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Author Topic: "Smokey and the Bandit" 40th anniversary
Michael Coate
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1904
From: Los Angeles, California
Registered: Feb 2001

 - posted 06-04-2017 03:11 PM      Profile for Michael Coate   Email Michael Coate   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Sharing another one....

Still East Bound and Down: Remembering Smokey and the Bandit on its 40th anniversary



By Michael Coate

“What we have here is a total lack of respect for the law!”

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective article commemorating the 40th anniversary of the release of Smokey and the Bandit, the popular action comedy starring Burt Reynolds as Bo (aka Bandit), Sally Field as Carrie (aka Frog), Jerry Reed as Cledus (aka Snowman), and Jackie Gleason as the unforgettable Sheriff Buford T. Justice of Portague County.

Smokey and the Bandit, the directorial debut of former stuntman Hal Needham, opened 40 years ago this month, and for the occasion The Bits features a compilation of statistics, trivia and box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context; passages from vintage film reviews; a reference/historical listing of the film’s first-run theatrical engagements; and, finally, an interview segment with 1970s film authority Lee Pfeiffer.


1 = Box-office rank among films in the Bandit series
1 = Box-office rank among films directed by Hal Needham
1 = Box-office rank among films starring Burt Reynolds (adjusted for inflation)
1 = Number of Academy Award nominations
1 = Number of opening-week engagements
1 = Number of weeks North America’s top-grossing movie (week #2)
1 = Rank among top-earning movies during first weekend of “wide” release
2 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1977 (calendar year)
2 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1977 (summer season)
3 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1977 (legacy)
3 = Rank among Universal’s all-time top-earning movies at close of original run
6 = Number of sequels, remakes and spin-offs
8 = Rank on all-time list of top box-office earners at close of original release
12 = Rank among top-earning movies of the 1970s
27 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement
36 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
71 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films (adjusted for inflation)
386 = Number of opening-week engagements (Week #2; first week “wide”)

$29.95 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (videodiscs)
$79.95 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (Beta & VHS)
$1.7 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross (3-day; May 27-29)
$2.3 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross (4-day holiday; May 27-30)
$4.3 million = Production cost
$9.4 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
$17.4 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
$61.1 million = Box-office rental (domestic)
$126.7 million = Box-office gross (domestic)
$198.5 million = Box-office gross (domestic; entire Bandit series)
$246.4 million = Box-office rental (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
$511.4 million = Box-office gross (domestic, adjusted for inflation)
$721.6 million = Box-office gross (domestic; entire Bandit series; adjusted for inflation)


“Smokey and the Bandit is a good summer saturation comedy entry starring Burt Reynolds as a bootlegger-for-kicks who, with Jerry Reed and Sally Field, outwit zealous sheriff Jackie Gleason…. [S]tunt coordinator Hal Needham’s directorial debut is promising. The Universal release should perform well in fast playoff, and be a serviceable dual bill partner thereafter.” — A.D. Murphy, Variety

“Smokey and the Bandit tries hard to be a Good Ole Movie and sometimes succeeds. Burt Reynolds, with high-pitched laugh and constant good spirits, plays the trucking hero; and if his style is too practiced to be called casual, it at least fits the mood of the picture. [I]t’s basically a B movie, but with fancy wrappings. It’s also a reverse snob. It takes genuine pride in its lack of pretentions and wallows in its mediocrity.” — Philip Wuntch, The Dallas Morning News

“Smokey and the Bandit is for everybody who is crazy about Burt Reynolds, crazy about cars, crazy about car chases, crazy about CB radio.” — Gene Shalit, The Today Show

“[Smokey and the Bandit] is the kind [of movie] you enjoy when you don’t mind staying awake but are too tired to think. It is not unmitigated good fun even at its own level of internally combusted slapstick. Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed are pleasant to be around, and Sally Field turns the extraordinary feat of being wistfully sweet, sympathetic and funny in a part you’d have said was left on the doorstep in a blizzard. Jackie Gleason, stuck as the story’s buffoon-villain, a sorghumland sheriff with the wit and charm of a stalled steamroller, gets lines that fall on the far side of whatever divides witty irascibility from loud nastiness.” — Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times

“Jaunty fun.” — Richard Schickel, Time

“Smokey and the Bandit is an hour and a half and maybe two dozen wrecked police cars long. Most of its dialogue consists of braying into CB microphones about ‘go-go juice’ and courses of action being ‘negatory.’ For those with no passion for mumbling cryptic southernisms at strangers, the film is sheer purgatory.” — Desmond Ryan, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Reynolds is tough because he can drive fast. Reynolds is sweet because he smiles. For my money, Reynolds and his cracker act are as phony as a three-dollar bill. The man reeks of Las Vegas, from his dapper moustache to his turquoise jewelry, and all his CB lingo (‘Hey there, good buddy’) can’t disguise the fact that he looks like he belongs behind a roulette wheel.” — David Rosenbaum, The Boston Herald American

“Smokey and the Bandit is the latest Good Ol’ Movie from Burt Reynolds, who does this sort of thing better than anyone else (even if he doesn’t always convince us that it should be done at all). It’s basically a chase movie, and chases have been the staple of the movies, almost since they were invented. Chases used to be mostly on foot or horseback; now they’re in cars. The American movie going public seems to be ready for at least one big one a year.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“Gleason’s performance as Sheriff Justice is one of the corniest jobs of overacting I’ve sat through in years.” — Clyde Gilmour, Toronto Star

“Sally Field is kooky and appealing as the runaway bride. And there’s such a noticeable chemistry between her and Reynolds you wonder what went on between the two when the cameras weren’t rolling.” — Charles Brock, The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union

“Smokey and the Bandit combines the public’s infatuation for car chases with the current Citizen Band radio fad. Practically the entire film, in fact, is one long car chase. It’s raucous, raunchy and infantile. But the fact that the movie is also contemporary, slapstick and jiving with current CB jargon will make it attractive to those in the mood for a fast-paced comedy adventure. For me, it was a crashing bore.” — Donna Chernin, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

“With Mr. Reynolds playing it cool and Mr. Gleason doing his burns and investing the film with a certain raunchy humor, the rest is up to the vehicles. And they don’t do anything that hasn’t been seen before.” — Lawrence Van Gelder, The New York Times

“Pure idiocy.” — Gannett News Service

“It has considerably less charm than W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, another Reynolds ‘Southern’ that made it big only in the South, and its comedy formula and techniques are so crude and slapdash that it’s less like a typical ‘Southern’ than a particularly obnoxious Disney chase comedy — this time with abusive anti-cop and toilet jokes…. Take out the outhouse humor and the CB radio gadgetry, replace Gleason with Don Knotts, Reynolds with Dean Jones and Field with Suzanne Pleshette, and you’ve got Herbie Rides Again.” — John Hart, The Seattle Times


Listed here for historical reference and nostalgia for those who saw Smokey and the Bandit early in its release are the theaters in which the movie opened during its first two weeks of release.

A distribution/exhibition overview: Smokey and the Bandit initially opened exclusively (in what might be described as an out-of-place, pre-release booking) at the fabled Radio City Music Hall in New York City, opening there on May 19th, 1977. A week later on the 27th, Universal opened the movie in a massive “regional saturation” release throughout the South and Southwest. This portion of the launch booked theaters in towns of all sizes but was restricted to thirteen states and was designed to capitalize on the Southern theme and setting of the movie and star Burt Reynolds’ popularity in that region. That, and the fact Universal believed the movie would have performed poorly nationwide if it didn’t generate positive word of mouth from the early playdates. (Additional Southern openings, primarily in small towns, continued throughout June and early July of ’77.)

In what was a fairly slow rollout nationally, the major markets in the rest of North America finally started to play the movie during July ’77. These aren’t included in the reference listing below, but to illustrate the slow rollout, some of the major market openings included: July 15th (Boston), July 22nd (Toronto, New York City expansion), July 29th (Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Louisville, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Portland, St. Louis, San Diego, San Francisco, Washington DC), August 12th (Detroit) and August 19th (Seattle).

And, here were the May 27th openings of Smokey and the Bandit….

Albertville — Mall Twin
Anniston — Cheaha
Auburn — Tiger
Birmingham — Eastwood Mall Twin
Birmingham — Five Points West Twin
Cullman — Martin Twin
Decatur — Gateway Twin
Dothan — Northside 4-plex
Enterprise — College
Fort Payne — DeKalb
Gadsden — Agricola
Huntsville — Alabama
Mobile — Village 4-plex
Montgomery — Martin Twin
Muscle Shoals — Cinema Twin
Phenix City — Phenix Twin
Scottsboro — Holiday
Tuscaloosa — Capri

Benton — Twin
Blytheville — Malco Twin
El Dorado — El Dorado Triplex
Fayetteville — Malco Twin
Fort Smith — Phoenix Village Twin
Hot Springs — Malco Twin
Jacksonville — Flick Twin
Jonesboro — Plaza Twin
Little Rock — Cinema City 4-plex
Little Rock — Four 4-plex
Marianna — Gene Boggs Twin
Pine Bluff — Broadmoor Twin
Russellville — Picwood Twin
West Helena — Gene Boggs Twin

Altamonte Springs — Altamonte Mall Twin
Arcadia — Arcadia Twin
Bartow — Bartow Mall
Boca Raton — Boca Mall 6-plex
Bradenton — Bayshore Twin
Bradenton — Skyway Drive-In
Brooksville — Brooksville Twin
Clearwater — Carib
Coral Gables — Riviera Twin
Dania Beach — Hi Way Drive-In
Daytona Beach — Bellair Plaza Twin
Daytona Beach — Sunshine Mall Twin
Delray Beach — Delray Drive-In
Englewood — Palm Plaza Twin
Fort Lauderdale — Sunrise Twin
Fort Myers — Edison Mall
Fort Pierce — Village Twin
Fort Walton Beach — Palm
Gainesville — Royal Park 4-plex
Hallandale Beach — Diplomat Mall Twin
Hollywood — Plaza Twin
Jacksonville — Cedar Hills
Jacksonville — Expressway Mall Twin
Jacksonville — Main Street Drive-In
Jacksonville — Northside Twin
Jacksonville — Southside Drive-In
Jacksonville — Village Twin
Key West — Cinema Twin
Lake City — Cinema 90 Twin
Lakeland — Polk
Lauderdale Lakes — Lakes 6-plex
Leesburg — Vista
Margate — Margate Twin
Melbourne — NASA
Merritt Island — Merritt Twin
Miami — Concord Twin
Miami — Coral Way Drive-In
Miami — Cutler Ridge Twin
Miami — Miami Drive-In
Miami — Omni 6-plex
Miami — Thunderbird Twin
Miami Beach — Surf
Naples — Gulfgate
Neptune Beach — Neptune
New Port Richey — Southgate Twin
North Miami Beach — 170th Street Twin
North Miami Beach — Golden Glades Drive-In
North Palm Beach — Twin City Twin
Ocala — Springs Twin
Okeechobee — Braham
Orlando — Colonial Drive-In
Orlando — Orange Ave. Drive-In
Orlando — Parkwood Twin
Ormond Beach — Nova Drive-In
Palm Springs — Dolphin
Panama City — Florida Triplex
Pensacola — Westwood 4-plex
Pinellas Park — Pinellas Square Triplex
Plant City — Plant Mall Twin
Port Charlotte — Promenades Twin
St. Augustine — Plaza Twin
St. Petersburg — Crossroads Twin
St. Petersburg — Mustang Drive-In
Sanford — Sanford Plaza Twin
Sarasota — South Trail
Stuart — Mayfair
Tallahassee — Capitol Drive-In
Tallahassee — Tallahassee Mall Twin
Tampa — Hillsboro Drive-In
Tampa — Horizon Park 4-plex
Tampa — Twin Bays 4-plex
Tampa — Varsity 6-plex
Titusville — Miracle City Twin
Venice — Jacaranda Plaza Twin
Vero Beach — Plaza
West Palm Beach — Palm Beach Mall 4-plex
Winter Haven — Continental
Winter Park — Park Twin

Albany — Martin
Athens — Beechwood Twin
Atlanta — Northlake Triplex
Atlanta — Tara Twin
Augusta — Daniel Village Twin
Brunswick — Lanier Twin
Carrollton — Village
Chamblee — Northeast Expressway Drive-In
Columbus — Columbus Square Twin
Covington — Newton
Dalton — Capri
Decatur — Glenwood Drive-In
Decatur — South Dekalb Twin
Dublin — Martin
Fayetteville — Fayette
Fort Oglethorpe — Southgate Twin
Gainesville — Sherwood
Griffin — Parkwood Triplex
Hinesville — Brice Twin
Jonesboro — Arrowhead Triplex
LaGrange — LaGrange
Mableton — Mableton Twin
Macon — Westgate Triplex
Marietta — Town & Country
Milledgeville — Martin
Moultrie — Colquitt
Newnan — Alamo
Rome — Village
Savannah — Cinema Centre Triplex
Statesboro — Georgia
Thomasville — Ritz
Tifton — Tift
Valdosta — Cinema Twin
Vidalia — Brice
Warner Robins — Rama
Waycross — Mall Twin

Bowling Green — Martin
Franklin — Martin
Hopkinsville — 31 West Drive-In
Murray — Cheri Triplex

Alexandria — Don
Baton Rouge — Broadmoor Twin
Baton Rouge — North Park Twin
Bogalusa — Trackside Twin
Hammond — Ritz
Houma — Southland Twin
Monroe — Plaza
Morgan City — Lake Twin
New Orleans — Joy
New Orleans — Plaza 4-plex
Opelousas — Vista Village Twin
Ruston — Village
Shreveport — St. Vincent 6-plex
Shreveport — Southpark Twin
Slidell — Tammany Mall Twin

Biloxi — Edgewater Plaza 4-plex
Clarksdale — Showcase
Cleveland — Cinema Twin
Columbus — Malco Twin
Greenville — Plaza
Greenwood — Highland Park Twin
Gulfport — Hardy Court Twin
Hattiesburg — Avanti
Jackson — DeVille
Laurel — Northside Twin
McComb — Twin
Meridian — 8th Street
Natchez — Tracetown Twin
Oxford — Ritz
Pascagoula — Towne
Starkville — Cinema 12 Twin
Tupelo — Malco Twin
Vicksburg — Battlefield Twin

Albuquerque — Fox Winrock
Clovis — Hilltop Twin
Gallup — Aztec Twin
Santa Fe — The Movies! Twin
Silver City — Gila

Asheboro — Cinema Twin
Asheville — Dreamland Drive-In
Asheville — Merrimon Twin
Boone — Chalet Twin
Burlington — Park
Chapel Hill — Carolina Twin
Charlotte — Charlottetown Mall Triplex
Charlotte — Eastland Mall Triplex
Clinton — Cinema
Concord — Carolina Mall Triplex
Dunn — Plaza Twin
Durham — Northgate Twin
Elizabeth City — Carolina
Fayetteville — Cross Creek Mall Triplex
Gastonia — Diane Drive-In
Goldsboro — Center
Greensboro — Carolina Circle 6-plex
Greensboro — Quaker Twin
Greenville — Pitt
Havelock — Cinema
Henderson — Embassy
Hendersonville — Carolina Twin
Hickory — Thunderbird Drive-In
High Point — Twin
Jacksonville — Northwoods
Kinston — Mall
Laurinburg — Gibson
Lenoir — Cinema Triplex
Lincolnton — Century
Lumberton — Cinema Triplex
Morehead City — Cinema Twin
Morganton — Studio Twin
Mount Airy — Mayberry
Nags Head — Colony House
New Bern — Cinema
Raleigh — Mission Valley Twin
Roanoke Rapids — Cinema
Rocky Mount — Cardinal Twin
Salisbury — Center
Sanford — Cinema Twin
Shelby — Flick
Southern Pines — Town & Country Twin
Statesville — Newtowne
Washington — Cinema Twin
Wilmington — Oleander Twin
Wilkesboro — College Park
Wilson — Starlite Drive-In
Winston-Salem — Haines Mall 4-plex

Ada — Gemini Twin
Alva — Rialto
Bartlesville — Eastland Twin
Enid — Video Twin
Guymon — Suburban
Lawton — Vaska
McAlester — Cinema 69 Twin
Muskogee — Muskogee Twin
Norman — Heisman 4-plex
Oklahoma City — 14 Flags Drive-In
Oklahoma City — French Market Twin
Oklahoma City — Reding 4-plex
Pryor — Allred
Sapulpa — Creek Hills
Shawnee — Hornbeck Twin
Stillwater — Aggie
Tulsa — Boman Twin
Weatherford — Vesta
Woodward — Lakeside

Aiken — Mark I
Anderson — Osteen Twin
Charleston — Ashley Plaza Twin
Chester — Cinema Twin
Clemson — Clemson
Columbia — Miracle
Conway — Holiday
Easley — Colony Twin
Florence — Crown
Greenville — Tower
Greenwood — Auto Drive-In
Greer — Cinema Triplex
Hartsville — Cinema
Lancaster — Crown
Myrtle Beach — Rivoli
North Charleston — Charles Towne Square Twin
North Myrtle Beach — Cinema
Orangeburg — Camelot Twin
Rock Hill — Cinema
Spartanburg — Pinewood Twin
Sumter — Wesmark Plaza Twin
Union — Duncan

Bristol — Holiday
Chattanooga — Northgate Triplex
Clarksville — Martin Twin
Cleveland — Cinema Twin
Columbia — Polk
Cookeville — Princess
Dyersburg — Martin Twin
Gatlinburg — Gatlinburg
Goodletsville — Rivergate Mall Twin
Jackson — Paramount
Johnson City — Mall
Kingsport — Martin
Knoxville — Cedar Bluff Twin
Knoxville — Studio One
Madisonville — Martin
Maryville — Druid Hill Drive-In
McMinnville — Park
Memphis — Plaza Twin
Memphis — Raleigh Springs Mall Twin
Memphis — Whitehaven Twin
Morristown — Princess
Murfreesboro — Martin Twin
Nashville — Martin
Oak Ridge — Grove

Abilene — Westgate Twin
Alice — Sage
Alvin — Town Plaza Twin
Amarillo — Western Square Twin
Arlington — Six Flags Mall Twin
Austin — Highland Mall Twin
Baytown — Brunson Twin
Beaumont — Gateway Twin
Big Spring — R/70
Brownfield — Regal Twin
Brownwood — Commerce Square Twin
Brownsville — North Park Plaza Twin
Bryan — Manor East Triplex
Conroe — North Hills
Copperas Cove — Cinema 76
Corpus Christi — Cine 4-plex
Corsicana — Cinema Twin
Dallas — Esquire
Dallas — Valley View Twin
Del Rio — Rita Twin
Denton — Fine Arts
Dumas — Evelyn
El Paso — Cielo Vista Mall Triplex
Fort Worth — Wedgwood Twin
Galveston — Galvez Plaza Triplex
Gatesville — Town & Country Drive-In
Greenville — Rolling Hills Twin
Harker Heights — Showplace Triplex
Harlingen — Morgan Plaza Twin
Houston — Alabama
Houston — Almeda 9-plex
Houston — Champions Village Twin
Houston — Gaylynn Triplex
Houston — Greenspoint 5-plex
Houston — Northwest 4-plex
Houston — Woodlake Triplex
Huntsville — Cinema Triplex
Hurst — Belaire Twin
Irving — Irving Mall Twin
Kerrville — Plaza
Killeen — Plaza
Kingsville — Texas
Lake Jackson — Lake Twin
Laredo — Cinema Twin
Lewisville — Cinema Twin
Longview — Cargill Triplex
Lubbock — Showplace 4-plex
Lufkin — Cinema Twin
Marshall — Cinema Twin
McAllen — Cinema Twin
Mesquite — Town East Twin
Midland — Cinema 1
Nacogdoches — Stephen F. Austin Center
New Braunfels — Cinema Twin
Odessa — Grandview
Orange — Brown Twin
Paris — Cinema Twin
Port Arthur — Village Triplex
Richmond — Lamar
San Angelo — Sherwood Twin
San Antonio — North Star Mall Twin
San Antonio — South Park Mall 4-plex
San Marcos — Holiday
Seguin — Palace Twin
Sherman — Cinema Twin
Snyder — Cinema Twin
Sugar Land — Palms
Temple — Arcadia
Texarkana — Cinema City Triplex
Texas City — Tradewinds Twin
Tyler — Cinema Twin
Victoria — Playhouse 4-plex
Waco — Cinema Twin
Wichita Falls — Wichita


Lee Pfeiffer is the Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Retro magazine, which celebrates films of the 1960s and 1970s and is “the Essential Guide to Cult and Classic Movies.” He is the author (with Philip Lisa) of The Incredible World of 007: An Authorized Celebration of James Bond (Citadel, 1992) and The Films of Sean Connery (Citadel, 2001), and (with Dave Worrall) The Essential Bond: The Authorized Guide to the World of 007 (Boxtree, 1998/Harper Collins, 1999). He also wrote (with Michael Lewis) The Films of Harrison Ford (Citadel, 2002) and (with Dave Worrall) The Great Fox War Movies (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2006).

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way should Smokey and the Bandit be remembered on its 40th anniversary?

Lee Pfeiffer: The film spoke to a certain demographic — people who lived in rural America — in a way that Hollywood productions of the era rarely succeeded in doing. There was a time when studios courted this market specifically by churning out low-budget action movies, Westerns, comedies and exploitation films but as audiences became more demanding in their tastes, public sentiment switched to glossier productions. Indeed, as far back as 1935, Variety ran a famous headline “Hix Nix Stix Pix,” meaning that films that were specifically targeted for rural audiences were being ignored in favor of big movies with big stars. The success of Smokey reawakened studio interest in producing films targeted to people who didn’t live in major urban areas. It was a film that boasted big stars and good production values. Rural audiences felt the movie spoke to them in a way that wasn’t condescending or insulting in the manner that previous attempts to reach their wallets were. Burt Reynolds was riding high at the time. Along with Clint Eastwood, he was arguably the biggest star in the world so the movie’s success didn’t surprise anyone. What did surprise studios was the extent to which it was embraced by rural audiences. The movie played seemingly forever in some theaters in the south and the heartland. It proved to Hollywood that there was plenty of profit movies that spoke to folks who still saw first run movies in drive-in theaters.

Coate: What do you think of Smokey and the Bandit? Can you recall your reaction to the first time you saw it?

Pfeiffer: I think I saw it back in college when I went to a screening to review the film for the campus newspaper. I didn’t like it very much then and probably wouldn’t care for it very much now, though I’ll confess I haven’t seen it in many years. I always liked the work of Burt Reynolds and Sally Field and Jackie Gleason is one of my idols. But I just couldn’t relate to the humor the way some people did. I think it’s really a matter of demographics, specifically where you live. I’m a big city person who grew up with New York City just across the river, so Manhattan was my “playground,” if you will — and still is. Thus, I always related more to Woody Allen comedies than the kind of humor presented in Smokey and the Bandit. That’s not meant to be a knock on the film. I once wrote a book about classic movies and I think I included Smokey in it. My editor was aghast but left it in because I argued that, for the purposes of that specific book, I defined “classic” as any film that had a highly enduring legacy in regard to its intended audience. Smokey wasn’t made to please people who frequent cafes on the East Side of Manhattan. It was made for audiences who could relate to the kinds of eccentric characters you find in small town America in much the same way that Scorsese is able to do the same with characters you find in urban settings. I respect Smokey for its durability. People who loved it back in the day still love it today.

Coate: What did Smokey and the Bandit contribute to 1970s Cinema?

Pfeiffer: The film proved that not every major hit had to be a mega-budget blockbuster. Even by 1977, studios were becoming increasingly reliant on spectacle and special effects. That year alone saw the release of three major hits that relied heavily on technology: Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Spy Who Loved Me — all fine movies but ones that continued to convince studios that bigger was always better. Smokey reminded them that a film on a fairly modest budget with popular stars could still draw big audiences. Don’t forget there was no cable TV in those days and home video was just in its infancy. The average person could only see a favorite movie again by going to a theater. Smokey played for many weeks, packing in audiences — and then would be revived by popular demand in small town theaters. That type of pattern doesn’t happen today. Even if a movie is a blockbuster, it generally clears out of theaters quickly so the studio can capitalize on the home video and cable sales.

Coate: Where do you think Smokey and the Bandit ranks among director Hal Needham’s body of work?

Pfeiffer: Well, Needham’s “body of work” is pretty thin as director. He was one of the very top stuntmen and stunt coordinators in the business and that is his real legacy. He gravitated to directing because he had worked on so many films he probably felt he could direct one in his sleep. He was also a personal friend of Burt Reynolds and had worked as a second unit director on some of his earlier films. Reynolds’ clout got him the directing gig on Smokey and Needham came through for the studio. However, his career as a director was largely linked to Reynolds’ popularity. They went on to make one good movie together — Hooper — and a couple of dogs that still made a lot of money: The Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit II. He made a couple of other films without Reynolds but they are largely forgotten. He and Reynolds reunited in 1984 for Cannonball Run II but the bloom was already off the rose and the movie didn’t perform very well. Within a couple of years, Needham wasn’t directing any major films. However, it should be acknowledged that the man knew his limitations and stayed within his comfort zone. His films generally contained elaborate stunts and car chases, which were challenges he knew he could always rise to. The fact that we are still talking about Smokey and the Bandit forty years later is probably the greatest testament to his talents.

Coate: Where do you think Smokey and the Bandit ranks among Burt Reynolds’, Sally Field’s and Jackie Gleason’s bodies of work?

Pfeiffer: That’s a pretty subjective question because, in terms of popularity, it probably represents the pinnacle of Burt Reynolds’ career. However, it also laid the groundwork for his rather rapid demise in terms of his box office appeal. As Reynolds himself acknowledged, he began to rely too much on the low-hanging fruit of good ol’ boy country comedies. Clint Eastwood did two such films, co-starring with an orangutan and they were both hits — but he knew when to walk away from the genre. Reynolds didn’t. When he turned down the role that won Jack Nicholson an Oscar for Terms of Endearment in order to do Stroker Ace with Hal Needham, his career was irreparably damaged. In terms of Reynolds’ achievement as a personality, Smokey was a triumph for him because it epitomized how audiences wanted to see him — as the over-sexed, towel-snapping prankster and man of action. In terms of Reynolds’ “serious” efforts, however, I think his star-making dramatic performance in Deliverance is his most impressive work.

For Sally Field, who was romantically involved with Reynolds at the time, this was nothing more than a fun outing. She always had a talent for light comedy and had become a star on the sitcoms Gidget and The Flying Nun, so this was probably nothing more than a pleasant paid holiday for her.

For Jackie Gleason the film was more important. He was one of the most iconic of American comedy stars but his legacy was in danger of being overlooked by younger audiences who only knew him as Ralph Kramden from the eternal comedy series The Honeymooners. Gleason stole the show as Sheriff Buford T. Justice and found a whole new audience, proving he still had his mojo. It was the biggest hit of his career, even if the character was, shall we say “inspired” (aka “ripped off”) from the almost identical Sheriff J.W. Pepper played by Clifton James a few years earlier in the James Bond films Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. Gleason was also an outstanding dramatic actor but he rarely got a chance to show off these talents. For the best dramatic work of his career, just watch him as pool hustler Minnesota Fats in the 1961 film The Hustler. He’s only on screen for a limited time yet he got an Oscar nomination. He was also outstanding as a corrupt boxing manager in the big screen version of Requiem for a Heavyweight. However, he will always be immortalized for The Honeymooners. Even kids today seem to be familiar with the show and sixty years later, it’s still being shown on Saturday nights on New York television.

Coate: What is the legacy of Smokey and the Bandit?

Pfeiffer: Smokey proved to studios that there was still “gold in them thar hills,” to coin the old phrase, when it came to appealing to rural audiences which had often been neglected especially in the era in which the Western movie genre went into a decline. It also boasted something that is lacking today: genuine star power. There are very few real movie stars left today. By that I don’t mean recognizable names or people who command big salaries. “Stars” were people whose movies would generate profits simply by their presence in them. Back in 1977, Reynolds, Field and Gleason were very popular screen presences and represented movie stars in the classic sense of the term. It’s hard to think of many stars today — people who draw in big audiences regardless of the genre of film and perhaps in spite of bad reviews. Smokey also represented a time in which families felt comfortable going to movies together and not having to cringe at the elements of sex and violence. Smokey never went beyond some naughty jokes and double-entendres and the violence was cartoon-like because no one ever got hurt. I still can’t say I’m a fan of the movie but for the reasons I’ve outlined in this [interview], I have a lot of respect for it.

Coate: Thank you, Lee, for participating and for sharing your thoughts on Smokey and the Bandit on the occasion of its 40th anniversary.


All figures and data included in this article pertain to the United States and Canada except where stated otherwise.

Selected images copyright/courtesy Rastar, Universal Pictures, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

The primary references for this project were regional newspaper coverage and film reviews, and trade reports published in the periodicals Boxoffice, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

Al Alvarez, Nancy Arn, Kim Averette, Laura Baas, Don Beelik, Kevin Blinn, Laura Calderone, Margaret Carter, Kevin Chatham, Tom Cole, Saundra R. Cropps, Robert Cruthirds, Laura Fazekas, Jesse Gibson, Khalilah Y. Hayes, Mike Heenan, Beatheia Jackson, Sarah Kenyon, Joanne Lammers, Ronald A. Lee, Mark Lensenmayer, Karin Lindemann, Stan Malone, Michael Mitchell, Sana Moulder, Vivian R. Osborne, Stuart Parks II, Lee Pfeiffer, Roxanne Puder, Dalton Royer, Cliff Stephenson, John Stewart, Sean Sutcliffe, and to all of the librarians who helped with the research for this project, and to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library and Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study.

Bill Justis (Music), 1926-1982
Jackie Gleason (“Sheriff Buford T. Justice”), 1916-1987
Angelo Ross (Editor), 1911-1989
James Lee Barrett (Screenwriter), 1929-1989
Walter Hannemann (Editor), 1912-2001
Anthony Magro (Sound Editor), 1923-2004
Pat McCormick (“Big Enos”), 1927-2005
Macon McCalman (“Mr. B”), 1932-2005
Jerry Reed (“Cledus”; Music), 1937-2008
Hal Needham (Director), 1931-2013
Ray West (Sound), 1925-2016

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Mike Blakesley
Film God

Posts: 12767
From: Forsyth, Montana
Registered: Jun 99

 - posted 06-04-2017 10:21 PM      Profile for Mike Blakesley   Author's Homepage   Email Mike Blakesley   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I remember when we played "Smokey and the Bandit" here. I was a projectionist then. At that time we played two changes per week -- 3 days per show, and closed on Tuesdays. "Smokey," we played for a full week and it did very well. I still enjoy it today. Corny? Absolutely. But still funny. And the movie managed to be a funny crowd pleaser with a PG rating! The makers of today's R-rated raunch-fest flops could take a lesson from it.

And EVERY small town kid (me included) is guaranteed to know at least one sheriff or deputy who is the area's Buford T. Justice. Ours was named Brocklehurst.

I was a big fan of the Burt Reynolds good-ol-boy movies. "Smokey," "Hooper," "Longest Yard," "W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings" and "Gator" all had their fine moments. (Jerry Reed, the good'ol' Snowman from "Smokey," played a genuinely creepy bad guy in "Gator.") I never saw "White Lightning."

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James Westbrook
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1133
From: Lubbock, Texas, Usa
Registered: Mar 2006

 - posted 06-05-2017 02:25 AM      Profile for James Westbrook   Email James Westbrook   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Excellent job, Michael.
I could not recall which theater in Lubbock opened it until now. Showplace 4, owned by Skeet Noret, was much smaller then, as was the UA South Plains Cinema, a twin screen. The latter one booked Star Wars. I suspect business from these two prompted Noret and UA to add two additional screens that by the end of 1978 it was The Showplace 6 and UA South Plains Cinema 4.

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