Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ten Statements About....SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977)

" got some weird looking hair there, Sally..."
"I'll be driving this one blocker. You'll be driving the truck. This is Bandit One and that is--"
"Bandit Two. Together Again."
"Oh, yeah. Like Fred and Ginger and Lester and Earl."

1) I would really like to know how much of this film was scripted, and how much of it was improvised. There are great big gouts of this film's ninety-three minute running time which seem to be just Burt Reynolds, Jerry Reed and Sally Reed riffing...and that oddly enough creates a strange veracity that reinforces this world the movie takes place in.

2) ....which is fortunate, because this film manages to be virtually plotless without us noticing. With all the talk up front about Enos and Little Enos betting Bandit he can't bootleg a bunch of Coors, this is just a skeleton that director Hal Needham can use as an excuse for the vehicle-oriented slapstick comedy that follows. Later on, when Reynolds becomes lazier and lazier, it becomes his downfall, but here it's surprisingly successful. That being said...

3) I always appreciate a film that knows how to set up its plot, and this film manages to get through its high concept in less than ten minutes without the scenes ever sounding like an info dump. This allows for us to hit the ground running for all the car spills n' thrills.
All his friends were concerned when Jerry Reed started having
detailed conversations with his dog...

4) This is another one of those movies made during this period where the soundtrack actually acts as a Greek Chorus commenting on the action as it develops. The three Jerry Reed tunes serve as narrator at key points, filling in the information we might have to, you know, stop for a few minutes and have it explained to us. Thus, we don't have any actual plot getting in the way of the fun of watching Bandit leading silly cops on merry chases throughout the Bible Belt.

5) You know how good an actor Jackie Gleason was? In this movie he takes a caricature in Buford T. Justice--a caricature we've seen in similar comedies previously--and turns him into not only a livid character, but a livid character who is tenacious and formidable without losing his buffoonishness. There are moments, particularly when he shouts down a particularly ornery highway patrolman for his foul mouth, when you realize this isn't a clown. And it makes the grudging sense of respect he and Bandit admit to each other at the end highly credible.

6) It's a rather small aspect of the film, but I really appreciated the sense of community that Needham conveys throughout. There's a solid feeling for CB culture as Bandit communicates with and receives various degrees of aid from other truckers and CB enthusiasts. These small cameos may not be very good (some of the other CB'ers sound like they're first time actors), but they add to the veracity of the film's world, and capture a snapshot of a culture that seems to have disappeared in recent years.

7) I find it astonishing that Sally Field and Burt Reynolds were an item at this time, because I don't feel any chemistry between their characters at all. Hell, I suspect the only reason she's here is because they needed a romantic subplot to distract from all the car wrecks and chases. They do have some good exchanges, but overall Fields' Carrie leaves me cold.

"What do you mean you want me to reprise my role in
something called Dukes of Hazzard?"
Plus, apparently Hal Needham and/or Reynolds was obsessed with Fields' ass, which gets more screen time than some of the other characters.

8) Actually, to me the real chemistry is between Reynolds and Jerry Reed's Snowman. There are moments where Reynolds and Reed have a sense of patter and comic timing that rivals some comedy teams of the 30's and 40's. They, along with Gleason, are the ones who take this film and carry it on its back through its sallow moments.

9) Really, what was the point behind Snowman being beat up by some bikers and thrown out of a truck stop? Was it just so he can run over the motorcycles? The whole sequence is the only moment (and yes, that includes the moment where Bandit and Carrie walk around the woods) where the film just stops dead in its track. It's the single mood killer in an otherwise smooth-as-silk entertainment.

10) Outside of Justice, the legion of cops and highway patrolmen...well, they're really useless, aren't they? They provide no sort of impediment of obstacle to Bandit's efforts. I just wish that Burt had to, at least once, break a sweat or something.

Overall...if you can take it for what it is--a slapstick pie fight with cars replacing the pies--this is an entertaining, brief little window into 70's trucker culture bouyed by great comedic performances by Reynolds and Gleason.

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