(first posted 2/28/2014) The fourth highest grossing film in the United States in 1977 was the Academy Award nominated Smokey & The Bandit.
Some people have ripped this film as being thin on plot; others have called it a documentary about life south of the Mason-Dixon Line. So let’s explore this car (and truck) heavy flick, all while giving those who have not seen it a glimpse into a movie whose complexity and intellect remains unparalleled within the history of cinema.
This movie trailer gives you an taste of this provocative film, but fails to effectively capture all the subtleties and nuances it contains. Let us dissect this flick to better examine it.
Burt Reynolds plays truck driver Bo “Bandit” Darville. He is hired by Big Enos Burdette and his son Little Enos to transport a truck load of Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas, back to Georgia in 28 hours. The rub? At the time, it was illegal to transport Coors east of the Mississippi River and a series of other truckers had been apprehended for trying to accomplish this feat for the Burdettes.
Needing a fast set of wheels to distract law enforcement, Reynolds’ character purchases this 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am. He enlists the help of fellow truck driver Cletus “The Snowman” Snow, played by country music singer Jerry Reed.
The trip to Texarkana is uneventful; soon after leaving for the return trip to Georgia, The Bandit encounters Frog, played by Sally Field. She is a runaway bride, sitting on the side of the road in her 1973 Chevrolet Impala coupe.
As Frog leaves, we are introduced to Sheriff Buford T. Justice, played by Jackie Gleason. Let’s take a look.
Gleason’s Justice is the stereotypical Southern sheriff, as seen in this clip. His persona–round, dumpy, and clipping words–reminds one of another fictional southern sheriff…
…Dodge pitchman “Sheriff” Joe Higgins. He’s fodder enough for his own article at some point.
As luck and script writing would have it, Frog has left her groom at the altar. Her groom? Sheriff Justice’s son, Junior. With this, the Sheriff begins his pursuit of the Mann Act-violating Bandit–all the way to Georgia.
Sheriff Justice’s steed?
A new, 1977 Pontiac LeMans.
While Sheriff Justice doesn’t deal well with the pressures of “high speed pursuit”, as seen above, his Pontiac LeMans (CC here) withstands the most abuse of any car in this entire movie.
Want proof? Here is the LeMans; Gleason literally drives the wheels off:
As an aside, here’s a curious bit of trivia. If you watched any of these clips, you heard a goodly number of phrases that still cannot be used on television in the United States. When Smokey & The Bandit first aired on television in the early 1980s, the Gleason phrase “sum bitch”–a regional butchering of “son of a bitch”–had to be dubbed out. In its place was the nonsensical “scum bum.” The voice over actor?
Henry Corden, the voice of cartoon character Fred Flintstone. As Fred Flintstone was modeled off Ralph Kramden, the Jackie Gleason character from the 1950s television show The Honeymooners, the tone and intonation of the dubbing was highly convincing.
Anyone who enjoys Colonnade sedans will love Smokey & the Bandit. While it is doubtful Pontiac sold very many LeMans police packages, if one views this show as realistic, it would seem nearly every county and highway patrol in five states purchased one of Pontiac’s heavy duty offerings.
Such as this one….
….or this one going for a wash.
For a little visual variety of sorts, and possibly an indicator of what car was about to be wrecked, the producers did branch out to use the 1975-era Plymouth Fury as another police car.
These Furys, as well as some of the LeMans units, have hood scoops. Likely this isn’t any rare engine venting package, but I could be wrong. While watching the movie (yes, I did have to diligently research this article), one shot seemed to indicate this may be a dummy scoop. Anyone with insight is encouraged to share their knowledge on this.
We also learn that every launched satellite will eventually fall back to Earth, such as this 1972 Plymouth Satellite (CC here).
Not all the police cars had hood scoops. These two 1967 Ford Galaxies (CC here), soon to be redecorated by a Kenworth road tractor, do not.
Since mentioning the Kenworth, it must be noted it was a redecorator of the highest fashion. About two seconds after this picture was taken, these motorcycles were doing their best imitation of a stack of pancakes.
The Kenworth even achieves a trifecta of sorts, as it gave the first dent to Sheriff Justice’s LeMans. I certainly hope the guy hired to drive that ’74 Ford Torino wagon was paid well for his work.
Other than Jackie Gleason upstaging every other cast member, the perceived star of the show is this 1977 Pontiac Trans Am.
On the DVD, there is a brief interview with both Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham, who directed this film. Originally, the film was going to be a B-movie played only in the Southern United States. As such, it took a lot of sweet talking by former stuntman Needham for Pontiac to cough up three Trans Ams and three LeManses. While I have read undocumented accounts of there being more than three Trans Ams, Needham stated three is all that were used.
The three Trans Am’s were used…
…and used hard. Needham stated that by the end of production, there really wasn’t much left of any of the three.
With Reynolds’ agreement to do the movie, and his insistence upon casting Gleason as Sheriff Justice, the movie became a larger venture. While the initial concern was it having a regional appeal, it would ultimately play as well in New York City and Chicago as it did Atlanta, Georgia, or Biloxi, Mississippi.
In the Reynolds portion of the interview, he stated the movie prompted Trans Am sales to jump “around 700%.” While they did jump, from 46,700 in 1976 to 69,000 for 1977 with another 93,300 for 1978, it wasn’t exactly 700%.
There are an abundance of cars in this movie. Further, as Pontiac has deliciously obvious product placement, anyone who delights in ’70s era Pontiac iron will experience visual ecstasy. Let’s take a look at some more cars found in the movie.
A 1975 Pontiac Grand Ville, seen toward the end of the movie. A CC for a 1973 Grand Ville convertible can be found here.
A Pontiac wagon from earlier in the decade. There has never been anything quite like late 1970s fashion in clothing.
A 1975 Pontiac Grand Prix with a Buick Electra behind it.
Not everything was Pontiac, as evidenced by this 1973 Plymouth Satellite coupe (CC here). It seems Plymouth was in a distant second for product placement.
Behind Sheriff Justice’s Pontiac, there is a nice looking 1965 or 1966 Ford Mustang fastback and a Toyota pickup.
As I am finishing this article while Big Truck Week is winding down, here is a Kenworth with a 1973 Dodge Polara patrol car.
If you watched the second clip above, this truck should look familiar. Banzai!
Smokey & The Bandit was the first of three movies in that franchise. I have only seen pieces of the second and none of the third; I plan to keep it that way. However, as our heroes were successful in delivering their truckload of Coors, the writers effectively poised themselves for a sequel. Both sequels used another Trans Am, not a Cadillac Eldorado, as seen below.
All pictures from the movie were acquired from www.imcdb.org