Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.
In 1977, Hal Needham released Smokey and the Bandit, which starred Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed, Jackie Gleason, Mike Henry, Pat McCormick, Paul Williams, Macon McCalman, Susan McIver, Alfie Wise, George Reynolds, and Sonny Shroyer. The film grossed $300 million at the box office and was the second highest-grossing film of 1977. Nominated for the American Film Institute’s lists of Top 100 Comedy Films, Top 100 Thrilling Films and Top 100 Heroes and Villains, the film spawned a series of television films in 1994, with Brian Boom replacing Reynolds. Alfred Hitchcock once named it as his favorite film ever made.
Truck driver Bo “Bandit” Darville is offered $80,000 to bootleg four hundred cases of Coors beer from Texarkana to the Southern Classic truck rodeo in Georgia within 28 hours. To do so, Bandit recruits fellow trucker Cledus “Snowman” Snow to make the journey with him. Acting as a spotter for Snowman’s rig in his Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, Bandit eventually picks up runaway bride Carrie and becomes the target of the groom’s father, Sheriff Buford T. Justice.
The film that helped to kick off the citizen’s band radio fad in the 1970s, Smokey and the Bandit is a particularly fun film, especially with the way the plot works. Though smuggling beer across state lines is a bit of an archaic plot nowadays, the film is able to take something as old as that and have a lot of fun with it. Everything in the film is enjoyable, from the interactions between the Bandit and Sheriff Justice and the chase between the two of them to the humor that the film delivers to its audience. One particularly funny moment is when Snowman gets beaten up by bikers at a truck stop and he eventually stumbles outside to see all their bikes lined up. So he runs over them while he leaves the parking lot. At its core, the film is essentially one that’s meant to bring enjoyment to its audience and it succeeds spectacularly.
As a character, Bandit is pretty interesting as a lovable rogue who has plenty of people willing to help him out wherever he goes. Something also has to be said about how he’s the person that Big Enos goes to in order to get the Coors into Texarkana, showing that he’s got quite a reputation for being good at what he does: evading the cops. The guy is also notable for what he does in the end. After he’s able to get the beer to the rodeo, he sees that Sheriff Justice is there looking for him and he outs himself as the guy the man has been looking for, rather than Big and Little Enos. This shows that he ultimately favors a fair fight and actually respects his adversaries.
Still though, it’s entertaining to note how much Sheriff Justice goes through just to catch up to and eventually try to arrest the Bandit with him working to pursue his quarry all over the country, even when his car ends up a smoldering wreck. However, what should also be mentioned is the reason he’s chasing the guy in the first place. It’s not because he suspects that the Bandit is doing something illegal, though he is. He’s chasing him for personal reasons because the Bandit wooed and picked up his future daughter-in-law. The film presents one giant nuisance who goes through so much because his quarry slighted him personally. Granted, the man is a corrupt country hick who doesn’t know when to quit and thinks chasing someone over multiple county lines is a good idea just because he’s in “hot pursuit,” but it’s pretty noteworthy that he’s engaging in an illegal pursuit just to get back a runaway bride.
However, Sheriff Justice isn’t the villain in the film. Rather, he’s more of a giant pain, nuisance and essential road block in the way of the Bandit achieving his goals. Instead, the real villain of the film is the Bandit’s time limit to get the beer back. The entire film is a race against the clock, with the Bandit trying to get the beer back within the 48 hours that Big Enos set. While the Bandit is able to get around everything Justice throws at him quite easily, the time doesn’t stop and he’s losing valuable seconds every time he has to get around the man.