Smokey and the Bandit is a 1977 film starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, Pat McCormick, Paul Williams, and Mike Henry and except for Star Wars was the highest grossing film of 1977. The film was so popular that Trans Am sales increased from 68,745 cars in 1977 to 117,108 by 1979 leading to the joke that director Hal Needham sold more cars than the entire Pontiac sales force combined. I mean, for goodness’ sake, my younger brother has been looking for a “Smokey and the Bandit” 1977 Trans Am for years because of the movie. Now that’s fan loyalty.
The movie starts with a couple of nouveau riche Texans named Big Enos Burdette and his son Little Enos looking for a truck driver to run 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana Texas to a rodeo in Georgia in 28 hours or less totaling 1324 miles. As we know from the opening scene, however, selling or shipping liquor east of the Mississippi River was considered bootlegging and other truck drivers who had tried making this run before were arrested for violating federal and state laws. Big and Little Enos search a local truck rodeo for the legendary Bo “Bandit” Darville (Burt Reynolds). Big and Little Enos offer to pay the Bandit $80,000.00 to make the Coors run — a deal Bandit can’t turn down.
Bandit enlists his friend Cledus “Snowman” Snow (Jerry Reed) to drive the truck (with his dog “Fred”). After demanding an advance from the Burdettes for a “speedy car,” the Bandit get the now infamous 1977 Black Pontiac Trans Am to run as the blocking vehicle to distract the authorities from the truck and its illegal cargo.
Bandit and Snowman pick up the beer in Texas with time to spare. Bandit, however, picks up Carrie (Sally Field) who is wearing a wedding dress. We come to find out that she jilted the groom (“Junior”) at the altar and that her would be father in law Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) is on the hunt to drag her back to town. Since the Bandit has Carrie, Buford T. Justice now wants the Bandit. The rest of the movie is Buford T. Justice in “hot pursuit” of the Bandit through several states and Bandit evading him and other authorities with his now famous Trans Am.
Yes, eventually Bandit and Snowman barely win the bet and are not captured by the law, but it is the journey, not the destination, that matters.
Yes, Burt Reynolds is great in this movie, making it one of his signature parts, but my thinking here is that Jackie Gleason puts on the best performance of the show. He portrays the quintessential Texas law man perfectly embodying every stereotype possible throughout the film making one outrageous statement after the other. Apparently, a significant portion of Gleason’s screen time was improvised, which only illustrates (at least to me) just how talented he was. Mr. Gleason’s performance creates one of the greatest comic characters in film history and demonstrates that he was one of the greatest American comic actors of all time. If by some perverted twist of fate you have not seen Smokey and the Bandit, watch it and I think you’ll agree with me. And if you don’t, you have no sense of humor.