“Bandit? This is Mr B., and I'm gearjammin' this rollin' refinery, you got another smokey on the rubber?”
I’m surprised I am not more of a fan of Burt Reynolds. Perhaps his career trajectory, by his own admission taking roles that were often more fun than challenging, means we try to focus on his more critically successful roles, like in “Deliverance,” “Boogie Nights,” “At Long Last Love” (with hindsight) and “The Longest Yard.” However, that kind of self-correction does overlook the fact that, if you want a film that guarantees to put a smile on your face, you really can’t do much better than one that gives Burt Reynolds the ability to play a version of himself – that kind of charisma is too hard to replicate.
In watching “Smokey and the Bandit,” you are reminded of a lot of films that will come later, particularly the outlandish car chases of “The Blues Brothers,” but also of “Fast and the Furious.” The strange vernacular of CB radio, a powerful device that links whole groups of people to help the Bandit’s shipment across state lines, entered general usage after the film, no longer the reserve of convoys. Sally Field, shedding the image created of her in TV shows “Gidget” and “The Flying Nun,” plays a runaway bride that drives as well as the bandit, and Jackie Gleason’s sheriff Buford T. Justice, spouting the “sonbitch” swearing that was woven into the script at Reynolds’ suggestion, having been inspired by his father, became the basis of Boss Hogg and “The Dukes of Hazzard,” the stars of whom also have roles in “Smokey and the Bandit.” With that series, and with Roger Corman making a rip-off film named “Smokey Bites the Dust,” such a thing as “Smokey-sploitation” can be said to exist.
As told by his daughter, Alfred Hitchcock was, apparently, a fan of “Smokey and the Bandit.” When I first heard about it, my first action was to try and rationalise it: the film was released by Universal Pictures, and it would be rather odd for one of its largest shareholders, through the sale of “Psycho” and his TV show, to talk down one of its releases. Hitchcock was also known as a collector of fine art, most notably Paul Klee, the sort of thing that requires contemplation with a furrowed brow.
And yet, the plot of the film is hinged on a “MacGuffin” as big as any of those in Hitchcock’s films, and probably one of the MacGuffin-iest of them all: Coors beer, more specifically Coors Banquet Beer, using “banquet” in the same sense as the KFC Boneless Banquet.
Bootlegging beer is something rather alien outside of the United States, but in an age where anything can be bought everywhere at any time, the idea that Coors could only be bought in eleven states in the US to 1976 is already rather strange, while the company’s decision not to pasteurise its beer made it illegal to bring it into any further states. However, because it tasted nice, it became a national sport to try and take some home with you, creating the narrative timebomb of “Smokey and the Bandit”: Cledus Snow and the Bandit had to get the beer to its destination within 28 hours before the beer went off. Coors only started nationwide distribution across America in the mid-1980s, using refrigerated trucks.