The top definition of a legend is someone or something whose coolness extends beyond all space and time. I think it’s a pretty accurate description of the movie “Smokey and the Bandit” and the characters that made the movie so wildly popular, which was perfectly cast, from Burt Reynolds as Bandit, right down to Fred, the dog.
In the beginning, Hal Needham encountered great difficulty getting any studios or producers to take his project seriously. In the film industry, he was known as a stuntman, not a director. It was after his friend Burt Reynolds agreed to portray Bandit in the film that he managed to obtain studio attention. Smokey and the Bandit went on to be the second highest grossing film that year, second only to the original Star Wars.
Sadly, on September 6, 2018, “The Bandit” Burt Reynolds passed away and joined many of his fellow cast members who have also died, including Jerry Reed (Snowman), Jackie Gleason (Sheriff Buford T. Justice) and Pat McCormick (Big Enos Burdette).
My boyfriend John and I sat down this week to watch this classic trucking movie and reminisce a bit about the first time we saw it back in 1977. For us, it’s one of those movies we can watch over and over and still enjoy. John not only fell in love with the trucking part of the movie, but he fell in love with the car, as well. So much so, he owned a 1974 Trans Am for 28 years, and his CB handle came from the personalized license plate on that car. The car was not black, like in the movie, but red instead. When he ordered his personalized plate, it was supposed to read M R TA (with spaces between the first 2 letters) – an acronym that stood for My Red Trans Am. But, when the plate came in, it said MR TA instead. He kept the plate and his friends started calling him Mr. TA. Later, he dropped the Mr. and his handle became TA (still is).
The opening scene of the movie is unforgettable! With the stacks sticking up in the sky, black smoke rolls when that CAT fires up… the slack adjuster releases the brakes… the driveshaft starts spinning… the truck starts rolling down the road… and Jerry Reed is singing about the truck-driving legend from the south – a man called Bandit, from Atlanta, GA. Every gear-jammer knows his name and swears he’s got ice water running in his veins, a foot like lead, nerves of steel, and he’s going to go to glory riding 18 wheels. Rolling through the night, the truck isn’t all shiny and lit-up, but she still has a presence.
I’m willing to bet this scene has hooked many drivers, and that some of those drivers are still out here today. Our friend Mickey Gwillim made a post on Facebook the day Burt passed away, saying, “He is the reason thousands have run all night and did what someone said can’t be done!” So true.
The adventure begins when a wealthy Texan and his son hire Bandit to bootleg Coors beer to Georgia for their refreshment. At the time, Coors was regarded as one of the finest beers in the United States, but it could not be legally sold east of the Mississippi River. When Bandit picks up Snowman and tells him that they have an opportunity to make $80,000 he asks, “What do we have to do, kidnap the Pope?” After finding out what they really have to do, he asks, “What the hell do we want to go to Texas and haul beer back here for?” To which Bandit famously replies, “For the good old American life. For the money, for the glory and for the fun – but mostly for the money.”
For this haul, they aren’t going to run team, but instead split up – Bandit is going to run blocker in a sexy black Pontiac Trans Am. The drive to Texas is uneventful, but on the way back to Atlanta, the fun begins. When Bandit stops to pick up a runaway bride in the middle of the road, he gets Sheriff Buford T. Justice and his son Jr. in hot pursuit. The chemistry between Bandit and Carrie, played by Sally Field, is immediate. As she is getting out of her wedding dress and into something more comfortable, she is chattering away the entire time. Snowman comes on the CB and asks Bandit, “Is she wearing a wedding dress?” Bandit replies, “She was!” After a good laugh, Snowman asks, “What’s she wearin’ now?”
Bandit gave Carrie the handle “Frog” because she hops around like a frog (and he’d like to jump her). The end of Frog’s ride is supposed to be at a “choke and puke” but as she is saying goodbye, you can see it’s not what she wanted at all. After Bandit orders a couple hamburgers and a Coke to go, in comes Sheriff Buford T. Justice, who orders a Diablo sandwich and a Dr. Pepper. Bandit has a conversation with him before grabbing his sandwiches and running out the door.
The Bandit starts encountering more cops and the hap-hazard way they pursue him ends up with most of them wrecked or totaled along the way. The fun continues when they jump a bridge that is out, leaving his pursuers in the water, and then literally dropping into a local football game. Later, they play a little hide-and-seek when a convoy of trucks conceals the Trans Am in the “rocking chair” as the sheriff passes by. The action is non-stop while they are headed for the big payoff.
As they get closer to the finish line, a helicopter joins the chase, and Bandit is ready to admit defeat. They gave it their best shot – and they almost made it. Bandit tells the Snowman, “It’s me they’re after. They don’t even know Cledus Snow exists!” His reply to that is, “Oh they don’t! Well, I’ll tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re just going to introduce them to the boy. So, move over there good buddy because the Snowman is coming through!” After they get the beer to its destination with 10 minutes to spare, Big Enos gives them a Cadillac for their getaway. Going out the driveway they pass the Sheriff who has chased them all the way from Texas. Describing himself as Big Enos, Bandit stops and says look over your left shoulder. Once the Sheriff realizes it is Bandit, the chase resumes, ending the movie, and setting up the next one (Part 2).
The movie came out in a time when diesel fuel was .47 cents a gallon and two hamburgers and a Coke was $1.50. Burt Reynolds made outrunning the cops look like too much fun. This was a comedy that ended up becoming a classic, and it was the reason so many drivers fell in love with trucking. The CB was the cell phone of yesterday, with a pretty short range, so you had to be within a few miles of each other to be able to run with your friends. Pay phones kept you loosely tied to home, and drivers would use hand signals and flash their headlights to warn of a cop or obstacle ahead. It was a different time, for sure.
This classic movie will make you laugh, it can make you cry, but it will surely make you smile. As Bandit said in the beginning, “It’s for the good old American life. For the money, for the glory and for the fun – but mostly for the money.” The good old American life isn’t what it was in 1977. Technology has changed so many things, but one thing technology can do is make sure that movies we love, made in a different time, will be enjoyed by many generations. If you haven’t already, grab your honey and a bowl of popcorn and sit down and watch this trucker comedy one more time. If you’ve never seen the movie, be prepared to be entertained by antics most of us only wish we could do.
Let’s be real – how many of us have been heading east and cranked up the radio to Jerry Reed’s East Bound and Down? It’s hard not to get into it. “East bound and down, loaded up and truckin. We gonna do what they say can’t be done. We got a long way to go, and a short time to get there, I’m east bound just watch ol’ Bandit run. Keep your foot hard on the pedal, son never mind them brakes…” – I’m sure you know the rest! RIP Bandit – you are a legend, and you will surely be missed.