We lost a cinema legend with the passing of Burt Reynolds at the age of 82. He had a remarkable career spanning over six decades. He starred in a handful of classic films and a boatload of bad ones. But for the most part, his movies are entertaining despite the rampant sexism and Burt’s occasional lack of effort.
I’ve always enjoyed Burt Reynold’s movies. But I still have some holes in my viewing of his filmography, although I imagine few people have even seen a quarter of his astonishing 186 credits on IMDB. So with that being said, I made a point to catch up with the quintessential Burt Reynolds movie that somehow I hadn’t seen before.
Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
I’m very late to the game on this one. Everyone has pretty much seen it and formed their opinions, so there’s not much to add to the discussion, except that I recently have been catching up with a lot of the bootlegging movies of the ’70s lately, including Gator, which Burt indifferently directed and starred in. And I can sincerely say Smokey and the Bandit is the best bootlegging movie ever made. Technically Untouchables is about bootlegging, but you know, it’s not the same. No, what I mean by a Bootlegging Movie is a particular brand of movie involving lots of muscle cars, car chases down dirt roads, crashes, babes, and fiddle music. Got to have the fiddle music.
The wafer thin plot involves Burt and buddy Jerry Reed accepting a bet to haul a truckful of Coors (?) to Georgia. I’m still not sure why Coors is illegal here, but I’m guessing that in an effort to appeal to a wide audience, and boy did this movie appeal to a wide audience, they opted not to haul moonshine as that’s not nearly as wholesome as good ol’ American Coors. They are chased by the late, great Jackie Gleason having a ball playing one of the most foul-mouthed, loathsome cops this side of Harvey Keitel in The Bad Lieutenant. Every scene he’s apoplectic and seemingly on the verge of a major heart attack.
How influential is this movie? Very. How successful was this movie? Apparently it grossed $300 million worldwide on a $4.3 million dollar budget. Yeah, that’s astonishing for a goofy car crash movie that’s 99% dudes driving in automobiles. And that’s 1977 money, where the average ticket cost around $2. So yeah, everyone had seen this movie except me. Buford T Justice is still probably the best example of the small-town crooked sheriff that often turns up in these kinds of movies.
What’s interesting to me is how much of this movie was blatantly stolen by Dukes of Hazzard a mere two years later. The rabble-rousing but good-hearted hero. The scuzzy sheriff, good ol’ boys named Cletus and Enis. Car chases, including river jumps, and even prominent screen time given to a basset hound. There’s also the theme song, here sung by Jerry Reed, that outlines the plot of the movie even as it’s unfolding.
I enjoyed Smokey and the Bandit. There’s lots to appreciate here. Jackie Mason’s over the top performance, complemented by Burt’s standard cool as a cucumber screen presence. This is the prototypical mustachioed Burt character, with his bemused, Southern boy heartbreaker role. Sally Field is enjoyable as the kooky runaway bride that randomly jumps into Burt’s car, just so we have a love interest. And Andy Williams is amusing as the Enis Bothers mini-me.
There’s really no rhyme or reason for much of the movie. But that’s besides the point. It’s just an excuse for car chases, mucho car crashes, CB Radios, country music, and Burt and Jerry Reed hauling ass and thumbing their noses at The Man. A lot of the jokes and sight gags have been stolen by later movies, but it’s still enjoyable. The best joke is the cumulative damage to Jackie Gleason’s car as he improbably continues to chase after Burt.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s still a ton of Burt Movies I’ve been meaning to get to. I still haven’t seen any of the ’80s Elmore Leonard cops and robbers movies, and practically none of Burt’s early Westerns. What with his legendary mustache, I’m surprised Burt didn’t make that many of those made for TNT Channel Western movies that seemingly all star Kris Kristofferson or Sam Elliott. Apparently he made a couple, which I will keep an eye out for when they pop up in the Amazon Prime Torture Dungeon, like this one did.
For my money, Burt’s best movie is Boogie Nights,although he’s not really the star or sole-reason it’s so good. But he deserved his Oscar nomination for effortlessly portraying the earnestly sleazy Jack Horner, another iconic character in his cinematic repertoire. I’d also highly recommend Deliverance, as Burt’s second best performance. I unequivocally love Cannonball Run and enjoy Striptease and The Longest Yard and his only on-screen team-up with Clint Eastood in City Heat, which should’ve been much better. I’m amused by some of his ’90s garbage action and video game movies and, in general, just enjoy him popping up in movies.
I read a recent review that suggested that Burt’s movies were meant to be enjoyed with a beer in your hand. And so I raise my bootleg Coors to you, Burt. And I’ll continue to enjoy your movies.