So, what’s at stake in Smokey and the Bandit? Pretty much nothing, to be honest; a bet about whether some beer can be transported illegally over state lines. So let’s be honest and say that this disarmingly ramshackle Burt Reynolds vehicle by Hal Needham is the guiltiest of guilty pleasures; a film about nothing but a cool car, some rousing country tunes, and, as Sherriff Buford T Justice accurately says, ‘a complete lack of respect for the law.’
But let’s look closer; if you’ve only seen Smokey and the Bandit on tv, then you’ve not really seen the film; it’s usually cut for content and language, and the widescreen photography is usually diminished by the brutal pan and scan that mainstream broadcasting seems to demand. In it’s original form, this is a fresh, outdoorsy tall-tale of good ole-boys, with plenty of knowing gags for the peanut gallery, notably when Bandit breaks the fourth wall to smirk into the camera as another daft copper heads off the wrong way.
The plot is simple; Bandit is a rogue who takes a bet, and sets out in his Pontiac Trans-Am to help a truck-load of Coors get to a festival booze-up in Atlanta. Things are complicated by the arrival of Carrie (Sally Field), a damsel in distress who is escaping from a shot-gun wedding, and their flirtatious sniping is interspersed with the antics of Texas lawman Justice (Jackie Gleeson) and his bumptious attempts to assert himself on his intransigent minions.
Smokey and the Bandit picks up where Reynolds’ good old boy persona left off in White Lightning and Gator, with charm, action and lots of irreverence. It’s easy to see why Alfred Hitchcock liked this film; the colours are lush and beguiling, the comedy is accessible if crude, and the car stunts are varied crowd-pleasers, although the circus music jars. And while Reynolds’ charisma would curdle in subsequent outings, which doubled down on corn-poke humour, this broken-bridge car-jump lands on the right side of amusing here, with Field an able foil.
Smokey and the Bandit is deluxe comfort food, an easy-going, hard-driving confection that hits the spot when undemanding fare is required. Why Bandit would feel it appropriate to drive dangerously through a packed college football match and bleachers just in the cause of a winning personal bet makes no sense really; like Frog learns sometimes you just have to sit back and go with the flow.