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Smokey & The Bandit: Rare Facts And Stories Behind The Film

Editor Picks | January 5, 2018

Left: Sally Field and Burt Reynolds in 'Smokey And The Bandit.' Right: Poster art for 'Smokey And The Bandit.' Source: IMDB; IMPAwards.com

Smokey and the Bandit was a 1977 action comedy film with just a touch of romance that starred Burt Reynolds as the Bandit, Jerry Reed as Cledus "Snowman" Snow, Sally Field as Carrie or "Frog," and Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Justice -- or as cops are called in trucker parlance, Smokey. In the movie, Bandit and the Snowman are tasked with driving a truckload of contraband beer from Texarkana to Atlanta; along the way, they run afoul of Smokey, who becomes obsessed with stopping them.

Smokey and the Bandit. was without a doubt the blockbuster comedy of '77, finishing the year as the second-highest grossing movie. The top film was, of course, Star Wars -- so there was no shame in second place. The story itself was comical but, like with all movie productions, there was more than met the eye.

The Bandit Was A Trucker, Too

Although the Snowman is behind the wheel of the big rig in the movie, while the Bandit drove a fast and furious Trans Am, Bandit was also a truck driver by trade. In the '70s, truckers were popular on-screen protagonists, fighting the man in such films as Convoy, White Line Fever, and Every Which Way But Loose.

What Was So Special About Coors Beer?

Racing across three states with a truckload of beer is a strange plot device -- since when is it illegal to transport beer? And hold on a second, could they not just buy beer in Atlanta? The story only makes sense if you know that Coors beer was not legally sold east of Oklahoma in the '70s. Due to its scarcity, Coors held a mystique for beer drinkers on the east coast, so the challenge of bringing a truckload was sort of like old-fashioned Prohibition-era rum-running. Or that was the idea, at least. Coors didn't become a national brand until the mid-1980s.

The movie was inspired by a writer's real-life experience of having his Coors beer stolen out of his hotel refrigerator by housekeeping.

Jerry Reed Will Act (And Sing) In Your Movie

Jerry Reed, who portrayed the Snowman, was originally thought of to play the part of Bandit but was otherwise engaged in another film.

Reed was a country singer who had crossed over into acting and was also part of Burt Reynolds' inner circle. Thus he acted in numerous Burt Reynolds movies, with the added task of contributing to the soundtrack -- that formula started with W.W. And The Dixie Dance Kings (1974), with Reed singing a few songs featured in the film, and continuing with Gator (1976), for which Reed wrote and performed the title song.

Smokey And The Bandit's theme song, which plays endlessly in the movie, was "Eastbound And Down," a #2 hit on the Billboard country chart for Reed.

Junior Was A Beast Of A Man

Left: Mike Henry with Jackie Gleason in 'Smokey And The Bandit.' Right: Henry as Tarzan in 'Tarzan And The Great River' (1967). Source: IMDB

The original plan was to have Sheriff Buford in pursuit of the Bandit on his own. Junior was added to the cast at the suggestion of Jackie Gleason, who felt the Sheriff needed a sidekick to abuse for comedic effect. Mike Henry, who played Junior, was a former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker who'd been acting steadily for over a decade. Standing 6'3" and full of muscles, Henry had starred in three Tarzan movies in the late '60s. Henry had also appeared alongside Burt Reynolds in the football comedy The Longest Yard (1974).

Back To Comedy For Sally Field

Source: IMDB

Sally Field had built her career as a comedic actress on TV in the series Gidget and The Flying Nun. In the '70s, feeling the sting of typecasting, Field set out to reinvent herself as a serious actress, and her training paid off with the TV movie Sybil, for which she won the Emmy for Best Actress for her portrayal of a woman with multiple-personality disorder. Though the role of Frog (Carrie) may have seemed a retreat into bubbly-girl comedy, for Field it was a needed break. Turns out the knew what she was doing -- two years after Smokey, Field won the Best Actress Oscar for Norma Rae.

Jackie Gleason Did It His Way

Brooklyn-born Jackie Gleason had portrayed the quintessential working-class New Yorker, bus driver Ralph Kramden, on the trailblazing sitcom The Honeymooners. It was by no means a sure thing that he'd be able to backwoods drawl and mannerisms of Sheriff Buford T. Justice. And depending whom you ask, he didn't -- some have lauded his Southern accent as relatively effective, while others consider it atrocious.

Gleason’s lines were ad-libbed or otherwise written by him. He rarely delivered the dialogue in the script. 

Gleason also enjoyed his Bourbon on set, calling his drink of choice by the codename "hamburgers." He had a personal assistant who was at his beck and call to supply him with his hamburgers, as needed. Don’t judge him, though, it may have added to the overall success of the film.

Snowman's Trailer Survived The Zombie Apocalypse

The Snowman’s big rig trailer was shown in a more recent episode of the now popular The Walking Dead series.

Even A Master Of Suspense Likes A Good Car Chase Movie

Source: IMDB

Alfred Hitchcock, the British director of such epic thrillers as Psycho, North by Northwest, and Vertigo, was a huge fan of the Smokey And The Bandit, even though it was unsophisticated in comparison to his oeuvre.

Tags: 1977 | Burt Reynolds | Jackie Gleason | Jerry Reed | Movies In The 1970s | Sally Field | Smokey and the Bandit | The 1970s

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.