Comedy #8: “Smokey & the Bandit” (1977)
I guess you could say I have something for cars, or at least movies about cars. Certainly movies about road trips, and absolutely movies about cross country races. The ’70s were the heyday of the chase film, when stuntmen did their own stunts, and they actually wrecked all those cars for your entertainment. Most were low-budget B-pictures designed to fill out the double feature at the drive-in, featuring good ol’ boys, bootleggers and auto thieves being pursued by hapless law enforcement officials driving thru billboards and crashing into cricks.
While the epic satire “Death Race 2000” best captured the gonzo nature of America and the open road — complete with drivers getting points for running over pedestrians — the genre reached its zenith with “Smokey & the Bandit,” the big-screen hit that (finally) successfully combined comedy, crashes and citizens band in equal measure. While the chemistry of it’s big stars helped (and by that I mean the Trans Am and Sally Fields, not Burt Reynolds), the movie absolutely benefited from the Jerry Reed song “East Bound and Down,” an infectious country ditty that knits the whole road trip together. If you ever need to get something done … beer run, mowing the lawn, housecleaning … just put this song on and it will keep you moving.
I loved the idea of a cross country race against the clock so much, I used it in my first book, the infamous “Truckin’ Turtles.” Released in 1989, the first (and, it turned out, only) royalty check I received for the Teenage Mutant Turtles tie-in arrived in time for me to blow it all on wining and dining my future wife. It was money well spent.