Smokey and the Bandit had so many things going against it, in terms of Hollywood “wisdom,” when it came out in 1977. It was the directorial debut of stuntman Hal Needham. Its relatively small budget was trimmed by the studio by $1 million to $4.3 million. The studio didn’t think Sally Fields was pretty enough to play the runaway bride. But it had Burt Reynolds, Hollywood’s biggest star (who earned $1 million of that budget), in the driver’s seat. His rakish charm and that sharp-looking Pontiac Trans Am he abused turned this largely improvised road comedy, released at the height of CB radio popularity, into a box-office smash. It earned $300 million in 1977, second only to the first Star Wars movie. Reynolds plays the Bandit, a four-wheel daredevil hired to distract law enforcement as he and his truck driver buddy Snowman (Jerry Reed) have 28 hours and $80,000 on the line to drive from Atlanta to Texarkana and back with 400 cases of Coors, unavailable east of Texas at the time. “Smokey” is the great comic actor Jackie Gleason as the humiliated Texas lawman with ample reason to pursue the Bandit and the runaway bride (Reynolds and Fields fell in love during the making of the movie). So much for Hollywood wisdom.
We open tonight’s show with the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, a sustained stream of lunacy and biting satire in which the leaders of two fictional European countries (Hail, Fredonia!) wage war because they can. This Marx Brothers classic is more successful at showing the senselessness and futility of unbridled conflict than a lot of “serious” films. Certainly the finest of the brothers’ five Paramount Pictures efforts before going to MGM, it contains many memorable set pieces, including the famous “mirror sequence.”Buy Tickets Online