Universal // 1977 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // July 4th, 2012
"Soon as I get home, the first thing I'm gonna do is punch yo mamma in da mouth!"
I'm here to defend the honor of Hal Needham's directorial debut, Smokey and the Bandit, a classic piece of 1970s cinematic Americana. Judge Ryan Keefer reviewed Universal's HD DVD release in 2007 and was not the least bit kind to the film or anyone involved in its creation. A travesty of justice if there ever was one.
Since Coors beer, a favorite of recklessly wealthy and gleefully manipulative Big Enos Burdett (Pat McCormick, head writer for The Tonight Show) and his son Little Enos (Paul Williams, Phantom of the Paradise), is only sold legally in certain states west of the Mississippi River, trafficking it across state lines into Georgia is considered bootlegging, a federal offense. But that doesn't stop the Burdetts from challenging every hotshot trucker they cross paths with to make the run from Texarkana to Atlanta ahead of their ridiculous timeline and an all too aware contingent of state police.
Enter Bo "Bandit" Darville (Burt Reynolds, Boogie Nights), the reigning king of Georgia's gear-jammers. Having accomplished all there is to on the Truck Rodeo circuit, Bandit accepts the Burdetts' challenge -- 28 hrs and 400 cases of beer in exchange for $80,000 cash and a new Pontiac Trans Am to run interference for the truck. Bo's partner in crime is Cledus "The Snowman" Snow (Jerry Reed, Gator), one of the finest long haul truckers on the planet. A bit of arm twisting later, Bandit, Snowman, and Fred (Cledus' enigmatic Bassett Hound), are breaking land speed records westbound and down. Little do they know there master plan is about to be derailed by a runaway bride (Sally Field, The Amazing Spider-man), a boisterous Texas county mountie (Jackie Gleason, The Honeymooners), and his dim-witted son (Mike Henry, Soylent Green).
High falootin' film criticism be damned, Smokey and the Bandit is nigh-invulnerable movie magic. The plot is simple, the script is little more than a production shooting schedule, and the performances are 75% improvised. The real planning and execution is found in Hal Needham and Stan Barrett's stunt design, as captured by cinematographer Bobby Byrne (Bull Durham).
This is essentially a buddy road picture; Hope and Crosby for a new generation with a dash of heist, done at breakneck speed, and punctuated by occasional character development. There's nothing award worthy going on here, even though it was nominated for an Oscar (Best Editing) and a Golden Globe (Sally Field for Best Actress). It's just a damn good time from start to finish.
Burt Reynolds had busted his way onto Hollywood's A-List with Deliverance in 1972, eschewing charisma, charm, and sex appeal. His involvement in Smokey and the Bandit turned what was intended as a Roger Corman-esque B-movie into a summer movie blockbuster ($127M gross) for Universal. Sally Field was already well known to audiences as America's sweetheart (Gidget, The Flying Nun), but here she made the jump from TV to the big screen trading that good girl image for true leading lady status. In fact, the chemistry between Burt and Sally was so strong it sparked an on-again off-again romance that lasted five years and four motion pictures (The End, Hooper, Smokey and the Bandit II).
As if there isn't magic enough between Burt and Sally, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason amp the comedy exponentially, each filmed in practical isolation playing exceptionally well off otherwise deadpan partners (Jerry and Fred, Jackie and Mike Henry). Jerry's good old boy charm and complete lack of inhibition gives the movie a great little B-storyline. Jackie chews scenery as the one-track-mind authoritarian villain whose dogged determination exceeds all rational thought. Trying to make sense out of any of Sheriff Justice's actions is an exercise in futility. Just sit back and enjoy this master class on comedic acting.
There are those who will attempt to convince you Smokey and the Bandit is hopelessly dated, a relic of its time. Chicken shit! This timeless classic recalls a simpler time in America, when our crimes were petty, our worries were few, and people truly cared for one another. That's not to say there wasn't rampant injustice transpiring beneath the surface, but whitewashed with composer Bill Justis' banjo-infused bluegrass score it showcases some of the best of who we were at that point in time.
Presented in 1.85:1/1080p high definition widescreen, Universal's transfer is certainly a step above the previous DVD release, but a low budget film going on 50 years old is never going to look pristine. The depth of detail is greatly enhanced and the vibrancy of color is amped, but there's plenty of filmic grain to be found, especially in low light shots. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is certainly appreciated, though never fully realized. Recorded in mono, there's only so much you can do as a sound engineer to plus the original tracks, adding a bit of direction effects here and there, separating the musical tracks to balance the soundscape, and cleaning up the dialogue rich presentation. If you don't go in expecting miracles, there's nothing here to distract from the experience.
In terms of bonus material, Universal's 100th anniversary release offers up two of those studio-based featurettes we're finding throughout the product line. Here we have 100 Years of Universal: The '70s (11 min), which focuses its Biography channel type lens on American Graffiti, The Jerk, Animal House, Jaws, The Sting, and Smokey and the Bandit. We also get 100 Years of Universal: The Lot (10 min), which gives us a brief tour of the Universal backlot, the only amusement park/working production facility in Los Angeles, and frames the sites within the context of the films that were shot there.
Bonus material specific to Smokey and the Bandit is repackaged from previous DVD releases, including making-of featurette Loaded Up and Trucking (20 min), which deals the insanity of shooting everything on location in record time; Snowman, What's Your 20? (8 min) is a CB radio tutorial for all those aspiring truckers and ham radio operators out there; and finally the vintage theatrical trailer, which proves just how far we've come as a storytelling industry. The package is rounded out with BD-Live functionality, a standard def DVD copy of the film, and a digital copy for the portable device of your choosing (and expires on 31 Dec 2013).
Argue all you want, Smokey and the Bandit is classic Americana and has earned its place in cinematic history. (And it made Pontiac rich by selling a ton of Trans Ams!)
Guaranteed to make you "10-100" with laughter.
Review content copyright © 2012 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 2.0 Stereo (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy