Smokey and the Bandit is truly the Citizen Kane of car chase movies. It’s the peak, the pinnacle, the ne plus ultra of the genre. It has never been–nor ever will be–surpassed. The Blues Brothers may have crashed more cars, (and it’s a great film) but it’s no Smokey and the Bandit.
In 1977, Coors beer wasn’t sold east of the Mississippi, which made it a valuable commodity. To some. Truck drivers and travellers of all sorts had been bringing Coors to the Peach State long before Smokey and the Bandit, but in small amounts. Mostly. In the summer of ’77, kids wanted Star Wars toys, and their parents wanted Coors beer, and one was easier to obtain than the other. Unlike the toys, the beer wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It wasn’t as God awful as Vegemite, but it wasn’t as brilliant as Jammie Dodgers either.
But few things are.
Smokey and the Bandit is one of the few films I have seen more than once in the theatre: and I was not the instigator. It instantly replaced Thunder Road as my dad’s favorite film. My mom used to tell the story about her and dad going all the way to Toccoa to see Thunder Road, (which is a bit of a schlep from Dawsonville) just because he had to see it. Now you know where I get it from.
My mom only saw Smokey and the Bandit the one time in the theatre. It was the first time she had ever gone with me and Dad. She was a big fan of Jackie Gleason, who preferred The Honeymooners to I Love Lucy. And now you know where I get that from.
People love to go on about “big dumb action movies,” but Smokey and the Bandit does have some perceptive things to say–if you pay attention. Bandit (Burt Reynolds) tells Carrie (Sally Field) that how stupid a person is depends on what part of the United States you happen to be standing in at the time. Just because Carrie knows nothing about country music, and Bandit knows nothing about Broadway, it makes neither of them unintelligent–just uninformed.
There are quite a few films celebrating their 40th anniversary this year; some are more important than others. Star Wars is rightfully going to garner the lion’s share of attention. It’s the most important film in my life, but Smokey and the Bandit will always have a massive place in my heart and soul. My parents never “got” Star Wars, and by extension, never really got me. They couldn’t make heads nor tails out of a space opera set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Smokey and the Bandit was something my parents and I could enjoy together, and agree on. That makes it important to me, an that’s all that matters.