Directed by Hal Needham
The plot is simple enough. In an effort to win a challenge and make some easy money Bo “Bandit” Darville (Burt Reynolds) and Cledus “Snowman” Snow attempt to run from Atlanta to Texarkana to pick up a truckload of Coors and take it back to Atlanta in under 28 hours. Along the way he meets Carrie “Frog” (Sally Field) who is running from a wedding she does not want. She was taken by the good looks of Junior Justice (Mike Henry) but now realizes he’s kind of dumb and she just doesn’t want to do it. Not one to let a wedding he paid for go to waste, they’re all pursued across the country by his father Sherriff Buford T. Justice and Junior.
It’s one of the two greatest movies to come out in 1977. The other one had something to do with spaceships and space wizards. 1977 was indeed a great year for classic movies.
This movie came during the height of Burt Reynolds fame as well as during the maximum power of his mustache. The character of Bandit exuded masculinity and cool. He was completely in control of the situation while driving around in the coolest car. He was the guy every guy wanted to be when this movie came out.
That Pontiac Trans Am with the Firebird emblazoned on the hood is quite possibly one of the most iconic movie cars in film history. Not many cars can be thought of as characters in the movie they’re in but when you think of the stars of this movie this car pops into your head guaranteed. It was as much of a star of the film as Burt Reynolds or Sally Field. It looked beautiful and completely different from anything else. The rev of the engine was raw and strong.
Burt basically played Burt Reynolds in this movie. It’s what many actors do. They are themselves up on the screen, and there’s nothing wrong with that so long as it works in the movie. And here it works so very well. He’s perfect as a charming rogue. It’s my understanding much of the lines in the movie were adlibbed which could be the reason it feels like it’s him.
On another note, you can’t really tell the lines are improvised. What the characters say and do feels like part of a thought through script. I’ve seen a few movies where going in I’ve known that they were largely improvised. I’ve never gotten that feeling here.
Viewed as a romantic comedy it’s not bad. The chemistry between the two leads is strong. And for good reason. In real life they eventually started dating. In the context of the story Frog is attracted to the roguish free spirit of Bandit. Frog is the girl next-door type. She’s also the girl next-door gone slightly bad. Bandit is charmed by the hitchhiker he picked up. Their real life attraction translated well to the screen.
Jackie Gleason as Sherriff Buford T. Justice is a ham. He chews up every scene and every line. You like and maybe even at times feel a little sorry for the slightly racist Sheriff Justice. The chase isn’t for the son but for the sheriff because of some misplaced pride.
What really sells this movie are the chase scenes. The chase scenes and stunts are epic. The road racing and the river jumps and the comedy crashes have been imitated ever since they first graced the screen in this movie.
Director Hal Needham was a stunt man before this. In fact, this was his first effort as a director. He puts every bit of technical knowledge he had into making them some of the most visually enjoyable stunts and chases you can find. They are fine examples of technical execution and visual beauty.
If it wasn’t for Needham’s friendship with Burt Reynolds, this movie would never have been made in the way it was. When Reynolds decided to star in it, the ball got rolling on making this a mainstream film. Originally it was to be a B-movie and if it had been we would have really lost out. Reynolds read the script (reportedly first written on legal pad) and we got this amazing film.
This movie certainly deserves its classic status. It has plenty of humor, great action and iconic characters. If for some reason you haven’t seen it you should.