The Bandit (Burt Reynolds) as he is known over his Citizen's Band radio, is notorious as one of the fastest drivers around, and if you want something transported from A to B with the maximum of speed and the minimum of police involvement, he is the man to speak to. So that's what Southern businessmen Big Enos (Pat McCormick) and Little Enos (Paul Williams) do, all because they want a consignment of beer taken to an event they are holding, and that brand is banned from being carried across certain state lines, as they have discovered when the most recent attempt resulted in the truck driver getting busted by patrolmen. At first the Bandit isn't interested, but when the cash reward increases dramatically, that interest is piqued...
If it had not been for a certain space opera called Star Wars, Smokey and the Bandit would have been the biggest movie of 1977, not that it was much less of a money maker as despite the critics and cultural commentators turning their collective noses up at the mere idea, the general public across the globe could not get enough of this action comedy. Reynolds was already a huge star when he made it, but his role here cemented his position as the biggest movie celebrity of the nineteen-seventies: nobody could touch him for popularity and watching this it was evident why with his easygoing charm never curdling into smarm, and the overall sense that you were not going to be subjected to anything remotely taxing here, just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Almost literally, as about ninety percent of the movie featured moving vehicles where the audience was a de facto passenger in the Bandit's car, maybe sitting in the back seat to get the best view of his antics and hard driving skills. There was a plot, and it was simple as could be, basically follow Burt as he escorted a truck full of beer to his destination as quickly as possible, said cab driven by Snowman, played by country music star Jerry Reed who wrote and performed the songs on the sound track, including the fiendishly catchy hit East Bound and Down. Reynolds' main squeeze at the time Sally Field was the actual character who was his passenger, the dancer Carrie who was on the run from an unwise marriage proposal.
It was as uncomplicated as a Charlie Chaplin short, and like those the slapstick was the main draw, with a host of vehicles getting smashed up in the wake of the Bandit's Trans Am, all in a succession of frequently extravagant stunts. That was down to this being the brainchild of stuntman turned director Hal Needham, starting a brief run of crowdpleasing action flicks that satisfied the sort of moviegoers who would be described as lowbrow by those less impressed, not that they would have been bothered, indeed the lack of pretension was something of a badge of pride both in the films and those who appreciated them. But as every Chaplin effort needed an authority figure for him to battle against, so the Bandit is pitted against a corrupt lawman, the formidable Sheriff Buford T. Justice, played by a blustering Jackie Gleason.
Not that Justice had his airs and graces either, if anything he was a lot less sophisticated than the Bandit who always had that Southern charm and quick wit in his favour. They only share two scenes where they interact, one at the end and one halfway through, a comedy highlight as the Sheriff doesn't recognise his quarry since they've never met; the ways Reynolds demonstrates his superiority over this, to be frank, aggressive moron is expertly essayed by both stars. But another aspect that won so many to the movie's cause was part of that most seventies of communication devices, the CB radio. Here it is a method of creating a community of likeminded and helpful souls, and we watching were invited into that exclusive club as the radio was often depicted in the American movies to feature it. But mostly it was the feeling of being catered to by a safe pair of hands, no matter the crashing cars, that provided the attraction, don't worry, said Smokey and the Bandit, we're just here to entertain you, nothing more, so relax. Some have called it lazy, but in spite of the action it was really so laidback it was horizontal.