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On May 19, 1977, Universal premiered Burt Reynolds’ Smokey and the Bandit at the Radio City Music Hall in New York. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review of the action comedy is below.
One of the last American frontiers is the open road, and the men who drive the 18-wheelers across these paved wildernesses are the ones who will provide our modern legends, according to Jerry Reed’s main credit song for Smokey and the Bandit, a Rastar production for Universal.
And, like most legends, the film is based almost solely on derring-do feats with little concern with substance and/or reality. It’s a merry chase caper story line in which action is substituted for character or plot development.
Burt Reynolds stars as Bandit, a devil-may-care trucker who, with his sidekick, Snowman (Jerry Reed), accepts a challenge to go to Texarkana, Texas, pick up 400 cases of Coors beer and return to Atlanta, Georgia, (a round-trip total of 1,800 miles) within 28 hours.
Along the way, he picks up Carrie (Sally Field), a Broadway gypsy who has just jilted someone at the altar. It turns out that her suitor (Mike Henry) was the son of the local sheriff (Jackie Gleason), who sets out in hot pursuit of the runaway bride.
That’s the sum total of the plot and the 97-minute running time is devoted to one long chase involving Reynolds and Field in a sporty Pontiac Trans Am, Reed and his dog in the 18-wheeler, Gleason and Henry in a patrol car that is slowly torn apart and various truckers, citizens band friends and bumbling cops.
While the joke wears thin very quickly, there are a number of amusing sequences, which are combined with some exciting road action to provide a mildly entertaining — and totally mindless — film. Hal Needham, making his directorial debut after an illustrious career as a stuntman, makes the most of the action and progresses the film with a perfect light-hearted touch.
Reynolds performs with an offhand, easy style and he creates an engaging character that should please his many fans. The script requires little from any of the actors, but they all give personable performances. Field is well-cast as the kookie dancer, Reed is fine as Reynolds’ sidekick and Pat McCormick and Paul Williams appear as the incongruous father-and-son team who challenge Reynolds. Gleason has plenty of opportunity to clown around, but much of the time he seems to be doing a prissy Zero Mostel imitation and he too often forces the exaggeration.
The film has been attractively photographed by Bobby Byrne and the effective musical score by Bill Justis and Jerry Reed features three excellent country/western songs by Reed and Dick Feller, sung by Reed.
Produced by Mort Engelberg for executive producer Robert L. Levy, Smokey and the Bandit is basically a series of excellent comedy and action scenes that fail to come together as a satisfactory whole. — Ron Pennington, originally published on May 18, 1977
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