Dir: Hal Needham, 1977
In all fairness, Hal Needham films are, pretty, mindless. A former stuntman, Needham uses the films as an excuse for car chases and car crashes, satisfying his thirst for destruction.
With regular lead star, Burt Reynolds, Needham created some of the funniest and most entertaining films in cinema history, entering pop culture which is still revered to this day.
Millionaire Big Enos Burdette, and his son, Little Enos, bet legendary driver Bo Darnell (aka The Bandit) that he can’t bootleg 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta in 28 hours.
However, this is a bet that the Burdette’s have made many times and nobody has won because the police (“Smokey”) always catch the bootleggers.
There’s no denying that Jackie Gleason is the real star of the film. His crude and caustic vulgarity is the highlight and provides amples of belly laughs.
Teamed up with Mike Henry as his police officer son and patrol partner, Junior, the two actors are a brilliant double act with Gleason’s sharp and acidic put downs in contrast with Henry’s dim witted and childlike persona.
With an eternal repertoire of barbaric insults, Gleason aims a portion of his vicious attacks at Junior, while asserting that there is no way he came from his “loins”.
By contemporary standards, some of the humour is a little eyebrow raising. Incorporating much of Gleason’s trademark comedy from the fifties TV show, The Honeymooners, Buford T. Justice is portrayed as a misogynistic wife beater, threatening on several occasions to smack Junior’s mama “in the mouth” or “kick her in the behind”. As domestic abuse is now out in the open and restricted by a zero tolerance policy, some of what is said will cause women’s groups and PC fanatics to begin frothing at the mouth.
However, you don’t, at any time, feel that Justice would do anything, let alone be actually capable of it. The sheriff is such pompous prig who is totally inefficient in his job, that his wife would kick his arse. It’s all bluster. You laugh at him and not with him.
At the end of it all, Smokey And The Bandit is a gut burstingly hilarious film that has, rightly, gone down as a true classic of seventies cinema and one of the funniest.