Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I just realized that yesterday, August 12th, 2013 was the 30th anniversary of the release of Smokey and the Bandit Part 3! How could I forget this? And I created a post about Monk! What a traitorous heart I have! 
In honor of such an anniversary, here is an article I wrote in 2005 about my love for all things "Bandit".

Doctor: “Now tell me, what is your problem?”
Me: “I was headin’ eastbound on interstate 94 and this County Mounty from Texarcana, TX was tail-grabbin me for miles…”
Doctor: “What the hell are you talking about”?
Me: “Well my problem, you see it keeps coming back to this black Trans Am.”
Doctor: “Hold on; you sound like some bad 70’s trucker movie! What is this some CMT Redneck movie marathon? You have to give me something better than that; I’m $300 an hour! Now, revert back to 2005 and tell me why you’re here.”

OK, it started like this; I went to visit my older Sister for a weekend, must have been around 1978/79. As we were waiting for my Mother to come pick me up, we decided to watch a little TV and she had HBO, which was a rarity back then! As we were flicking through the channels, and I mean literally flicking – this was before remotes were a common television accessory; she sees a familiar credit roll by. “Oh, you’ll like this, I saw it the other night, and it’s a really good movie”. 

The movie was “Smokey and the Bandit” and 25 plus years later; I can honestly say that I still want a 1977 black Trans Am.

For a kid, The Bandit was the epitome of cool: the likeable rebel with the cool car that got the girl and gave a big Southern finger to authority, all while driving 110 miles an hour. I know that sounds like an overly simple story but I couldn’t help it, I was hooked; I wanted to be The Bandit. Hell, I used to pretend that my bike, which of course had to be black and gold was a Trans Am and I was Mr. Reynolds himself. I was obsessed with all things Bandit; although I never got Burt’s laugh right and never wanted to drive a tractor-trailer with an ugly basset hound in the passenger’s seat and never, ever rocked a ‘stache with a cowboy hat! My unswerving allegiance was such that, in 1983, I actually saw “Smokey and the Bandit 3” in the theater, despite the fact that Burt Reynolds only had a 2-minute cameo in the movie!

I lost track of “Smokey and the Bandit” as I got older although I would frequently break out Jerry Reed’s thoroughly ass-kicking album “Eastbound and Down”, which featured the three songs he did for the first Bandit movie. Always in awe of Jerry’s monstrous guitar playing, I started to feel the pangs of yearning and wanted to experience the movie again in its unedited form; the constant re-runs on TBS do not do the film justice (no pun intended). When the film was released on laserdisc (yeah, laserdisc) in 1997, I picked up a copy and The Bandit sped into my conscious once again. Seeing it again at 25 made me truly appreciate what a clever, well-written comedy it was. Where once my focus was purely on the car chases, now I found myself drawn to Jackie Gleason who was hilarious from the time he stepped on screen, straight through to the ending credits! Since that time, I have made the leap to DVD and was positively giddy over finding Universal’s Bandit collection, “The Pursuit Pack”, which featured all 3 movies on a single, double-sided disc. 

Watching the “trilogy” all the way through made me realize what a huge part of my life these movies were. The amount of memories and good feelings that came back to me prompted this intensive period of research to find information about these movies.  Although much of this is already known to fans, I will give as much insight into each movie as I can as well as poster art, merchandise photos and MP3’s. Read on Good Buddy and enjoy my tribute to “The Bandit”.  I’m eastbound and down, 10 – 4.

Let us start with a little “Smokey” math lesson:
Bandit 1 - Grosses $126,737,428 or $355 million in today’s dollars.
Bandit 2 – Grosses $66,132,626 or about 150 million today.
Bandit 3 – Grosses $5,678,950 or about 11 million today.

See a trend here? While the “Bandit” may have ruled every highway below the Mason-Dixon line, he was not resistant to “Sequel-itis”. For those who need an explanation, “Sequel-itis” is the constant degradation of a movie franchise over time. More often than not, a movie franchise starts off brilliantly and ends up with a collective, “what the hell happened?” from its audience. I’m not going to give a plot run through for each movie but I will give some stats pertaining to them and even a little extra love to that much-maligned third film.  

Smokey and the Bandit – This was the second highest grossing film of 1977 right behind “Star Wars” – actually way behind “Star Wars” but that should come as no surprise. Opening on May 27th, 1977, “Smokey 1” was the little movie that could; it ended up surpassing any expectations that Hollywood, including the movie’s own cast and crew, had for it.

I cannot add anything to what has already been said about this movie so let’s just say that this film actually influenced my childhood more than the aforementioned, “Star Wars”. And that is saying a lot since any child growing up in the 70’s was under the powerful, cinematic spell cast by George Lucas.

The soundtrack to the movie is pretty awesome with Jerry Reed proving once again, what an amazing guitarist/singer/songwriter he is. I am currently hunting for a copy of this as there are a couple of songs on it I have yet to hear. Once I have one, it will be available for download here. [Editor’s note: I now have it. And it is on my site]

Odd fact of the day: this movie was called, “Trans Am 7000” in Japan.

Smokey and the Bandit 2 – Now, while it may not have been as colossal a hit as its predecessor, “Bandit 2” certainly did well at the box office, even in today’s dollars.  Opening on August 15, 1980, the movie was the 8th biggest draw for the year, right in between “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “The Blue Lagoon”. Really. No, I’m not kidding.

This movie presents The Bandit in quite a different light; a pathetic, washed up, egomaniac who is past his prime and still trying to remain relevant. It showed a darker side of our hero but at the time, I thought it was every bit as great as the first movie.  While I wouldn’t agree with that today, it is a good movie; almost like the producers tried to expand The Bandit’s world by having him cruise through new areas (Miami!), getting caught in situations that would not have been possible in the first movie (like being an adoptive father to a baby elephant, being a raving drunk, etc) and almost being caught by Buford T Justice. 

We also get a bunch of cameos in this outing from Football legends Terry Bradshaw, Mean Joe Green and Joe Klecko to Country music artists such as Brenda Lee, Mel Tillis and Don Williams. It should come as no surprise that all three of these artists are also featured on the film’s soundtrack. While we only get one (but great) song from Jerry Reed, the album is still a must have. One of the highlights is that Burt Reynolds really does have a song called, “Let’s Do Something Cheap And Superficial” - I always thought it was just mentioned in the movie as a joke. While he can’t sing to save his life, the song is so catchy that his drawling performance grows on you. Plus, with a title like that, you know that tune has got to be hilarious!

There were toys released this time around such as small matchbox-type vehicles, model cars and Delmar Hank’s book, “The Adventures of Smokey and the Bandit”. See the memorabilia section for images of what I could find. 

Second odd fact of the day: this movie was called, “Trans Am 7000 VS. The Smokeys” in Japan. 

Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 – 1983 was a banner year for the movie industry as it was the ‘year of the third sequel’. It is almost laughable to look at how many part 3’s were released: Halloween 3, Superman 3, Jaws 3, Rocky 3, and Return Of the Jedi (even though it is now called Episode 6 – in 1983 it was the third Star Wars movie!). Not surprisingly, a few of these movies exposed the fact that their respected franchises were suffering from the afore-mentioned “Sequel-itis”.

To my then 11-year-old psyche, it was impossible to think something was afoul in Bandit-land but by the end of the movie, even I realized that I had just sat through my first ‘box office bomb”. I will say upfront, that because I am a Bandit fan, I do like this film; as crazy as that sounds, but there are so many problems with this movie that it merits much discussion - I actually like talking about how bad it is! Listen up all you future filmmakers and screenwriters.

Opening in 498 theaters on August 12, 1983, the film went to wide release two weeks later on September 2 and came in at a pitiful #95 for the year. It is almost as if Universal knew it sucked but needed that confirmation before putting it in the 1,119 theaters it eventually ended up in. 

Looking at the title alone, we find the first of many faults with this movie. The film is called “Smokey and the Bandit Part 3”, not “Smokey and the Bandit 3”. The culprit responsible for this will wisely never fess up as to why they felt compelled to add the “Part” to the title but my guess is that they thought it would make the movie better. It didn’t.

One of the most discussed topics of film-lore surrounding “Bandit 3”; “Bandit PART 3” excuse me, is that the film was originally shot as, “Smokey IS the Bandit”, with Jackie Gleason’s Buford T Justice playing both characters! Was some screenplay guru suffering from delusions of grandeur in trying to create the finest schizophrenic debacle ever filmed? After disastrous test screenings (imagine that?), the film was re-shot with Jerry Reed coming on as the Bandit to keep with the previous film’s “cat and mouse” style theme. Unfortunately, someone was asleep in the editing room and the result is a movie so loaded with continuity errors it is unintentionally funny! These scenes are actually funnier than the ‘supposedly humorous’ drivel that some of the actors are stuck with saying. There is no sense of direction or ‘flow’ to any of the scenes, almost like someone writing in phrases rather than complete sentences. Things just seem to happen and then before there is any closure to the scene, the next scene begins. Plus, Jerry Reed is not “Bandit” material and in a way, the filmmakers knew that, as he is not the focus of the movie. This is most likely a residual effect from the movie’s original version but if the editing was better, it may have been a smoother transition.

In the end, “Smokey And The Bandit Part 3” plays like a bad episode of “The Dukes Of Hazzard” in that it is just a hokey, car chase flick where dumb characters do really dumb things. Jackie Gleason does manage a few funny one-liners but unfortunately, the rest of the film is about as funny as a bout of pneumonia!

Third odd fact of the day: Japan didn’t even bother to give this movie an alternate title. In fact, they probably just shipped it back to Hollywood.

Continue to the Memorabilia section for Poster Art, MP3’s and other Bandit treats! Just click here to visit Popjunkie.com!


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