Catching up part 2! Here is Darrell Buxton’s Introduction to the Burt Reynolds’ classic Smokey And The Bandit! Ten Four Good Buddy!
Hello and welcome to QUAD for tonight’s show as part of our regular ‘Fringes’ strand. The ‘Fringes’ shows are our opportunity to bring you those movies that may have slipped the net or fallen between the cracks – and although our presentation tonight, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, was a smash hit at the box office on its original 1977 release, we think it fits the bill as it has perhaps been disregarded or ignored for too long in the intervening years, and is well overdue for revival and reappraisal, especially on the big screen which is how most of its fans will have first experienced this great road chase flick. And don’t forget that the movie came out right in the middle of one of the most curious crazes ever to hit Britain, when spotty bedroom-dwelling teenagers across the country all asked mum and dad if they could have a Citizen’s Band radio set for Christmas – through the latter half of the 1970s, although cultural commentators might suggest that we were all listening either to Abba or to punk rock, what the kids were really into was pretending to be an outlaw trucker and adopting a pseudonym – or ‘handle – along the lines of ‘Freeway Devil’, ‘Tarmac Tickler’, ‘Road Hog’ etc., and blasting out C.B. messages from their Slough, Gloucester or Milton Keynes locations!
Burt Reynolds became something of a forgotten figure himself during the late 80s and through the 90s. In his heyday, however, Burt was the undisputed king of Hollywood. Quigley Publications’ annual poll of movie exhibitors, to find the top box office moneymaking star of the year, named Reynolds as the number one in 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1982; only Tom Cruise has ever rivalled that level of public acclaim. Sadly, Burt’s star began to wane – audience appetites were shifting following the success of new science fiction and fantasy fare, plus the actor himself suffered an injury on the set of CITY HEAT, his long-awaited collaboration with his major rival Clint Eastwood, being hit in the face with a chair. During treatment he became hooked on painkillers, an addiction which plagued him for several years. Burt also reportedly turned down some huge roles, including Han Solo in STAR WARS and John McLane in DIE HARD. Even when his career revived with BOOGIE NIGHTS in 1997, Reynolds hated the movie, didn’t get along at all with director Paul Thomas Anderson, fired his agent, and turned down a part in Anderson’s next film MAGNOLIA.
Yet through the seventies Burt Reynolds was the man, the superstar leading player of his era, with crowds queuing round the block to see him in everything from DELIVERANCE to HOOPER. He starred in THE LONGEST YARD, released here as THE MEAN MACHINE, and a few years later did SEMI-TOUGH – two very different films with a shared theme of American football, but again both hits worldwide. SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT came his way in 1977, and turned into a smash, grossing over $300 million to date. SMOKEY was directed by Hal Needham – Hal had been one of Hollywood’s top stunt co-ordinatiors, specialising in motor vehicle mayhem, and toiled on movies like CHINATOWN and FRENCH CONNECTION II. He’d befriended Reynolds while working alongside him on several big movies, and when he showed Burt the SMOKEY screenplay the star jumped at the chance to make it. Needham had intended the film to be a low budget chase affair with country music singer Jerry Reed playing the 110 mph anti-hero, but with Burt firmly on board Universal Pictures upped the financing to $5.3 million, a huge amount back then, sensing correctly that they might have a substantial hit on their hands.
Reed still features prominently in the movie – he plays, very effectively, the Bandit’s trucker sidekick ‘Snowman’, and pens and sings some really catchy country numbers on the soundtrack including the excellent ‘Eastbound and Down’. Sally Field, who had a long term relationship with Burt, makes a really appealing and perky female lead, and of course later moved on to win the ‘Best Actress’ award at both the 1980 and 1985 Oscar ceremonies, for NORMA RAE and PLACES IN THE HEART. And let’s not forget Jackie Gleason, a popular figure in film and television since the early 1940s, and enjoying a late career resurgence in playing cantankerous Sheriff Buford T. Justice. Reynolds is on record as saying that he only agreed to do the movie if Gleason could be in it too, and Jackie was apparently given plenty of leeway to ad lib and improvise, throwing in a “sumbitch” here and a glowering, pissed off expression there.
For the record, Burt appeared at the Wizard World comics convention in Chicago in August 2015, and in answer to a question from a fan, revealed that twelve Pontiac Trans Am cars were totalled during the shoot. He also admitted “I’m afraid I was responsible for a good few of those!”
1980 saw most of the principal cast return for SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II, also known as SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT RIDE AGAIN, with Reynolds and Reed this time attempting to transport an elephant to the Republican Party convention. A third film was shot under the title ‘Smokey Is The Bandit’, with Gleason in two roles, but test audiences found it confusing and so reshoots were done, finally offering Jerry Reed the chance to play the Bandit as had been originally intended back in 1977. Reynolds makes a brief cameo appearance in the third movie, eventually retitled SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT PART 3.
But for tonight we’ll focus on the original and best. Load up that truck with crates of Coors, check that your C.B. set is tuned to the right channel, and take your place behind the wheel. As the song says, we’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there. Let’s haul ass and hit the road. Threes and eights, good buddies!