Wealthy Texan Big Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick) and his son Little Enos (Paul Williams) seek a truck driver willing to bootleg Coors beer to Georgia for their refreshment. At the time, Coors was regarded as one of the finest beers in the United States, but it could not be legally sold east of the Mississippi River. Truck drivers who had taken the bet previously had been caught and arrested by "Smokey" (CB slang for highway patrol officers, referring to the Smokey Bear–type hats worn in some states).
The Burdettes find legendary trucker Bo "Bandit" Darville (Burt Reynolds) competing in a truck rodeo at Lakewood Fairgrounds in Atlanta; they offer him $80,000 to haul 400 cases of Coors beer from Texarkana, Texas back to Atlanta in 28 hours; Big Enos has sponsored a driver running in the Southern Classic stockcar race and "when he wins I want to celebrate in style." Bandit accepts the bet and recruits his best friend and partner Cledus "Snowman" Snow (Jerry Reed) to drive the truck, while Bandit drives the "blocker", a black Trans Am bought on an advance from the Burdettes, to divert attention away from the truck and its illegal cargo.
The trip to Texas is mostly uneventful except for at least one pursuing Smokey whom Bandit evades with ease. They reach Texarkana an hour ahead of schedule, load their truck with the beer and head back toward Atlanta. Immediately upon starting the second leg of the run, Bandit picks up runaway bride Carrie (Sally Field), whom he eventually nicknames "Frog" because she is "kinda cute like a frog" and "always hoppin' around". But in so doing, Bandit makes himself a target of Texas Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), a career lawman whose handsome but slow-witted son Junior (Mike Henry) was to have been Carrie's bridegroom. Ignoring his own jurisdiction, Sheriff Justice, with Junior in tow, chases Bandit all the way to Georgia, even as various mishaps cause his cruiser to disintegrate around them.
The remainder of the film is one lengthy high-speed chase, as Bandit's antics attract more and more attention from local and state police across Dixie while Snowman barrels on toward Atlanta with the contraband beer. Bandit and Snowman are helped along the way via CB radio by many colorful characters, including an undertaker with his hearse driver and their funeral procession, an elderly lady, a drive-in waitress and all her customers, a convoy of trucks, and even a madam who runs a brothel out of her RV. Neither Sheriff Justice nor any other police officers have any knowledge of Snowman's illegal manifest.
The chase intensifies as Bandit and Snowman get closer to Atlanta; moments after crossing back into Georgia, Bandit comes to the rescue when Snowman is pulled over by a motorcycle patrolman, and state and local police step up their pursuit with more cruisers, larger roadblocks, and even a police helicopter to track Bandit's movements. Discouraged by the unexpected mounting attention, and with just four miles left to go, Bandit is about to give up, but Snowman refuses to listen and takes the lead, smashing through the police roadblock at the entrance to the fairgrounds. They arrive back at Lakewood Speedway (while the Southern Classic race is being run) with only 10 minutes to spare, but instead of taking the payoff, Frog and Bandit accept a double-or-nothing offer from Little Enos: a challenge to run up to Boston and bring back clam chowder in 18 hours. They quickly escape in one of Big Enos' Cadillac convertibles, passing Sheriff Justice's badly damaged police car by the side of the road. Bandit first directs Sheriff Justice to Big and Little Enos, but then in a gesture of respect, reveals his true location and invites Justice to give chase, leaving Junior behind.Burt Reynolds as Bo Darville ("Bandit")Sally Field as Carrie ("Frog")Jerry Reed as Cledus Snow ("Snowman")Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Justice ("Smokey")Mike Henry as Junior JusticePat McCormick as Big Enos BurdettePaul Williams as Little Enos BurdetteMacon McCalman as Mr. BSusan McIver as Hot PantsGeorge Reynolds as Sheriff BranfordLaura Lizer Sommers as Little BeaverMichael Mann as Branford's DeputyLamar Jackson as Sugar BearRonnie Gay as Georgia TrooperQuinnon Sheffield as Alabama TrooperAlfie Wise as PatrolmanPat Hustis as Tow Truck DriverIngeborg Kjeldsen as Foxy LadyBen Jones as Trucker #1Joe Klecko as Trucker #2Hank Worden as Trucker #3
Director Hal Needham originally planned the film as a low-budget B movie with a production cost of $1 million, with Jerry Reed as the Bandit. It was not until Needham's friend Burt Reynolds read the script, and said he would star, that the film was aimed at a more mainstream release; Reed would now portray Bandit's friend Snowman (Reed would eventually play the Bandit in Smokey and the Bandit Part III). At that time Reynolds was the top box office star in the world.
Burt Reynolds revealed in his autobiography that Needham had written the first draft script on legal pads. Upon showing it to his friend, Reynolds told Needham that it was the worst script he had ever read but that he would still make the movie. Most of the dialogue was improvised on set.
Universal Studios bankrolled Smokey and the Bandit for $5.3 million, figuring it was a good risk. Just two days before production was to begin, Universal sent a "hatchet man" to Atlanta to inform Needham that the budget was being trimmed by $1 million. With Reynolds' salary at $1 million, Needham was left with only $3.3 million to make the film. Needham and assistant director David Hamburger spent 30 hours revising the shooting schedule.
"Buford T. Justice" was the name of a real Florida Highway Patrolman known to Reynolds' father, who himself was once Police Chief of Riviera Beach, Florida. His father was also the inspiration for the word "sumbitch" used in the film, a variation of the phrase "son-of-a-bitch" that according to Reynolds he uttered quite often.
Jackie Gleason was given free rein to ad-lib dialogue and make suggestions. It was his idea to have Junior alongside him throughout. In particular the scene where Sheriff Justice unknowingly encounters the Bandit in the "choke and puke" (a roadside diner) wasn't in the original story, but rather was Gleason's idea.
Before Gleason was cast in the film, Richard Boone was originally considered for the role of Buford T. Justice.
Reportedly, Needham had great difficulty getting any studios or producers to take his project seriously (in the film industry, he was better known as a stuntman). He managed to obtain studio attention after his friend Reynolds agreed to portray the Bandit in the film.
The movie was primarily filmed in Georgia in the cities of McDonough, Jonesboro and Lithonia. The scenes set in Texarkana were filmed in Jonesboro and the surrounding area, and many of the chase scenes were filmed in the surrounding areas on Highway 54 between Fayetteville and Jonesboro for a majority of the driving scenes, Mundy's Mill Road, Main Street in Jonesboro, Georgia State Route 400, I-85 (Pleasant Hill exit), and in McDonough. However, the scene where they drive through the Shell gas station was filmed in Ojai, California on the corner of Ojai and El Paseo. Much of the surrounding scene comes from that immediate vicinity. The scene featuring the racetrack was filmed at Lakewood Speedway at the old Lakewood Fairgrounds on the south side of Atlanta. The rollercoaster seen in the movie was the Greyhound. It had not been used for some time and was repainted for the film. It was destroyed in Smokey and the Bandit II and a flashback scene in Part 3.
The film's theme song, "East Bound and Down," was written virtually overnight by Jerry Reed. He gave Needham a preview of the song, and when initially he got no reaction from the director, offered to rewrite the song. Needham however liked the song so much he assured Jerry not to change a word. It became one of Reed's biggest hits and his signature number.
The area around Helen, Georgia was also used for some locations. The scene where Buford T. Justice's car has the door knocked off by a passing semi was shot on GA 75, 3 miles (4.8 km) north of Helen. The tow truck driver was an actual local garage owner, Berlin Wike.
The film features the custom clothing and costuming of Niver Western Wear of Fort Worth, Texas. NWW provided much of the western attire worn in the film, as well as the custom-made (size 64) sheriff's uniforms that Jackie Gleason wore throughout the film.
Reynolds and Sally Field began dating during the filming of Smokey and the Bandit.
While made to take advantage of the ongoing 1970s CB radio fad, the film itself added to the craze.
Though the film Moonrunners (1975) is the precursor to the television series The Dukes of Hazzard (1979-1985), from the same creator and with many identical settings and concepts, the popularity of Smokey and the Bandit and similar films helped get the Dukes series on air. Three actors from the main cast of The Dukes of Hazzard appear in small uncredited roles in Smokey and the Bandit: Ben Jones, John Schneider and Sonny Shroyer (who played a police officer in both). In return, Reynolds portrayed the Dukes character Boss Hogg (originally portrayed by Sorrell Booke) in the film adaptation The Dukes of Hazzard (2005). Reynolds is also referenced by name in several early episodes of the series.
Needham saw an advertisement for the soon-to-be-released 1977 Pontiac Trans Am and knew right away that would be the Bandit's car, or–as Needham referred to it–a character in the movie. He contacted Pontiac and an agreement was made that four 1977 Trans Ams and two Pontiac LeMans 4-door sedans would be provided for the movie. The Trans Ams were actually 1976 model cars with '77 front ends. (From 1970 to 1976, both the Firebird/Trans Am and Chevrolet Camaro had two round headlights, and in 1977, the Firebird/Trans Am was changed to four square headlights, while the Camaro remained unchanged.) The decals were also changed to 1977-style units, as evidenced by the engine size callouts on the hood scoop being in liters rather than cubic inches as had been the case in 1976. The hood scoop on these cars says "6.6 LITRE", which in 1977 would have denoted an Oldsmobile 403-equipped car or a non W-72, 180 hp version of the 400 Pontiac engine. All four of the cars were badly damaged during production, one of which was all but destroyed during the jump over the dismantled bridge. The Trans Am used for the dismantled bridge jump was equipped with a booster rocket, the same type that was used by Evel Knievel during his failed Snake River Canyon jump. Needham served as the driver for the stunt (standing in for Reynolds) while Lada St. Edmund was in the same car (standing in for Sally Field during the jump). By the movie's ending, the final surviving Trans Am and LeMans were both barely running and the other cars had become parts donors to keep them running. The Burdettes' car is a 1974 Cadillac Eldorado convertible painted in a "Candy Red" color scheme, and is seen briefly at the beginning of the movie and as Bandit, Snowman, Fred, and Frog make their escape in the final scene.
The film also made use of three Kenworth W900A short-frame semi trucks which Jerry Reed can be seen driving, each equipped with 38" sleepers. Two units were 1974 models as evidenced by standard silver Kenworth emblems on the truck grille, and one unit was a 1973 model as evidenced by the gold-painted Kenworth emblem on the truck's grille signifying Kenworth's 50 years in business. The paint code for each truck was coffee brown with gold trims, and the 48-foot (15 m) mural trailer used was manufactured by Hobbs Trailers in Texas with a Thermo King Refrigeration unit which was non-operational. This is obvious because there is no fuel tank on the underside of the trailer to power the refrigeration unit, and the unit is never heard running.
In 1977, Coors was unavailable for sale east of Oklahoma. A 1974 Time magazine article explains why Coors was so sought after that someone could be willing to pay the Bandit such a high price to transport it. Coors Banquet Beer had a brief renaissance as certain people sought it out for its lack of stabilizers and preservatives. The article says that future Vice President Gerald Ford hid it in his luggage after a trip to Colorado in order to take it back to Washington. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a steady supply airlifted to Washington by the Air Force. The article also mentions Frederick Amon, who smuggled it from Colorado to North Carolina and sold it for four times the retail price. The lack of additives and preservatives meant that Coors had the potential for spoiling in a week if it were not kept cold throughout its transportation and in storage at its destination. This explains the 28-hour deadline.
The theme music, "East Bound and Down", was sung and co-written by Reed (credited under his birth name, Jerry Hubbard) and Dick Feller. It became Reed's signature song and is found on multiple albums, including Country Legends and his live album Jerry Reed: Live Still. In 1991 it was arranged for orchestra by Crafton Beck and recorded by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra for their album Down on the Farm. Several other groups, such as US rock band Tonic, have also covered it. Reed also penned and performed the song for the opening credits, entitled "The Legend", which tells of some of The Bandit's escapades prior to the events of the film, and the ballad "The Bandit", which features in several versions in the movie and on the soundtrack. Reed's hit not withstanding, Bill Justis is the first name on the credits for the soundtrack as he composed and arranged original music throughout the film. Musicians such as Beegie Adair and George Tidwell played on the soundtrack as part of long careers in music. Legendary five-string banjo player Bobby Thompson is also heard prominently towards the end of "East Bound and Down." The soundtrack album was released in 1977 on vinyl, cassette and 8-track through MCA Records.
Smokey and the Bandit was a smash hit at the box office. With an original budget of $5.3 million (cut to $4.3 million two days before initial production), the film grossed $126,737,428 in North America, making it the second-highest-grossing movie of 1977. The worldwide gross is estimated at over $300 million.
Film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film a good rating (3 stars out of a possible 4) and characterized it as "About as subtle as The Three Stooges, but a classic compared to the sequels and countless rip-offs which followed."
Gene Siskel, in his review in the Chicago Tribune, gave the film two stars and complained that the film failed to tell the audience when the clock started on the beer run, thus removing suspense throughout the film concerning how long remained to them. He also claimed that Bandit is never made aware of Frog's leaving Junior at the altar, which is why the Bandit continually asks why a Texas sheriff is chasing him. However, this is inaccurate: within seconds of Bandit picking her up, Frog tells him "there is a wedding in search of a bride", and goes on to explain her ill-advised romance with Junior, as Bandit holds up the CB mic for Snowman to hear.
The film's editors, Walter Hannemann and Angelo Ross, were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing. It currently holds an 81% "Fresh" rating on review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 27 reviews.
Burt Reynolds rated the film as the one he most enjoyed and had the most fun making in his career.
Legendary film maker Alfred Hitchcock stated that the movie was one of his favorites.
Upon meeting Burt Reynolds, Billy Bob Thornton told him that the picture was not considered as such in the south, and was considered more of a documentary.
"Smokey and the Bandit" was released in the United Kingdom on August 28, 1977 and was a sizeable success there, garnering positive reviews
American Film Institute ListsAFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – NominatedAFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – NominatedAFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:Bandit (Bo Darville) – Nominated Hero
After the debut of the movie the Trans Am became wildly popular with sales almost doubling in two years of the film's release, to the delight of General Motors; in fact, it outsold its Camaro counterpart for the first time ever. Reynolds was given the 1977 vehicle used during promotion of the film as a gift, though the car itself never actually appeared in the film. Because of the popularity of the movie and the sales success of the Trans Am, then President of Pontiac Alex Mair promised to supply Reynolds with a Trans Am each year. Owing to his financial difficulties, in 2014 Reynolds put his vast collection of artwork and memorabilia up for auction, including the Trans Am. High estimates for the car were up to $80,000, but that was dwarfed by the actual sale price of $450,000. Also up for auction was a go-kart replica of the car, which sold for nearly $14,000. In 2016, Trans Am Depot, a Florida-based automobile customization company, announced that it would build 77 Trans Ams that would be modeled after the car that Reynolds drove in the 1977 original, despite Pontiac having been discontinued by GM in 2009. These new models were built off the Camaro platform (the very same one that the real Firebird and Trans Am used), came with Pontiac arrowhead, flaming bird and Bandit logos, as well as instrument panels, center consoles and hood scoops emulating their 1977 counterparts, and were signed by Reynolds. Some differences included the use of a supercharged 454-cid (7.4-liter) Chevrolet-sourced engine that put out 840 HP, and four round headlights, which appeared on the 1967-69 Firebirds/Trans Ams only; the actual 1977-81 models had square headlights.
The diablo sandwich ordered by Sheriff Justice in the Arkansas barbecue restaurant scene has entered popular culture as a minor reference to the film. While no authoritative source identifies the composition of the sandwich, there are several possibilities. A segment of the CMT program Reel Eats used a sloppy joe-style recipe consisting of seasoned ground beef, corn and sour cream. Another proposal, based more closely on images from the film and the shooting location of the scene (at an Old Hickory House restaurant in Georgia), is pulled pork and hot sauce on a hamburger bun.
The Bandit Run
First run in 2007 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the movie, The Bandit Run was the brainchild of Dave Hall, owner of Restore A Muscle Car. A group of Trans Am owners and fans of the movie take part in an annual road trip from Texarkana to Jonesboro, Georgia, recreating the route taken by the characters in the film.
The Bandit Run quickly caught on and has become a fixture, most recently celebrating the 40th anniversary of the movie with a special screening of the film attended by Burt Reynolds and a recreation of the jump undertaken by Bandit and Frog across a river.
In 2014, petroleum company Mobil 1 produced television commercials, featuring NASCAR star Tony Stewart, closely based on the film. Called Smoke is the Bandit playing on Stewart's nickname, the commercials featured him as the Bandit opposite Darrell Waltrip who played Snowman and Jeff Hammond as Buford T. Justice. The story replaced the Coors beer with Mobil 1 products. The adverts poked fun at the film and even featured a Pontiac Trans Am and a cover version of the song East Bound and Down. The commercials were produced after Stewart mentioned that the movie was one of his favorites.
Television censorship and alternative versions
When Smokey and the Bandit first aired on American network television in the early 1980s, censors were faced with the challenge of toning down the raw language of the original film. For this purpose, they overdubbed dialogue deemed offensive, which was (and remains, to an extent) common practice. The most noted change made for network broadcast was the replacing of Buford's often-spoken phrase "sumbitch" (a contraction of "son of a bitch"; usually in reference to the Bandit) with the phrase "scum bum". This phrase achieved a level of popularity with children, and the 2007 Hot Wheels release of the 1970s Firebird Trans Am has "scum bum" emblazoned on its tail. The TV prints of the first two Bandit films are still shown regularly on television, although a few TV stations aired the unedited version in recent years as some of the phraseology (i.e. "(son of a) bitch", "ass", etc.) became more acceptable on TV.
The original actors mostly redubbed their own lines for the television version, except for Gleason. Actor Henry Corden, who voiced Fred Flintstone after original performer Alan Reed died, was used to replace a considerable amount of Sheriff Justice's dialogue. This is fitting, as Fred Flintstone was a parody of/homage to Gleason's character Ralph Kramden and The Flintstones was a parody of/homage to The Honeymooners.
In the UK, the heavily dubbed version was shown for a number of years, particularly by the BBC. However, in more recent years, the original version has been shown (on ITV, a commercial channel), usually with the stronger language edited out, often quite awkwardly and noticeably.
The theatrical release itself had a few lines deleted, including a creative edit in which Sheriff Justice tells a state trooper to "fuck off." His expletive is obscured when a passing big rig sounds its horn. At the time, using the 'F' word would immediately require an R rating which the producers were looking to avoid. This clever self-censorship allowed the film to avoid this rating and reach a much larger audience.
In 2006, a DVD re-release was issued of Smokey and the Bandit featuring a digitally-remastered audio track with 5.1 Dolby-compatible surround sound. It should be noted however that many of the film's original sounds were replaced. For instance, the diesel engine start and run up sequence in the opening sequence of the film was completely dubbed over with a totally new sound. A few other examples of "sound effect replacement" occur when Bandit takes off after managing to get a reluctant Cledus involved in the bet, and after he comes to a screeching halt on a roadway moments before picking up Carrie. Some of the original sound effects (such as Cledus' dog Fred's barking) and music (such as the final chase to the Southern Classic) were removed and not replaced. (Note: earlier DVD releases of the film have the original soundtrack intact.)
Major portions of the audio 'background' have been modified with different engine sounds or tire squeals from the original film. The updated version of the film features sounds inaccurate for what would be produced by the Trans Am or the numerous other Pontiac vehicles in the film. The original film had correct sounds that were usually recorded live as the action took place.
Some TV versions also feature a longer version of the scene where Cledus wades into the pond after Fred.
A television movie was aired in 1994. The car featured was a Dodge Stealth.
In late 2017, Universal Pictures accquires Edgar Wright to direct a reimagining/reboot of the first film, due to the summer of 2019 release.