I have about a dozen movies backlogged to review on this site. Most of them are terrible and while they meet the niche, the willpower doesn’t meet them. A friend though did give me a copy of this, a long special aired by CMT earlier in the year that he recorded. The Bandit is an in-depth documentation and celebration of Smokey and the Bandit. It’s much easier to write a review of that, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m not sure why they made this show or how it came about, but if you liked the movie, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Reed, Pontiac Trans Ams, Hal Needham or the dying craft of stunt work, you should find this show and watch it.
It’s like the antithesis of this near-insulting shit we see released on home media today, disguised as ‘supplements’. The Bandit is a lovingly crafted 80 minute barn-burner that charts the movie’s inception, production and legacy along with the actors and players involved. It starts out with Hal Needham’s story as a stuntman and his wild idea to shoot a chase movie, even though every studio turns him down. He finally finds success when his friend Burt Reynold’s agrees to appear in the movie, upping the value of the project. Even though Needham has never directed before, the film was a go.
The documentary is wise, in that it follows the movie’s outrageous premise and comedy, with well edited comedy and behind the scenes one-liners. Needham admits that he was practically trolling and trying his luck with the whole project, indicating that he wanted to keep ahead of the limits of the script with speed, speed and more speed. “There was no script”, says Jackie Gleason (stock footage from a different interview) who revealed that entire parts of the movie where made up ad-hoc at the side of the road, with all of his dialogue improvised a la R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. We even learn that Gleason and Reynolds were to share more scenes together (they only filmed one scene in a diner), but Gleason was so thunderously hilarious, that Reynolds insist that that be the only work they did together, with jealously being at the core of his demands.
There is some off topic stuff I feel, I mean there’s a lot of non ‘Bandit’ stuff in there, such as Burt Reynold’s prior career and other bullshit about naked photo shoots. However even stuff like this proves to be, actually, hilarious. For instance, Reynolds’ anecdote about feeling an overwhelming urge to murder Marlon Brando when they first met. Reynolds tells a good story, everyone involved here does. Good to see how the Bassett Hound was cast and good to hear about East Bound and Down being played for the first time. It also gives huge credit to the lost art of stunt work as I mentioned above.
The best thing about this show however is how Needham and Co. reminisce about how the entire thing was a bunch of red necks trying to shoot a movie without even knowing half of the terms professionals use, just going for broke, for the hell of it, and actually coming out the other side with a classic. Some had contempt for him, this know-nothing, coarse ‘Good ol’ Boy’ with no pedigree, but by the end all had to respect his skills.
This kind of does for Smokey and the Bandit, belatedly, what Inferno did for The Expendables. Watch it, it’s a riot.