Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Smokey and the Bandit

Welcome once again to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly monument to how I don't have much of a social life as I watch one of the many movies in my video collection and blog about it.  This time out, we're doing the #4 movie of 1977, Smokey and the Bandit.  This entry is originally dated July 29, 2012.

This year is the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios. As such, they're dipping deep into their vault and re-releasing a lot of their classics in brand-new 100th anniversary editions. A few weeks ago, I saw that they were releasing the 100th anniversary edition of Smokey and the Bandit.

Smokey and the Bandit is a movie I remember being on TV a lot when I was a kid. As I've said about other films, it's part of the background noise of my childhood. My earliest conscious memory of begging my parents to buy me a toy was asking my dad to buy me the Hot Wheels 2-pack of Bandit's Trans-Am and Smokey's police car. It's a film that was always there.

So when I was perusing the list of new releases a few weeks ago, and saw the 100th anniversary edition of Smokey and the Bandit, I thought to myself, "I want this." And at a discount-bin friendly price of $15, why the hell not?

The film opens with a little bit of exposition. A trucker is pulled over and gets a stern talking-to from a sheriff. At the time this movie was made, Coors Beer was actually illegal in the Eastern parts of the United States. The trucker explains that he was hired to haul this beer by some millionaires known as Big and Little Enos Burdett. Apparently, this is how they get their jollies. They go around hiring truckers to haul contraband.

For their next mark, Big and Little Enos set their sights on a legendary and egotistical trucker known as the Bandit. They make their wager. They'll pay Bandit $80,000 if he can from Georgia to Texas, pick up a truck full of Coors Beer, and bring it back. An 1800 mile round trip in 28 hours. Egotist that he is, Bandit can't help but accept, but with a generous advance payment first.

With his advance, Bandit buys himself the legendary Trans-Am, and seeks out his old truck drivin' partner, the Snowman. Here's Bandit's plan: he will be the blocker...he'll drive on ahead his Trans-Am and do all kinds of speeding and reckless driving to keep the police officers distracted. While they're distracted, Snowman will drive on free and clear and deliver the beer.

So they head to Texas and pick up the beer no incident and start driving back to Georgia. On they way back, Bandit is flagged down by a bride on the side of the road...a dancer from New York City name Carrie. Since she needs a CB name, Bandit quickly dubs her "Frog" because she jumps around so much. With Frog in the passenger seat, he continues his drive to Georgia.

Now, Frog left someone at the altar. She was to be married to the dimwitted son of Sheriff Buford T. Justice. He's the Smokey of the title. Needless to say, he was very humiliated by how this New Yorker left his son at the altar, and so Justice swears to bring in Bandit, the man who stole his son's bride.

Everything I just said happens in the first 15 minutes of the 90 minute movie. The remaining hour and 15 minutes is just one long series of car chases as Bandit, with the assistance of various truck drivers he contacts on his CB radio, outruns Sheriff Justice.

And they are good car chases. This is the time before computer animation, so no doubt, in order to film this stuff, they had to close down stretches of highway. Massive technical achievements when you think about it.

This is the film that creates the Burt Reynolds persona that we all know and love. This is where it began. The Bandit is such a smug bastard...he's a lovable asshole in this film. And of course, Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Played by the legendary comedian Jackie Gleason. According to the behind-the-scenes featurette I watched after the movie, Gleason only took the role if he'd be allowed to ad-lib, and about 80% of his final dialogue in the film was ad-libbed. The late 1970s were still a pretty politically incorrect time, so a lot of his lines get all racial slurry. But it's all Family Guy kind of stuff.

It's amazing looking back on this film's part in pop culture. It popularized the use of CB radios, which was quite the fad until the mid-1980s. And it ushered in a new era of country music, thanks to its legendary theme song.

Ya know, after all these years, it's still just a fun film.  I'm glad I got it.  And they really should make more movies where they end with a massive car chase...our hero being pursued by damn near every police officer in the country.  The only other movie I can think of that did that was The Blues Brothers.  I should get the 100th anniversary edition of that, too.

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