Off-List: Smokey and the Bandit
One of my favorite movie genres as a child was that of crazy car races. I suppose I had that in common with most small boys. The first movie I watched in the cinema without parents was “The Cannonball Run”, probably the second one, memories are a bit blurred there. But anything with cars and trucks were great. “Smokey and the Bandit” was an early favorite and it tapped right into that infatuation. It went so far that we boys adopted a lot of the slang and would use “10-4” and “backdoor” and the like in our own speech.
Obviously, with that sort of impact, “Smokey and the Bandit” would be a perfect pick as an Off-List movie for 1977.
The Bandit, a.k.a. Bo Darville (Burt Reynolds) is a trucking legend and so the disgustingly rich Enos, father and son, turn to him on a bet that he can bootleg a truckload of beer from Texas to Georgia where other truckers have failed. It is illegal and there is a deadline, a tight one at that, but the price money is big. The Bandit bites and partners up with Snowman, a.k.a. Cledus Snow (Jerry Reed). Snow will ride the truck with his dog at ridiculous speed (95 miles an hour is a scary speed for a truck!), while the Bandit will run interference on the road police, the smokies, and thus clear the way.
Soon Bandit picks up a bride on the run (Sally Field as Carrie) and is shortly after pursued by the groom and more importantly, the father-in-law, Texas Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason). The Sheriff is VERY persistent, and the Bandit is pretty good at staying a step or two ahead of him. Hijinx ensue.
It has been a very long time since I watched this movie last time and I do find it a bit difficult to get myself into the mode of old. It is a fun watch, but it is also a remarkably silly watch, and it did not click as well with me as it used to do. It may be that it has not aged that well, but, more likely, I have simply outgrown it.
“Smokey and the Bandit” taps into the idea of ultimate freedom. That happiness is to do exactly what you want to do and to hell with the rules. Or more precisely, to shove it in the face of authority, meaning the police, who dares set restrictions. The Bandit is a hero because he does not care a flying fart about the rules and actually sees it as a personal challenge to break them. The police are the laughingstock here, exemplified by the ludicrous character of Sheriff Buford T. Justice. He is the blown-up zealot who chases for personal reasons rather than the common good and cares as little for the damage done as the Bandit does. The rest of the troopers may be less personally invested but not more competent and Bandit and Smokey finds plenty of support along the road from likeminded in this rebellion against authority.
And what gives the Bandit the right for his transgressions? His immense charm. And I suppose the idea of common cause against authority.
This is in fact the common theme of all these road movies, from “Two-lane Blacktop” to “The Cannonball Run”. From a childish point of view, this is what fundamentally makes them fun and engaging. The cheek and the boldness of the protagonists against the zealous bureaucracy, telling us what to do. Yet, I cannot help feeling that the older I get, the more I find myself on the side of the law here. Not Buford T. Justice’ law, but all those patrol officers along the road who keeps getting the short end of the stick.
So, yeah, I am getting old and boring and Burt Reynold’s charm is wearing a bit thin on me, but somewhere, deep down, there is still a young boy who thinks trucker slang is cool and enjoys the cat and mouse game on the highway.
Recommended mostly to young boys and girls, rednecks and for its considerable cultural significance.