By Marc S. Sanders

Does a comedy get much better than Smokey & The Bandit?

Stuntman Hal Needham re-energized the car chase comedy with this classic from 1977 featuring foul mouthed Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T Justice of Portague County, Texas pursuing the charismatic, cocky and lovable Bandit played brilliantly by Burt Reynolds. It still holds up as a hilarious film.

Big Enos and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick, Paul Williams), in matching cowboy hats and suits, challenge The Bandit to bootleg 400 cases of Coors beer from Texas back to Georgia in 28 hours; that’s 1800 miles total. They’ll pay him $80,000 to do it. Bandit recruits his best pal, The Snowman (the terrific Jerry Reed who also sings memorably on the soundtrack), to drive the truck hauling the manifests while he pilots the black Trans Am at 110 mph, distracting law enforcement away from the truck. On the way back from Texas, Bandit picks up a hitchhiking bride (an adorable Sally Field as Carrie soon to have the handle of “Frog”), who has fled from her wedding to Sheriff Justice’s son, Junior (a great dim-witted Mike Henry).

That’s all there is to it!

From there, it’s just one pursuit after another with the Trans Am doing ungodly stunts like jumping bridges and dodging roadblocks from state to state, while keeping Smokey Bear Sheriff Justice off his tail. A great on-going slapstick gag is seeing the excessive damage piled on to the Sheriff’s squad car. He loses the roof, the driver’s side door, the muffler and so on. The car keeps up with The Bandit, though, and Sheriff Justice never loses his hat.

This film doesn’t belong to any one member of the cast. Collectively it belongs to all of them. Every character is memorably quoted and given great comedic moments to laugh at over and over again. Even The Snowman’s basset hound, Fred has his share of laughs.

It’s impressive to think how influential this film actually became. The black Trans Am with the gold eagle spread across the hood, became a classic car much like any James Bond vehicle. The hit series The Dukes Of Hazzard made its debut shortly thereafter, and stole much of this film’s themes and gags. Tons of crash ‘em up stunt filled chase comedies attempted to duplicate the success of this film in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, including further team ups of Needham, Reynolds, Reed and Field (Hooper, The Cannonball Run).

Hal Needham, with his cast and crew, really touched on something special with Smokey & The Bandit. As one of the first films I ever saw in theatres, it’ll always remain as a favorite movie going experience that I shared with my brother and babysitter, Mrs. Garcia. Along with late night viewings of the classic 39 episodes of The Honeymooners, Jackie Gleason will always stay on top as one of my favorite funny men. I’ll still watch and happily quote this picture endlessly for years to come.

“Now lemme have a diablo sandwich and a Dr. Pepper and make it fast. I’m in a g-ddam hurry!”

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