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DVD Review

DVD cover

Smokey and the Bandit
The Complete Collection
(2020 Reissue)


Starring: Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Reed
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
5 030697 044518
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 09 November 2020

Smokey and the Bandit started out as a simple vehicle stunt exploitation movie to be helmed by Hal Needham, budgeted at a million dollars. Universal knew Needham could deliver on the crash and dive ballet as he was Burt Reynolds’ stunt director but there was a show of hand wringing on whether or not he could “handle actors” as if the exploitation film was going to fly in Royal Shakespearian troupe members from England. Somewhere in this promotional sturm und drang Burt Reynolds looked down from his throne as the world’s number one boxoffice star and took interest in his pal’s project. He would star and bring in a host of his star pals and help out his buddy’s directorial debut.

Let it be said Reynolds was already known as a take charge actor who basically ran the set, directing everyone front and back of the lense. I witnessed this once up close and personal in 1995 on the set of The Hunter's Moon where Reynold’s suggestions to the director had been basically shit-canned with impunity. I tried to warn the guy but hubris of title had gone to his head. On the set, Reynolds worked cues, emotional triggers, tone, pace, blocking and breathing. (Yes, actors must know when and when not to breath.) The director found me in the back of the crew (I was only the writer and nobody listened to me) beside a congenial Keith Carradine (an actor’s actor, by the way) waiting for his entry cue. The director crept up and murmured, “Nobody’s listening to me”... And why would they when they could be in harness with this superstar?

Smokey is a significant movie for many reasons. It represents the triumph of American heartland entertainment over coastal sophisto dilettantism; it is the truest American export for every continent; it asserts a lovable “bad boy” over coastal pretence; it showcases Burt Reynolds’ Twainian grin to a world, weary of existential dourness; it inaugurates the updated vehicle chase movie (since Hal Roach silents) which is an American cinematic shibboleth; it asserts, in cold measurable gelt what the audience of the world loves in its ultimate escape; it asserts motion over meditative stasis which is Homeric and Mesopotamian in predecessor root; it is the hunter-gatherer rising above the slayer in the prize of grain over flesh for dinner; it honours the deadline before grain spoils.

The grain is 400 cases of Coors beer loaded aboard a super Peterbilt tractor trailer truck headed from Texarkana to Atlanta. Because Coors had no preservatives the beer would spoil in over 28 hours. Because free trade is a myth of American monopoly minded mugwumps, crossing the Mississippi is a Federal crime constituting bootlegging. In real life, President Dwight Eisenhower had his Coors flown in to the White House by dark military jets. Two good ol’ boy millionaires (Paul Williams & Pat McCormick) have bet they can wheel theirs in to Atlanta and know Smokey is their best possible mule.

Reynolds was always hated by Hollywood elites. This movie is one of the big reasons. It made back 34 times its budget. It has never really been out of distribution and only Universal accountants know the true number. Chinese hackers don’t have an algorithm for this. They should stick to Pentagon secrets. The writers (James Lee Barrett, Charles Shyer and Alan Mandel) were immediately blasted into A-list status. Forty years later it is still listed as their prime bell ringer on IMDb.

Burt Reynolds’ delivery as Smokey is insolent and off handed, a little too fast and clearly of the “don’t give a shit” school of acting.

When SNL’s impression ace Norm Macdonald selects a Burt Reynolds caricature, it is this Burt with added insult that this Burt decides to change his name to Turd Ferguson. (“Yeah, because it’s a funny name.”) Turd Ferguson is the essence of Reynolds’ acting style in all three Smokey movies. Turd Ferguson is Smokey. (

It is not known what Coors Beer contributed for product placement in this film. I’m going to go full cynic and say they probably underwrote the whole budget with bonuses.

Smokey’s sidekick is Jerry Reed, an electric guitar country singer known for his heavy boot tapping beat. Imagine a truck stop. Imagine the music coming over the speakers. Jerry Reed.

Reynolds liked to work with a crew and cast who liked to laugh along with him. The man was blessed with karmic electricity. A woman, my wife at the time, was hugging me on the set (lots of hugs on a Burt set; the forlorn director I mentioned earlier didn’t hug, His rigidity was painful to watch) anyway, I was being hugged by my then wife (how many has it been, John? I lose count) and Burt comes ambling onto the set. Without seeing him, she shivered, head to toe. She turned to see him and gasped. More electricity than Boulder Dam, I announced. He grinned. He knew it was his burden to bear and his lot in life to do the best he could.

Jackie Gleason plays Smokey’s nemesis Buford T. Justice. His slow witted muscle head son is played by Mike Henry, former Tarzan and Pittsburgh Steelers star. No doubt Henry and Reynolds were stunt actor and football pals and Henry enjoyed the chance to do doofus comedy. Reynolds had, sometime or other, broken every bone in his body, and no doubt Henry had his war wounds too plus a few bites from Cheetah. (

There is a name overlooked in this team. Producer Mort Engelberg, known for his tight fisted administration trusted by MCA Universal but also his creation of “events” that just seemed to spontaneously happen. Controversy: could Hal Needham direct? What if he couldn’t? Would the action work, the car crashes cohere? This is literally wondering what the bear could do in the woods. Engelberg would later ply his craft to Presidential candidate Bill Clinton with “spontaneous” celebrations springing up out of nowhere. If anyone helped Clinton get elected, I can’t think of who it is. If you need help in Hollywood, nobody does it better than the Black Tower of MCA Universal and Engelberg was the premier knight errant from Lew Wasserman’s top floor.

Is Smokey funny? Only a corpse wouldn’t laugh. And Burt doesn’t care if you’re laughing with him or at him. Sally Field is his real life love interest and in Smokey and the Bandit Ride Again she wrote her own script telling him they were breaking up. That hasn’t happened too often in showbiz history. As in never. Burt could fearlessly do reality therapy up on the screen for all to see, subtitled in six other languages.

Fabulous Films / Fremantle Media has delivered a crisp image as lucent as if shot yesterday. It makes it hard to remember most of these filmmakers are gone. There are no extras. That is wise. A stuntwoman was so badly injured she spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Burt honoured her at the time and said no movie was worth that. He was right.


John Huff

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