the moments set on the road a few stops where it’s about the characters as it helps build the relationship between the Bandit and Carrie. There’s also elements of the comedy that are quite unconventional in the fact that Justice isn’t some foil but rather a man that doesn’t take shit from anyone no matter what the situation is. All of which plays into a chase involving a runaway bride and 400 cases of Coors in a hilarious yet adventurous film. Overall, Needham creates a fun and thrilling film about a trucker going from Georgia to Texas and back in the span of 28 hours.

Cinematographer Bobby Byrne does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it‘s very colorful to play into the look of the American South with its many locations as much of the film is shot in the day with only one sequence shot at night. Editors Walter Hannemann and Angelo Ross do nice work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with its rhythmic cuts to play into the action and humor. Art director Mark W. Mansbridge and Anthony C. Montenaro do terrific work with the look of the sets from the place where the beer was at as well as the design of Justice‘s car in its ruined state as well as a few places in the film. The sound work of John Speak and Ray West, with sound editor Anthony Magro, are superb for some of the sound effects of the cars and trucks as well as some of the moments in parties and gatherings. The film’s music by Bill Justis and Jerry Reed is amazing as its country-based music and score play into the world that is the American South with some songs that help tell the story.

The casting by Jennifer Shull is great as it feature some notable small roles from Alfie Wise as an Alabama state trooper, Susan McIver as a friend of the Bandit called Hot Pants, and George Reynolds as a sheriff that tried to catch the Bandit only to be foiled by the Bandit and Justice. Pat McCormick and Paul Williams are fantastic as the father-son duo in their respective roles as Big and Little Enos Burdette as two wealthy Texans trying to hold a shindig in Georgia and want the Bandit to bring them Coors. Mike Henry is terrific as Justice’s son Junior who is this dim-witted moron that Carrie was supposed to marry as he just tries to help his daddy in the most idiotic ways. Jerry Reed is excellent as the Bandit’s friend Cledus Snow aka Snowman as the Bandit’s friend who reluctantly drives the big 18-wheeler truck with his dog Frank as he deals with bikers and all sorts of shit that is happening while knowing that the Bandit will always have his back.

Jackie Gleason is amazing as Sheriff Buford T. Justice aka Smokey as a highway patrolman that tries to go after the Bandit as it’s just a performance that is really funny as well as showing Gleason not afraid to be the foil but also prove that there is something about him that can be admired as it’s really an iconic performance. Sally Field is brilliant as Carrie aka Frog as this runaway bride who realized she is about to marry the wrong man as she befriends and falls for the Bandit while being very funny and be able to handle herself. Finally, there’s Burt Reynolds in a marvelous performance as Bo Darville aka the Bandit as this charming and calm trucker who can drive very fast while being someone that has some honor and tries to do what is right as it’s a comical but fun performance.

Smokey and the Bandit is a phenomenal film from Hal Needham that features great performances from Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, and Jackie Gleason. The film is just an entertaining and raucous road-chase film that is all about fun, beer, chicks, and all sorts of fun shit. It’s not high-art cinema nor does it need to be as it knows what it is and gives the audience wanting to have a good time. In the end, Smokey and the Bandit is an incredible film from Hal Needham.

Hal Needham Films: (Hooper) - (The Villain (1979 film)) - (Death Car on the Freeway) - Smokey and the Bandit II - (The Cannonball Run) - (Megaforce) - (Stroker Ace) - (Cannonball Run II) - (Rad) - (Body Slam)

Related: Smokey and the Bandit Part 3

© thevoid99 2016


Anonymous said...

I can't believe you're resurrecting this one - from the void, I guess.

thevoid99 said...

Well, it had been on TV for a while and I wanted to see the entire trilogy. I'm going to do the 2nd one tomorrow. I'm from the South and this is pretty much a Southern film that I enjoy.

Paul S said...

"Eastbound and down, 18 wheels a rolling" this review is fucking awesome!

thevoid99 said...

@Paul S-Thank you.

ruth said...

I remember this as one of my brothers' favorites. I've only seen bits and pieces of it though, but it does sound awesome from your review!

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-This is one of those movies where you don't need to think very much as just embrace the silliness of it and have a good time with it.