Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Smokey and the Bandit Part 3

Swearey and the Rip-off

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Smokey and the Bandit Part 3" (Universal Pictures, 1983). We begin with a series of flashbacks from the previous "Smokey and the Bandit" movies, with particular focus on Texarkana Sheriff Buford T. Justice's (Jackie Gleason) failures in apprehending the legendary outlaw Bo "The Bandit" Darville (Burt Reynolds).

Also, this "Patton" bit, probably made for the trailer.

After his most recent defeat (in "Smokey and the Bandit II") Buford has decided to retire, only to be cajoled by millionaire Enos "Big Enos" Burdette (Pat McCormick) and his son, "Little Enos" (Paul Williams) into coming out of retirement with the promise of a bet: Deliver a plastic shark from his retirement village in Florida to their ranch in Texas in 14 hours.
Just like today, the rest of us only exist for the sport of millionaires and billionaires.

If Buford wins, he gets $250,000, but if he loses, he has to give up his sheriff's star to Little Enos. Buford, frustrated with retirement, takes the bet and sets out with his son, the monumentally stupid Junior (Mike Henry), but the Burdettes don't play fair and try to slow down and humiliate Buford every step of the way.
I will admit, it's good to see Buford take on the Burdettes for once.

When Buford manages to blow through their schemes, the Burdettes take out a side bet with Cledus "Snowman" Snow (Jerry Reed) to steal the shark back from the sheriff and deliver it himself for $250,000.
The Imitation Game.

Snowman uses this opportunity to masquerade as "The Bandit," donning similar clothes and driving a black Pontiac Trans Am, this time a 1982 with a custom 455 Super Duty engine (very similar to the model used for "K.I.T.T." in the NBC show, "Knight Rider").
Yeah, that one.

Right off the bat, Snowman inadvertently picks up disgruntled secretary Dusty Trails (Colleen Camp) who elects to help him on his mission.
I don't want to body shame, but I can't not look at the gap in her teeth in this scene.

Now it's a race between Sheriff Justice and "The Bandit" to make it to the Burdette's ranch for a quarter of a million dollars.
By plane, trains, and automobiles! Except for the planes and trains, but with boats instead.

Some background information

This is the last theatrical release of any of "The Bandit" movies, and you could tell that after the critical failure that was "Smokey and the Bandit II" the studio was trying (and failing) to head in a new direction, replacing director Hal Needham and writer Robert L. Levy for director Dick Lowry (whose body of work was primarily in primetime television) and writers Stuart Birnbaum and David Dashev while Needham and Reynolds were making the movie "Stroker Ace" (also for Universal Pictures). What's more, Burt Reynolds (the star of the previous two movies) only makes a cameo appearance late in the film and Sally Field is entirely absent, and the change in cast and creative team is felt throughout the movie.

And his cameo is a dream sequence, of all things.

While Jerry Reed isn't responsible for the entire soundtrack like in the first film, he does contribute several prominent songs and dominates the tracks that are here (his "Buford T. Justice" song has been stuck in my head since I first watched this move almost 40 years ago -- I did myself no favors in watching this again).

Almost too bad to mention

Let's just get down to it: This is a horrible, horrible movie. They gave Gleason final approval of the script, and let him write many of the jokes, so there's a lot of racially charged humor (including an entire "goofball" sequence involving the Ku Klux Klan) where there doesn't need to be, and a lot of jokes at the expense of the LGBTQ+ community (in fairness, just like most 80s films).

Just good natured horseplay, as today's GOP would have you believe.

As frustrating as all of that stuff is, the movie just isn't funny (except for Mike Henry's "Junior," as his incredible naivety is always hilarious, but it's not enough to carry the film).
Junior's so dumb, god bless 'im.

This is compounded by the fact that Jerry Reed is not a leading man, and his character of Snowman just spends most of the movie (literally) strutting around in his Bandit costume while asking himself, "what would The Bandit do?" This is further evident with the female lead, Colleen Camp, who (let's be clear, this woman is a veteran actress with a lot of prominent film roles under her belt) spends the entire movie in what looks to be a clown costume while doing a really bad Mae West impression (she's easily the worst performer in this movie).
Let me tell you, in a movie with so may tan bikini clad women in it, it's a relief to see a high-collared  frilly sleeved, ascot-wearing, white-painted "Bozo the Clown" type woman in this movie.

In short, it's an awful script, terribly executed.

The good (briefly)

Is it all bad? No. This movie subscribes to the first film's focus on smaller, focused car chases, and once it gets going (it takes awhile to get there) it moves at a fair clip with lots of stunt work and crashes.

Just creative ways of taking out smokey.

So while it lacks the scope and scale of the destruction shown in "Smokey and the Bandit II," it still seems to be a bit faster paced than that film.
Surprisingly, this is the first "The Bandit" film to do the two-wheel trick.

There's even a moment towards the end where Snowman shows how chivalrous he is in allowing his enemy to triumph, because that's what he needs.

Think twice before watching with the kids

Do not, and I mean, DO NOT watch this film with small children. With Gleason's involvement in the scripting, there is noticeably more cursing than in the other movies (not from other characters, only from Gleason's Justice -- although many of his more risque lines have been dubbed over even in this theatrical version, probably to get a lower rating). Because this is a different creative team, there is a lot of implied sex in the film, including a scene where the characters congregate in a brothel for far too long, wherin Sheriff Justice is constantly hit on by a tall pastiche of a trans woman, and another scene near the end involving nudists for a one joke punchline (I will admit I laughed at that one, as it shows just how repressed Buford T. Justice is).

Why yes, rural America: All trans people are sex-obsessed deviants who want nothing more than to get into an old straight cis man's pants! (FFS)

These scenes add nothing to the film overall and are just there to shock audiences. While there is no photographed nudity (with the possible exception of one woman), the heavy implications might lead to some uncomfortable conversations. It's PG, but PG with a slice of racism, foul language, tobacco use, and unnecessary sexual imagery.

Where can you watch it?

If for some reason you wanted to watch this terrible movie, you might be out of luck -- I couldn’t find any services currently streaming it, and you can't even rent it on Amazon Prime Video. I used my DVD copy from the "Smokey and the Bandit Outlaw Collection," but the movie was formatted in a 2.35 : 1 aspect ratio that makes it quite wide, but the company that did the DVD transfer screwed up it up, squishing everything horizontally to make the film seem stretched, and no amount of adjusting I did could fix it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Smokey and the Bandit II

Total Car-nage!

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Smokey and the Bandit II" (Universal Pictures, 1980). Millionaire Enos "Big Enos" Burdette (Pat McCormick) is running for governor of Texas with his sycophantic son "Little Enos" (Paul Williams) at his side. Their rival candidate for the Republican nomination, fellow millionaire John Conn (David Huddleston) has started a war with the two using expensive but childish pranks, which the Burdettes are only too happy to reciprocate.

Most involve... stuff... falling from planes.

The current Texas governor (John Anderson) calls a meeting to berate the trio, but afterward Big Enos hears the governor mention a shipment in Florida that he wants delivered to the Republican National Convention in Dallas in nine days. Seeing a chance to ingratiate themselves with the Republican brass, the Burdettes seek out Cledus "Snowman" Snow (Jerry Reed) to propose business with Bo "The Bandit" Darville (Burt Reynolds).
I believe this is Burt Reynolds's official portrait.

Snowman reveals that the Bandit is in a bad way, hopelessly drunk due to his breakup with Carrie, AKA "Frog" (Sally Field). When Big Enos agrees to pay the duo $400,000 for delivery, Snowman gets The Bandit sober while also calling Frog to help keep him upright and stable. There's just one problem… Frog has gone back to marry "Junior" Justice (Mike Henry), son of Texarkana County sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason).
Really. This was the most plausible thing you could think of. Okay...

When Frog abandons Junior at the alter a second time, Justice makes it his mission to nab the Bandit at all costs.
This movie has gunplay. It's just threats and target shooting, but it's there.

Upon getting to Florida, the Bandit trio discovers that the cargo they've been hired to drive is a living breathing adult elephant they name "Charlotte" after Snowman's aunt.
Charlotte loves The Bandit.

Fearing that the elephant is unhealthy, they find and shanghai an Italian immigrant doctor (Dom DeLuise) to look after her, only to find out that she's pregnant…
Pictured: Not Jack Elam. That's a Cannonball joke.

Some movie facts

This is the second "Smokey and the Bandit" film directed by ex-stuntman Hal Needham and co-written with Robert L. Levy, this time with Jerry Belson as a writing credit. In typical sequel fare, it expands the cast and the stakes for the characters while basically retreading many of the beats of the first film.

With much the same result.

This time there seems to be far less focus on the black Pontiac Trans Am (possibly due to performance issues -- the one in this film is considerably less powerful than in the first movie) and CB radios; they're still quite prominent, but not as front-and-center as they were in the last film.
This underpowered model was all they had to work with, so the crew had to use nitrous oxide to boost the speed.

I'm still a little vexed as to how CB radios work in this reality. 

Also of note is the fact that the musical playlist in this film includes more musicians than just Jerry Reed, with songs by Roy Rogers, The Statler Brothers, and Pat Williams.
Pat Williams in a brief cameo.

Other notable cameos are Mell Tillis, Pittsburgh Steeler Terry Bradshaw (back when he had hair), Pittsburgh Steeler Joe "Mean Joe" Greene, and New York Jets defensive player Joe Klecko.
Mel "The Proto-Boomhauer" Tillis.

Bradshaw had hair... but this might not be it.

Star of one of the most remembered Coca-Cola commercials in history. Also, a football guy of some kind. 

Greene gets mean.

Tillis, Bradshaw, and Klecko would all go on to have cameo roles in the Hal Needham movie "The Cannonball Run" in 1981 (which may have had some scenes filmed in concert with this film, it's not really clear).

Pretty much universally hated by audiences

It's not all sunshine and rainbows though. This is an odd case of a sequel being a more competent, complex, and complete movie while at the same time being somehow worse than the previous film. The Bandit as a character is fleshed out considerably more than the first film, and he has an actual character redemption arc (something you wouldn't expect from the character in the first film).

It ends on a cuter, but less funny note than the first film.

We have Dom DeLuise in his second billed role with Burt Reynolds (and sure -- he's funny) but his entire character definition is "bad Italian accent." There's a lot of "downtime" in this film due to the crew having to stop every few miles to make sure that the elephant has some screen time, so it doesn't have the sense of urgency and speed from the first film. There are far more and far bigger car stunts in this movie (including the destruction of a wooden roller coaster and a world record car chase), but they're spread pretty far apart in the movie and seem extremely fake and staged as opposed to the more natural hijinks in the first film.
Racing through the coaster.

They allegedly destroyed about $250,000 1980 dollars worth of cars.

It feels far less of an adventure and more of a wait until they get to the next set piece. They triple Jackie Gleason's role in the film by also having him play Buford T. Justice's brothers Reginald (a Canadian mountie) and Gaylord (a disgusting pastiche of what the general public thought that gay men were in the 1970s), but while Gleason was a popular comedian of the time he's never been that good of an actor, and it really shows here.
Dude, it TOTALLY really looks like they're all standing there together. Totally.

And look, I know that some people get upset when someone talks smack about a movie that they love, but even Sally Field has said in an interview that out of all her movies she considers this the worst one.

A moment of silence

Fun fact: As of this edit, there are only three surviving main cast (not cameos) members: Sally Field, Paul Williams, and Cora… The elephant. Yep, the elephant has outlived almost everyone else involved.

Yes Cora: Cry a tear for Burt.

Not necessarily safe for kids

While this movie is rated PG, be aware that this is a "1980s PG" and as such there is liberal tobacco use, some crude language, and gay stereotypes, but on the other hand they did manage to reign in much of Gleason-as-Justice's overt racism, making him more of a comedic goof than a genuine ignorant threat. It may not be appropriate for younger children. Honestly, I'm a bit surprised they didn't put him in blackface as a fourth brother, "*Racial Slur* T. Justice." 

And gay men merely existing are the BUTT of jokes! Get it? (80s humor, yeaaaaah)

Where can you watch it?

I watched my personal DVD copy from the "Smokey and the Bandit" collection, but it can be streamed via Netflix (with a subscription) in some regions, or rented and purchased from Amazon Prime Video.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Smokey and the Bandit

Smokey and the Bankrupt Insurance Company

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Smokey and the Bandit" (Universal Pictures/Rastar Films, 1977). Texas tycoon Enos "Big Enos" Burdette (Pat McCormick) and his son, "Little Enos" (Paul Williams) have an ongoing wager: Get a truck driver to drive from Atlanta, Georgia, to Texarkana, Texas to pick up a load of Coors Beer and deliver it back to Atlanta in 28 hours.

I love this casting. It must be hard to keep both of them in frame, though.

There's just one problem… Taking Coors beer across the eastern Texas border constitutes a federal bootlegging charge and every driver they have employed has been busted on the return trip. To this end, the two track down the legendary Bo "The Bandit" Darville (Burt Reynolds) at a truck rodeo to entice him with an $80,000 purse.
Our hero.

The Bandit has a plan: He employs his partner Cledus "Snowman" Snow (Jerry Reed) to drive his truck and transport the beer, while he drives a black souped-up Pontiac Trans Am to act as a "blocker," AKA a distraction to lure police ("Smokey Bears," nicknamed for their wide-brimmed hats) away from Snowman.
Jerry Reed, fresh off the New Scooby-Doo Movies (I'm not making that up).

The plan works flawlessly until The Bandit picks up a hitchhiker on their way out of Texas, Carrie (Sally Field), a stereotypical runaway bride.
Pictured: A desperate woman.

When her "Just Married" wedding car breaks down, she flags down The Bandit and hops into his car. It turns out she was pressured by sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) into marrying his idiot son, Junior (Mike Henry).
It was apparently Gleason's idea to include the character of Junior. Good call.

Once Justice discovers Carrie (who The Bandit has given the handle "Frog" to) has run off with The Bandit, he begins pursuing the duo across the country to get her back and put The Bandit behind bars!
Or possibly die trying.

Some details

This is the directorial debut of veteran stuntman Hal Needham, who became known for his racing and car chase films. He also shares a writing credit on this film with Robert L. Levy, who went on to have an extensive career in Hollywood, writing quite a few big-name comedies… and their less successful (sometimes direct-to-video) sequels. This movie is commonly remembered as a showcase for Burt Reynolds, but let's face it: The real stars of this film are the iconic black Trans Am and its CB radio.

Starring: General Motors!

I don't think that modern audiences can appreciate how cool it was to hear conversations over the air in rural communities.

This film really kicked CB's popularity into overdrive in the late 70s and early 80s (the era B.C. -- Before Cellphones), and popularized the entire genre of "country boy car stunts" that would spawn "The Dukes of Hazzard" a few years later. As well as co-starring in the film, Jerry Reed co-wrote most of the songs and performed them all, and the song "East Bound and Down" became one of his all-time greatest hits. It really bares stating that this film was an absolutely HUGE hit in its time, earning a box office gross of over $120,000,000 on a budget of just over $4,000,000.

The bad

So with all the star power, dangerous automotive stunts, and cross-country scenery, is it a good film? Mmmm… No. It is solidly a product of its time, which in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the director and writer's inexperience is front and center here. This is a "fun-romp" comedy and there's practically no drama, which reduces the stakes, but the problem is that most of the jokes don't really have punchlines that land either. The Bandit as a character is very shallow, and that becomes even more apparent as Frog tries to initiate a romantic relationship with him.

Just remember: No matter how awkward the romance is, we were spared a sex scene.

Some of the jokes are contingent on the racist tropes of the time, and while the character (Gleason's Justice) is depicted as a moron in his own right, it can be uncomfortable to watch.

The good

But is it all bad? Mmmm… No, not really. While the whole movie is a low-stakes rambling mess, there's enough action to keep things moving at an enjoyable clip.

I mean, the whole movie is basically one long high speed car chase.

While the characters are shallow and empty, the actors are extremely likable and charismatic (yes, even Burt Reynolds -- there's a reason he was a draw in this era of film). Sally Field is at her prime here, cute as a button while simultaneously showing her tight-pantsed posterior in a lot of scenes.
Ooh, those gams!

There are a few familiar "B movie" faces among some of the CB radio backup cast, and I suspect that most are friends of Hal Needham.
Many of these actors appear in other Needham films.

The only character with any real dramatic scenes in the film is Jerry Reed's Snowman, and Reed does a fantastic job balancing comedy with seriousness. There is one scene where Justice stops at a greasy spoon restaurant that The Bandit is also stopped at, and has a pretty funny conversation with The Bandit without recognizing that he's the driver he has been chasing, which I found quite enjoyable.
Creative and funny for the time, just funny today.

Mike Henry (known for playing Tarzan in several movies) plays the incredibly stupid Junior Justice perfectly, although his natural strength and stature is never really featured in the film.
He's actually a pretty good physical actor.

My memories of this movie

When I was a young lad, living in the boonies of Pennsylvania in the late 70s, this sort of southern-centric country western media was all the rage, and I will admit that for a brief time I was infatuated with CB radios, belt buckles, western hats, cowboy boots, turquoise jewelry, and mother of pearl buttoned shirts. This passed pretty quickly. Still, I thought this movie was hilarious, with the (very slight) cursing and dangerous stunt work.

Jumping cars over things never gets old, does it?

It's still entertaining, but more as a slice of time and how objectively terrible these things can be.

Is it child-safe?

If you're watching with young children, be aware that the film is rated PG for dangerous car stunts (with nary a seatbelt in view), foul language (mostly from Jackie Gleason), lots of smoking (it was the 70s, after all) and the previously mentioned racism (again, from Jackie Gleason). Despite the amount of police chases in the film, there are no guns fired at all, and I'm struggling to remember if any of the officers are actually armed.

There is flagrant door-smashing though. Mostly from this guy.

Where can you watch it?

I watched my personal DVD copy of the movie, but as of this review it can be streamed on Netflix, The Roku Channel with a subscription, or streamed on Apple TV, Prime Video, Redbox, or Vudu for a rental fee.