A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a film about a charismatic, prodigal figure embarking on a long perilous journey to deliver precious and unlawful cargo, while pursued by an evil force bent on our hero's destruction hit cinemas and wowed audiences, taking a huge amount of money and consequently opening the door to an extended franchise. That film wasn't Star Wars.
I am of course talking about the second highest grossing film of 1977- Smokey & The Bandit, and not that other film that launched that other behemoth of a franchise.
Now more than thirty years have passed since its original release, but Smokey and the Bandit retains its ineffable charm, largely thanks to its cast. Burt Reynolds reminds us why he was such a big star in the '70s, Jackie Gleason is on iconic form and Sally Field who plays it flirtatious and sexy, and together with Reynolds achieves an irresistible on-screen chemistry that probably has a lot to do with their off-screen relationship. That chemistry is the only thing, other than the on-screen crashes that meshes everything together, and the only time the script feels anything like a real script is when the two are fizzing at one another- a situation that becomes infinitely more forgivable when you consider that this was meant to be a B Movie caper.
Smokey & The Bandit is the archetypal cross-country chase caper- in fact about 90% of the film's interest lies in its driving set-pieces. At the end of the day, it's just one long chase, punctuated by various expensive looking, though never fatal car crashes and brief opportunities for some good ole boy humour- there is little time to really become invested in the characters of the semblance of a plot, but that is sort of the point. Really, Smokey & The Bandit could and should have been subtitled "Or 101 Ways to Crash a Police Cruiser", given that most of the scenes end with Jackie Gleason's Sheriff Buford T Justice shaking his fist at that sumbitch Bandit from the driver's seat of what's left of his car.
At the end of the day, it's a harmless, entertaining yarn. It would never win any awards (though it did pick up an Oscar nomination for best editing), but for pure unrestrained joy it's difficult to match, let alone beat. And in star Jerry Reed's "Eastbound and Down", the film can claim one of the most memorable of original theme tunes. It's also a reminder that Burt Reynolds could somehow convince that his incredibly smarmy act- which would be instantly unlikeable in anyone else- could actually work in some films that didn't employ him in a post-modern, knowing fashion. In Smokey, he oozes charisma and cool, and it's surprisingly easy to ignore the fact that he is clearly just a little too invested in himself for comfort.
This is very much a tale of success in spite of circumstances- the source material, being some 33 years old and counting, is dealt with faithfully and lovingly: colours pop like never before, and the level of detail is a definite improvement on the DVD release I also own, even if skin tones are a little orange for my liking. But then I suppose we are talking about Burt Reynolds. Elsewhere, the film still holds a lot of grain, and the period-specific faded blacks, but both elements make it look very much of its own time, so they aren't terribly off-putting.
The audio transfer is another pretty much thankless task, thanks to the ravages of time, and everything sounds just a little flat, which is particularly unfortunate for the action-heavy chase and crash sequences, which would have been given a very welcome injection from a cleaner audio track.