The film “Smoky and the Bandit” is as big of a part of the trucking culture as biscuits and gravy at a truck stop or the CB Radio. Heck, the DVD of the 1977 blockbuster starring Burt Reynolds might as well be passed out to everyone who earns their commercial driver’s license. Even though the movie’s depiction of trucking strays hilariously from real life, the action-comedy is beloved by most people who have sat in the driver’s seat of a big rig.
Plenty of you have probably seen the movie a dozen or more times. You most likely know a majority of the lines by heart. You may even mimic Reynolds’ iconic laugh and gum chomp from time to time. But do you know the story of how this underdog film written and directed by a stunt man evolved into a classic that grossed almost $127 million, spawned two sequels and remains beloved almost 40 years later?
On Aug. 6, CMT premiered “The Bandit,” which is a behind-the-scenes look at how the film came to fruition.
You can watch it below once you log in with your television provider.
Hal Needham, who was a longtime friend of Reynolds and worked as his stunt man on such movies as “The Longest Yard” and “Gator,” wrote the film about truck drivers trying to haul beer across country. Needham showed his script to Reynolds and asked him to star in it. Reynolds, who liked the story but thought the dialogue didn’t work, said he would if the actors were allowed to improvise.
While agreeing to star in a film written and directed by a longtime stunt man seemed extremely risky at the time, the success of the movie did nothing but increase Reynolds’ status as a movie superstar. It also allowed Needham to direct nine more feature films, including “Smoky and the Bandit II” and “Cannonball Run,” which also featured Reynolds in the leading role.
A contributor to the success was likely due to Needham’s perspective on the film he was making.
“I had no fear going in,” Needham, who died in 2013, was quoted as saying in the documentary. “I mean we’re not doing “Gone with the Wind” or “Fiddler on the Roof.” It’s action-comedy. Let’s just light it for the color and shoot it. Speed, speed, speed.”
The 80-minute documentary discusses the formation of the cast that includes Sally Field, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason, as well as how the Firebird Trans Am was chosen as the Bandit’s signature vehicle, and how Reed made “Eastbound and Down” the film’s trademark song.
If you’re a big fan of “Smokey and the Bandit,” you’re sure to enjoy the interviews from the cast and crew, rare behind-the-scenes footage, and a great story of how two friends struck gold with a small-budget buddy film with fast cars and big trucks.