One of the few movies from 1977 that managed to make a name for itself under the shadow of the almighty Star Wars, Hal Needham's Smokey And The Bandit was a fun, free spirited movie about, well, running booze across state lines and messing with the cops. Watching it, the film doesn't really seem all that anti-establishment but the very premise of it flips 'the man' the finger and with that said, the movie will have you flipping the finger right alongside it, much like Sally Field does when she and Burt Reynolds pull up alongside that motorcycle cop towards the end of the movie. But let's start at the beginning....
Bo 'Bandit' Darville (Burt Reynolds) is a notoriously fast driver who has some experience in evading the police. As such, he's the perfect man for Big Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick) to hire to bring four hundred cases of Coors Beer from Texarkana across state lines into Atlanta where he hopes to use it in a celebration in his honor. Despite some needling from Little Enos Burdette (Paul Williams), Bandit takes the job for two reasons - the money is good, and he likes a challenge. He has the Burdettes shell out the coin for a new Trans-Am that he'll drive alongside the eighteen wheeler that will be driven by his right hand man, Cledus 'Snowman' Snow (Jerry Reed). Once the plan is motion, they're off with twenty-eight hours to get the job done.
They make it to the Coors warehouse in time, fill up the back of the truck with the suds, and off they go, figuring they've got this one nailed shut as easy as that. Along the way, Bandit scores a pretty young woman in a bride's dress, and he stops to pick her up. He finds out her name is Carrie (Sally Field) and she needs a ride but at first he's not sure what it is that she's running from. As time goes on, they become aware of a Texas Sheriff named Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) following them, even though they're not in his jurisdiction. As it turns out, Carrie, who Bandit nicknames Frog, left Justice's son at the altar and is trying to get away from them as they're insisting that she stick to her agreement and marry his dumb son, Junior (Mike Henry).
With time running out and a whole lot of cops on their tale, Bandit and Frog have to keep the cops away from Snowman and his dog Fred so that they can get the beer back to Burdette in time to make their agreement and win the bet, but with Buford Justice on their tale and getting angrier by the second, it isn't going to be easy.
Smokey And The Bandit is not a complicated movie, in fact, it's more or less a ninety minute car crash with a brief romantic interlude or two and some bumbling cops scattered throughout but it's a fun film regardless. Burt Reynolds was at the top of his game in the late seventies and this is the film that really showed off his charisma and his charms better than anything he'd made before it. In fact, it's Reynolds interaction with the three other main performers - Sally Field, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Reed - that provides so much of the movies humor and wit. When Bandit interacts with Frog we see the sexual tension, when he interacts with Justice we see the snarky, smart ass attitude, and when Bandit interacts with Snowman we see the friendship and male bounding. This makes Bandit a really likeable lead, as we get to know a few different sides to him, all three of which are equally entertaining.
Gleason is also fantastic as Buford T. Justice. He improvised a lot of his lines and added bits and pieces to the script and his knack for comedic timing and acidic wit is a bit part of what makes the humor work. Justice is a true bastard of a man, he doesn't care that Frog doesn't want to marry his son, he's only concerned about saving face after she humiliated him in front of the whole town. In fact, he puts his son down so often, going so far as to declare that 'there's no way you came from my loins, and the first thing I'm gonna do when we get home is punch your momma in the mouth!' that it fast becomes obvious that his chasing her down has nothing to do with his Junior's feeling whatsoever. The fact that Junior is too dumb to realize this doesn't make either of them anymore sympathetic and of course, this ensures that we're always rooting for Bandit, Snowman and Frog to evade the cops as the movie plays out, even if they are causing a whole lot of trouble along the way.
Hal Needham's direction is solid and his experience as a stunt coordinator shows in the countless car crashes, chases, high speed pursuits and jumps that are used throughout the movie. Needham would go on to work with Burt Reynolds a lot, in Hooper, in the sequel to this film, the two Cannonball Run movies, and Stroker Ace. The cinematography isn't flashy but it is effective and it captures all the action that the journey entails as well as Reynolds' and Field's facial expressions during some of their conversations quite well. Of course, the score and the three songs used throughout the movie, performed by Jerry Reed, fit the tone of the movie perfectly and the theme song, East Bound And Down, is now instantly identifiable (and was even recently covered by bands like The Supersuckers and Charley Horse).
Smokey And The Bandit gets a nice 1.85.1 widescreen VC-1 encoded 1080p high definition transfer. The image quality is decent if not mind blowing. Colors look quite nice, the reds in particular really pop, and detail is pretty good throughout. You'll notice a lot of texture in the various outfits that are worn in the movie and in facial close ups, much more than DVD could ever offer. Black levels are strong if not quite as deep as you might want them to be. The image is fairly clean save for some minor specks here and there and edge enhancement is held firmly in check, only creeping into the frame occasionally and never to the point where it's overly distracting. The outdoor scenes look a little brighter and cleaner than the indoor scenes do and some minor crush is apparent in a few darker moments but as so much of the movie takes place in the sunny outdoors, this isn't really much of an issue. Universal probably could have done a little more cleanup work than they have here but overall the movie looks pretty good.
The main audio option on this disc is an English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. The movie sounds good for what it is - a remixed version of some older sound elements that were never intended for surround usage - but it's left some room for improvement. Bass response isn't as strong as you might hope for with only the engine revs of the Trans-Am commanding much strength there. Directional effects are frequent during the chase scenes but absent in most others, but dialogue comes through clean, clear and without any issues. The levels are properly balanced and there are no issues with hiss and only some minor and infrequent issues with distortion, but you might find yourself wishing there was a little more activity in the rear channels at times. Subtitles are provided in English SDH, French and Spanish and a dubbed French DTS 2.0 track is also included. A lossless mono option would have been nice for purists, but that didn't happen.
The main extra feature on this release is a twenty-minute documentary entitled Loaded Up And Truckin' - The Making Of Smokey And The Bandit in which director Hal Needham is interviewed alongside stars Burt Reynolds and Paul Williams. This is a pretty interesting look back at the origins of the film, with Needham and Reynolds having the most to say. Interestingly enough, Buford T. Justice was based on a real police officer that Reynolds knew through his father and the premise for the film came from an experience that Needham had bringing Coors beer across state lines while making Gator a few years earlier. He wrote the script with Jerry Reed in mind for the lead figuring he could make a million dollar b-movie but when Reynolds came on board, the project got a whole lot bigger. They discuss Jackie Gleason's character and his tendency to ad lib a few of his lines, and there are some cool press conference/archival clips in here of Reynolds and Gleason from 1977 in which Reynolds states that the movie is 'a lot like sex' in that it 'makes you feel good.' Reynolds also covers how Sally Field was his choice for Frog, not the studios, and how Jerry Reed came up with the idea for the now famous theme song so quickly. This was a pretty enjoyable featurette, this reviewer's only complaint being that it could have been longer and involved a few more participants. This extra isn't new, it's appeared on previous releases, but it's worth revisiting.
A second featurette, also carried over from previous releases, is entitled Snowman, What's Your 20? is videotaped piece in which you ride shotgun with a 'real life trucker' and learn where some of the CB handles and slang came from that was used throughout the movie. This is pretty amusing and worth a watch as it provides a few laughs and also proves to be reasonably interesting at the same time.
Rounding out the extras on the disc is the film's theatrical trailer and the disc's only two high definition extras, 100 Years Of Universal: The 70s and 100 Years Of Universal: The Lot. the first runs eleven minutes and features clips from the studio's various hits from the decade, such as The Sting and Jaws as well as some talking head interview bits with Steven Spielberg among others. The second runs nine and a half minutes and it's kind of an interesting tour of the Universal lot with the likes of Dan Aykroyd, Ivan Reitman and John Landis pointing out various locations of interest. Both are moderately interesting though not in the least bit Smokey And The Bandit related. Menus and chapter stops for the feature are also included. The disc is also Blu-ray Live enabled and as it's a combo pack release, it also includes a DVD version.
It might not be deep but as far as pure, unadulterated escapism goes, Smokey And The Bandit is pretty tough to beat. A bunch of great performances anchor the film but Needham ensures that there's enough action and insanity to keep the visuals fun and interesting too. Universal's Blu-ray release won't floor you but it's decent and even if it only recycles the existing extras rather than giving us anything new of substance, this release comes highly recommended based more on the strength of the movie than anything else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.