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“Some say they despise you, well maybe they do
But deep down inside them, I bet they wish they were you…”
“Bandit”,

by Jerry Reed.






Back when the Bandit was king.

Feature


When the seminal seventies blockbuster (second only to some movie starring Eddie Fisher’s daughter that year) became a major cultural icon, it turned into something later generations flat-out hated for various reasons. The whole CB radio craze represented a huge leap in freedom, where free communication outstretched itself as an olive-branch to all walks of life, connecting with others through merely talking. Communities sprouted and it became one big melting pot, rather like the internet but without the venom total anonymity allows. From it came CB lingo, it's own totally unique language, providing more reasons for contemporary younglings and hipsters to hate anything associated with it, disliking the exclusivity of it all. But it seems as though that when the current definition of fun is sitting on your arse playing computer games and tending imaginary farms, watching a movie made with charismatic stars and a sense of fun so infectious just seems alien.

As for us? Well, we originally saw the first two instalments in the same week, one of the benefits associated with having a family of early VHS adopters, and we got into a pattern of our parents renting movies one night and watching them, then leaving the tape for us to get up early and see them before school. The free-wheeling fun of Smokey and the Bandit hit hard, and was quickly followed up by the hugely successful sequel, and young, trusting eyes had a blast, unaware as we were of the troubles behind the scenes and the hatred slavered over it by critics. It was fun, if not as good as the first.

We’re going to skip reviewing the first film, as this is a direct port of Fabulous Films’ previous release (which in itself was a the same as the existing Universal issue) but we will note that the movie itself is a perfect example of the Hollywood blockbuster.  It’s fun, the stars have bags of charisma and chemistry, the stunts are cool without falling into the trap of being set-pieces just for the sake of it, it contains eminently quotable dialogue and the whole thing has more charm than any one movie has any right to.  It was (reportedly) a blast for all concerned to make, as evidenced in the scene where Burt Reynolds breaks the fourth wall, looking right into the camera and grinning, purposefully done to let the audience in on the fun they were all having. Yes, there are a lot of uses of the word “fun” in these three paragraphs, but you can’t talk about the movie without that particular noun/adjective. Just don’t ask why everyone immediately recognises the truck-driving Bandit from his brand-new Trans-Am, though…

A detailed look at the shit-storm that was Smokey & the Bandit Part 3 is to follow, so buckle up….

Smokey & the Bandit Ride Again.

The success of the first film was something that took the American film industry by surprise. Secure in being the second highest-grossing feature film of 1977, and shadowed only by that certain science-fiction film that nearly every studio turned down and everyone thought was going to be a dud, Smokey & The Bandit catapulted the concept, along with Burt Reynolds and Sally Field into the celebrity stratosphere. With such a huge hit, pressure for a sequel was intense, but by the time the film was about to go into production, there was one little problem with the leading actors...

Most reading this will know that this is - in fact  - Smokey & the Bandit Part II, but at the time it came out, it was common practice to re-title films in the UK. This was mainly because of the UK had to wait up to 6 months for any tent pole release, allowing canny distributors the option to throw audiences off the scent should they bomb in the states. Howard the Duck was one of the last big releases to have a title-change, owing to news of that particular "dreadful" film spreading like wildfire. Ergo, we had Howard: A New Breed of Hero. Other times would be to iron out any confusing Americanisms in the title. But in some cases, it would be to make the title more commercially appealing, in the case of SITBII heightening the western motif (for genre fans) and softening the sequel aspect so as not to scare off those curious to see it who had only heard of the block-busting first film. Ride Again sounds more like a new adventure than direct continuation. The case comes with the original UK title of Smokey & the Bandit Ride Again, but the movie is entitled Smokey & the Bandit Part II. Right, on we go…

As punters in teh UK first saw the movie.

After making his famous bootlegging run to Texarkana and back, The Bandit (Reynolds) has slipped into a downward spiral of booze and his beloved Frog (Field) has walked out on him, only to fall back into the arms of Junior (Mike Henry) and facing the prospect of having Sheriff Buford T Justice (Jackie Gleason) as a father-in-law again. The Snowman (Jerry Reed) is approached to make another lucrative run, which involves delivering something VERY big to a Republican convention in Dallas, but needs to get The Bandit sober and able to make the run that could land them with enough money to start a bank. With Carrie/Frog lured back by the prospect of a lot of money, she finds her almost husband and her almost father-in-law on her tail once again. Will the guys be able to deliver on time? Can Junior get Carrie to the church on time? Is Bandit every going to sober up? The biggest car spectacle in cinema history awaits, as a fleet of police cars meet an armada of trucks in the ultimate scrap-metal match.

"He's figuring his way out of the next movie - don't talk to him much..."

Smokey & The Bandit Part II triumphs as a depiction of certain heart-breaking truths in life; the realities of being famous for 15 minutes are explored in an almost painful manner, as the aftermath of The Bandit's short-lived brush with fame finds him a washed-up alcoholic who was so addicted to the booze that he traded his beloved car for a six-pack of Bud. Memorabilia from his brush with fame is on display, alcohol is stashed all around the seedy hotel where he now resides and spends much of his time in a drunken stupor. Painting such a desperately real portrait of someone in the grip of alcoholism might not sound like it leaves room for comedy, but Reynolds and Reed manage to get some genuine laughs out of the situation, along with a couple of moments that further enhance the authenticity of the sad situation.  As good as it is, this really doesn’t sit right in a sequel to one of the biggest grossing comedies of all time.

Anyway, the mysterious package, which turns out to be an elephant, was an obvious symbol of the Republican party and represents not only the right-wing faction of American politics, but in this film it also symbolises, in a fairly abstract way, The Bandit's emotions after Frog leaves the scene; the pregnant pachyderm causes his cold-hearted nature to melt at a crucial moment when he realises just how much of a dick he is being – and has been – to the few people who genuinely care about him.  Emotion is at the forefront of the movie, as pertinent as the ramped-up redneck mentality which pervades the script. But there was more to it than just words…

"You have to subscribe her before this kind of dialing..."

What the film also manages to convey are the painful realities of a failed relationship; it was no secret that Burt Reynolds and Sally Field were an item after the release of Smokey & The Bandit, but it was not quite so obvious that things had ended between them by the time the sequel went into production. The rampant success of the first film meant that a sequel was inevitable, even if the personal lives of the lead actors meant that it was going to make for an uncomfortable experience. Field herself allegedly only agreed to appear in the follow-up if she could write the scene where her character ends things with The Bandit; the resulting scene is both wonderful and difficult to watch, as Field conveys what were almost certainly her true feelings toward her former partner with a mixture of bitchiness and heartbreaking sincerity.

"It's so funny....how we don't talk anymore!"

The shift in comedy tone is also jarring, with the pathos which made the original film so accessible to such a wide audience that even had “highbrow” critics grudgingly agreeing it was charming now gone.  In its place is very broad humour, as though playing down to the redneck mentality the previous entry was misguidedly accused off.  Wacky hijinks are the order of the day, with both physics and logistics cheerfully ignored for the sake of a crowd-pleasing affair. The jokes are aimed squarely at the back row, as are some of the performances - even Gleason gets the chance to go overboard in this one, but at least he got to do it without damaging the character of Buford T Justice. More on this later….

The sense of apathy amongst the main cast seems to permeate into other areas of the film; the first Smokey & The Bandit was a fast-paced affair that emphasised the importance of the bootlegging run, accompanied by Jerry Reed's fabulous West/East-Bound & Down song; here, there is no sense of urgency to the run, and the Snowman's classic song is substituted for the decidedly languid Ride, Concrete Cowboy, Ride. The line about The Bandit's album not selling because of the wrong choice of material also works as a comment about the film itself. Even Jerry Reed’s theme song seems to be treading old ground, with Texas Bound and Flyin’ too easily seguing into East Bound & Down. Don’t believe us?  Take a look:

“I've got my 10 in the wind
Let it all hang out again
'Cause how're you gonna win
If you ain't trying

Keep your foot hard on the pedal, son,
Never mind them brakes,
Let it all hang out,
‘Cause we got a run to make.”


The bigger-is-better mentality that seems to plague most sequels in recent years might just have been pioneered in this film, with the huge trucks-versus-cops set-piece during the film's final act desperately trying to outdo the stunts in the first film; whilst there are certainly some impressive gags on display here (including a world record-setting - albeit highly injurious - car jump by stuntman Buddy Joe Hooker), nothing can really top the sheer excitement of bridge-jump in the original Smokey & The Bandit. The amount of serious metal damage caused in the final showdown is ridiculous when measured against the zero casualty rate among those driving. Clearly setting a pattern for The A-Team, adversarial vehicles are destroyed in ways which would - at the very least - leave occupants with life-changing injuries, but when the cars stop moving, out the drivers come looking little more than bemused. It’s fitting that the dialogue for the truckers recorded in post production sound very much like those found in Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

Egad!  Speaking females in Smokey & the Bandit Part II....

There is a rather rough nature to the movie, lacking the polish of the first in the series, as though the mentality was “sod the frills, give ‘em thrills” and aesthetics took at distinct back-seat in the proceedings. This is echoes through the decision that in order to accommodate the participation of Jackie Gleason - who was ill at the time - all of his scenes were shot first, with everything else a secondary consideration. The consequence of this way of working comes that it causes certain continuity problems. One sequence has Justice driving directly behind the Bandit through a suburban neighbourhood, and when cutting between Gleason & Reynolds, not only is the weather completely different, but the area they're going through only has passing similarities. It also set things in motion for disastrous doublings of Gleason which formed the basis for the final entry in the series, but more on that later...

Unsurprisingly, the performances from Reynolds and Field are somewhat subdued, but there is authenticity to them, as they are a couple who parted company acrimoniously and are thrust together again due to money and pressure. Neither of them look like they are having a particularly good time and there is a streak of bitterness in Reynolds' performance that probably didn't exist in the script. Field puts in good work – and her work in the aforementioned break-up scene is superb – but she seems to emit an whiff of emotional fatigue that adds to the downer feel of the film in general. The fact that during the filming of Smokey & The Bandit Part II, Field won the Best Actress academy award for Norma Rae probably didn't help matters between her and her ex-lover. Sally Field recently said that out of her all of the films she had appeared in as an actress, Smokey and the Bandit Part II was the worst, which is saying something, seeing as she starred in Punchline. She might not be on Christmas card lists of disenfranchised members of SAG frozen out of voting, either.

Jackie Gleason is on top form as Sheriff Buford T Justice; Gleason was one of the biggest names on television in the 50s/60s, and his sense of charisma and presence is one of the most endearing aspects of the film, still cussing his way through the script - which he probably held in as much contempt as he had for the script for the first one - and effortlessly managing to get the most laughs. Endowing Buford with the same mix of small-mindedness, misogyny, sexism and bigotry (though the casual racism HAS been toned down in this one), Gleason endows his performance with a degree of charm that transforms what could have been an obnoxious monster of a character into something considerably more palatable. Gleason even gets to play other members of his family – his brother Gaylord (an overly-effeminate character, which modern audiences might find offensive) and his Canadian brother, Reggie, being a slight variation on his Reginald Van Gleason III persona he portrayed on television in the fifties. Though the Justice brothers only get a VERY small amount of screen-time, it's nice to see Gleason doing something a little different.  Bringing in one of the brothers creates a real problem with logistics: while Buford might have won a champion marksmanship award, that Reginald Van Justice sure can drive, can't he? He's able to get from Quebec, Canada to Texas in about 24 hours. That's pushing about 85 miles an hour without any breaks or stoppages. He must have picked up a few rallying accolades for that effort. As for Gaylord - well, who knows what he's won prizes for...

"Alright, men - let's mount up and cut out!  No, Gaylord not that moun...oh, forget it!"

As if brought in to act as a peacemaker and keep things buoyant on-set, Dom DeLuise exudes an appropriately large degree of charm as the Italian Doctor Frederico Carlucci; Reynolds, Field and DeLuise worked so well together in 1978’s The End that it made sense to bring him in to help lift the melancholic air. Jerry Reed also seems to be doing the best he can to make things flow smoothly, often coming between the two leads to prevent an argument, and it's quite likely that he was also doing that after the cameras stopped rolling.  He seems like the child caught up in a messy divorce, trying to appease both he loves, but knowing that it’s not going to work out.

Pat McCormick and Paul Williams reprise their rolls as Big & Little Enis Burdette, only appearing in the first few minutes to set up the premise of the film, which sees Big Enis wanting to run for Governor of Texas and wanting to ingratiate himself with the outgoing Governor by transporting a mystery crate from Miami to a Republican convention in Dallas. It's a timeless reminder that aspirations of political office can be rewarded if you have enough money to throw at influential figures to grease the thirsty wheels of politics.  If Williams & McCormick really don’t have their hearts in it, they are at least consistent with their peers. In fact, all of the returning cast look thoroughly miserable, with the exception of basset-hound Fred, who looks somewhat LESS miserable, purely because he has been replaced with one that looks completely different and not as down-in-the mouth as his predecessor.

Former American Football player and Tarzan Mike Henry is back as Buford's son, Junior; Henry's comedic potential was only scratched lightly in the first film and writers Michael Kane, Brock Yates and Jerry Belson milk it for all it's worth in this one. Like most simple-minded characters in film and television, there are times when they have a certain degree of clarity that the more intelligent are blind to – the scene with Buford attempting to jump the raising bridge being a great example of this, and when combined with the Haemo-Gague (a watch-like device strapped to Buford's wrist which triggers an alarm whenever his blood-pressure passes a threshold), the result is probably the funniest scene in the film.

"DaaAAAAAHHH-AHHH..."

As we all know, with success come perks, including cameos from the Burt Reynolds/Hal Needham stable of celebrities, including non-singing appearances from country stars Mel Tillis and Brenda Lee, along with sports stars Terry Bradshaw and Joe Klecko. There are also musical appearances from Don Williams and The Staler Brothers. Ten points if you spotted that the guy playing the gas-station owner was one the duo plucking strings on Duelling Banjos in Deliverance - a rather cool homage.

Something you might not pick up on right away, but once you have it pointed out, it’ll have you tracing right back through the whole movie. What is this major sticking point? OK - there is a shocking lack of representation of women in it. Before you do yelling PC or diversity stuff, this is compared to the first film (or even the 3rd!) where numerous female characters populated the script with prominent speaking roles or just one-line CB folk cheering the Bandit on. OK, there are the decorative girls in bikinis at he end of the truck rodeo, but they are just brief set-dressing. With Smokey & the Bandit Part II, you literally can count the number of speaking female characters on one hand. Whilst bringing in Brenda Lee might have been indulgently upgrading her from a mention in the first film, at least she upped the female dialogue content by doing so.

What’s second only to girls in the life of the average redneck?  Yep, good ol’ beer, and with Coors being central to the plot of the first one, it was obvious product placement for alcohol was going to be involved with the second film, but the result is not an organic weaving into the story this time around, rather than just plonking it in anywhere. Yep, Budweiser is rife, and placed so heavily that it should have gotten higher billing than Dom DeLuise. It would make a great drinking game for alcoholics who are after the merest pretence to get pissed out of their tree, whilst having something to giggle at when plastered. Hang on, we’ve just made a correction to our list - beer is the top of thing in the average redneck life…

Yes, but is it clever?

Such sponsorship deals certainly pushed up the budget, giving them more luxuries in filming for the sequel. At one point, a helicopter shot of the heroes' vehicles shows them driving through the palm-tree lined roads of Miami, and showcases the extra money they had to play with this time around. Accidentally highlighting the bigger budget is the sight of another helicopter hovering behind the truck as it drives along! Proof that money can trip you up if you aren’t careful in how you use it.

Much of this review has been spent saying how downbeat and depressing it seems; whilst there is no denying that this isn't the case, the melancholic atmosphere is punctuated by numerous moments of amusement; the training montage where The Bandit goes from booze-hound to super-fit is pretty funny and Jackie Gleason milks the Haemo-Gague for all the laughs it can get, and he also delivers the funniest line about what he intends to do to his wife when he gets home, which is an extension – and a less euphemistic version of his - “to the moon, Alice!” shtick on The Honeymooners. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how this blockbuster sequel looks on Blu…

Video


The film looks pretty good on Blu-ray; averaging at around 28mbps, it cleans the floor with all previous home-video versions, as the added definition brings a clarity that arguably hasn't been seen since it was playing in cinemas – the clarity is such, that during the title sequence at a truck rally, a kid in the audience can clearly be seen wearing a Smokey & The Bandit t-shirt! The colours are fairly vivid, with a reasonable amount of natural film grain, which is pretty well represented. Some have complained that there is a degree of edge-enhancement and whilst this is true, it's not overly intrusive – if you consider that the film was from Universal, it looks better than quite a lot of their back catalogue titles.

It should be noted - once again for those at the back - that although the film has the title Smokey & The Bandit Ride Again – which was used in Britain and various other overseas territories - on the cover, it retains the original Smokey & The Bandit Part II title on the film itself.

Audio


A DTS HD-MA 2.0 audio track is provided here; it's serviceable enough and provides clear dialogue and the occasional bit of punch in the lower frequencies. It's probably a fairly accurate representation of the theatrical sonic experience, although there is a tiny glitch at on the last line of Ride, Concrete Cowboy, Ride, resulting in the first “C” sound being clipped.

Smokey and the Bandit Part II has had a chequered history on home formats, with some releases having music clearance issues, leading to a few moments either having music removed or substituted (including, most bizarrely, Sally Field humming something vaguely reminiscent of Hey, Big Spender being taken out).  Here we have the full, unexpurgated soundtrack on the highest of formats.  Anyone for a chorus of Sweet Mystery of Life?

Extras


Theatrical Trailer: The only extra on the disc. A VERY rough-looking standard-definition trailer, which is amusingly narrated by Jackie Gleason in character, which also features a couple of little moments which were absent from the finished film. This is the only extra to be found in the entire 3-disc set.

Overall


Smokey & The Bandit Part II is a most curious sequel; the elements that made the first film so enjoyable are back, save for the chemistry from the leads and the sense of fun. The downside to this is that it’s pitched at a much broader audience than before, with charm replaced by bombast and every joke hammered home with a sledgehammer. Jackie Gleason seems to carry the film in terms of laughs, as Reynolds and Field are too busy hating each other. There are plenty of cars being written off inventively and spectacularly in the name of action cinema and  more than a few laughs, but that painful atmosphere of staying together for the sake of the kids hangs over the proceedings like Chinese smog.


Smokey and the Bandit Part 3

Now, let’s start with things getting messy and work downwards from there. Back in 1991, Bill and Ted went on a bogus journey to hell, only to find themselves in heaven playing Charades with the smartest people in creation. During the game, only Albert Einstein is able to figure out that the title of the movie being played out is, in fact: “Smokey IS the Bandit - Part 3”.  This flew over the heads of most people watching, with many unaware that there even was a third film in the series, but almost NONE of them knew about the filmed-but-aborted mess which killed the franchise. With only scant mention in Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and a few news clippings to go on, there was a mystery to be solved.

This is going to take some explaining, so here goes:

With Smokey and the Bandit Part II receiving a savaging from critics whilst simultaneously hauling away box-office takings in the backs of Peterbilts, it was obvious that audiences wanted more.  With Sally Field bagging an Academy Award during the filming of the second one, and the sour air between all involved palpable, there was never going to be another true sequel with the whole gang.  Adding Burt Reynold’s abject hatred of producer Mort Engelberg into the mix meant that it was the end of the road for Bo Darvell.

Wonder what they Patton'd this opening after?

Ask anyone who’s seen these particular juggernaut blockbusters to quote a line from them, and it’s odds on that they’ll pick one from Jackie Gleason. Sure, the Bandit is cool, but Sheriff Buford T. Justice gets the more crowd-pleasing laughs. To a lot of the audience, Gleason IS the show. Or at least, this was the thinking of the aforementioned Engleberg when working out just how to squeeze some more go-go juice out of the franchise. The problem: how can you have a Smokey if you don’t have a Bandit?

The solution: have Gleason play both characters, in a little opus entitled: Smokey IS the Bandit, Part 3. In a tale of Big & Little Enos dragging the distinguished Texas lawman out of retirement just to amuse themselves, they set him the task of a 1400 mile run carrying their new mascot on the roof of Justice’s police car, with Junior once again along for the ride. When things start going against the good ‘ol boys, they bring in a certain someone to thrown him off-course: The Bandit. Teaming up with radio DJ Dusty Trails, it’s a tag-team match to snatch the mascot and pocket $250,000 in the process. Who will win? Who will lose? Why is Dusty so nervous about the Enos boys? Why does Bandit remain silent, save for his famous chuckle and a single line at the end? Why is Bandit 20 years older and over 100lbs heavier? What will preview audiences think of all this???

The answer to that last question was, sadly, “Duh, what’s goin’ on here? Hey, Bill’Bob - where’s the Bandit at? No, not that one.  The REAL Bandit?? I don’t get it???” Yep, utterly disastrous test-screenings had audiences unable to make head nor tail of the film, unable to grasp the whimsical concept of Gleason playing both roles. In order to salvage the project and not lose every invested cent, producer Engleberg drafted in Jerry “Snowman” Reed to remove the “Gleason-Bandit” from it and have Cletus Snow masquerading in a black Trans-Am in the hopes of out-foxing Buford T Justice.

Yes, it's a production still.

The movie we are left with runs pretty close up to a certain point.  It opens with an homage to the famous speech in Patton, but with BTJ standing in front of Old Glory, as he goes over his glorious career in a heartfelt retirement speech. Interrupted by the Enos boys, the same bet is made and off they set. Instead of the Gleason-Bandit being called out to intercept the obsessive sheriff, The Snowman is called in to dress as The Bandit and off he roars with former used-car worker Dusty Trails in the passenger seat as they set out to steal the mascot and win the money.

As a finished product, this whole film is a gigantic mess of continuity errors, unnatural performances, illogical reasoning, obvious re-shooting, bad stand-ins/doubles, poor gags, self-conscious acting, horrible looping, meaningless action sequences already shoehorned into a thin, re-written script and a generally artless air to the whole enterprise. The opening montage of footage from the previous two films is curiously missing clips of Sally Field, and has a strong bias towards Jerry Reed for the purpose of setting up his return. With all ills painfully in evidence, it becomes clear that we’re not going to get anything even close to what we loved before.

In an effort to make it a more “adult” affair at a time when movies like Porkys were cleaning up at the box-office, nudity was injected into the franchise for the first time, mixing in with the “plot” and trying to integrate with the general tone of the humour.  Where else can you get a farcical sequences where the Enos’ Fish & Chips restaurant logo (referred to as a “fish”,  but is actually a shark) is the object of a scavenger hunt by three parties in a sex-hotel? Is Gleason sticking his nose into various sex sessions REALLY what an audience wants to see? How about Buford crash-landing into a nudists’ picnic where he’s confronted by an army of tits?  According to the original script, they were aiming at a “PG” in America even with these scenes, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what they were smoking when that thought came to mind.

Yep, Smokey & The Bandit: now comes with tits!

Action scenes are concocted and lumped in at various points where audiences might be getting restless, and the cue for such contrivances is usually that either Buford or any other Smokey is on the Bandit’s tail. How about a sequence arseing around in a quarry with lots of opportunities to have the cars skid around in impressive fashion? Yep. What about having Buford get caught up in a car stunt-show, where various wacky things happen to his car, including being shot out of a cannon? Certainly. But don’t forget to tell the (real) people in the audience about the filming in advance, so they can hold up a huge bed-sheet with the words “Fly, Buford, Fly” written on it, just to take viewers out of the movie even more than the poor editing! Check!

Never let rednecks in on your project before filming...

Then we get to the boat chase, and this thing is poor on so many levels. Not just because the original footage with the overweight Gleason-Bandit makes it painfully obvious that it's not even Jerry Reed, but the whole reason for it being in the re-shot version of the film was just because it’s a big set-piece. There is no logic for them to be chasing each other in anything else but cars, and when they swap transport - all they do is mess around on the water for a minute or two before going right back to the chase again.  During all this time, Junior has the opportunity to grab the unguarded fish and doesn't. This is bad film-making and nothing else.

There is something really off about Jerry Reed in this movie. It isn't only the obvious problem of him masquerading as you-know-who, but that the painfully thin Nashville star just seems really out of place, either as “full Cletus“ or “Cletus-Bandit”. When he shows up as The Snowman whilst sporting a convenient moustache, it isn’t the same character Cletus Snow we all know, and his performance reflects this be it intentionally or otherwise. As he jumps into his convenient Trans-Am conveniently wearing the Bandit's clothes, you find yourself asking if he’s some kind Single White Female-type stalker, psychotically emulating his hero as Bo Darvell's body hangs from the ceiling of The Snowman's shed…

"Say, Dusty, do you smell fish?"

The thing to remember about the film is that EVERYTHING was tailored to not only getting Gleason on board, but keeping him happy during the production. It was set in Miami where he’d semi-retired, allowing him to go home to his wife every night and avoid travelling, he (originally) got to play a couple of different characters, squeezed in an appearance by the famous June Taylor Dancers (which his sister-in-law founded) and even has a sly reference to The Hustler during the credits, but someone tried to shake him down during a game of shuffleboard. This was Gleason’s show, be it playing two characters or just the one.

The biggest perk was being given permission to rewrite the script, and this was from the Smokey IS the Bandit Part 3 version as opposed to the re-shoot. Having read the original shooting script, the material Gleason changed in favour of his own stuff was better than his idea of that worked. Quoted during production that: "…this picture is much better than the other two 'Smokeys'. There are more laughs. I write everything I do, but I don't take any screen credit - just the money", all he did was take out some perfectly serviceable gags and replace them with antiquated/old-hat ones. Was he being paid on a by-the-gag basis? If so, it would explain why he dusted off the classic “sixth-sense” routine from Laurel & Hardy in a film with very modern sensibilities, and probably accounts for the wholesale thievery of the seven-pointed suppository gag from Dirty Harry. If we are talking low points, then just watch as the opening scene closes with a farting/shitting-pants gag - many fail to connect it to the Enos' earlier line about putting Ex-Lax in the Dallas water supply and cornering the market on toilet paper. Class. This stuff was put in at the expense of some genuinely funny stuff, including Buford summarising Junior’s intelligence: “With a brain like yours, I’m surprised dogs don’t point at YOU…”

Making out like he's a Bandit...

With the exception of Colleen Camp, most of the cast really look as though they’ve had enough of playing their characters. Gleason gives it as much energy as he can muster, but you know that he’s just paying for his retirement on this one. Mike Henry looks frustrated that he was given less to work with once the script had been through Gleason’s hands, whilst Pat McCormick & Paul Williams occasionally look embarrassed at some of the things their characters have to do this time around. You can bet that they were given the same amount this time than they made in just five short scenes in the second film. Faith Minton is fun as statuesque nymphomaniac Tina, the woman who like prefers law & order to be upstanding, but (once again) her role was diminished during the restructuring of the final film.  Going back to Camp (the actress, not the movie…) she is fun as Dusty, with her dreamy exterior complemented with a nicely judged dose of comedic normality during the whole bumpy ride. We’ll never know how she compared to her performance in Smokey IS the Bandit Part 3, but was very different, where the character was a real motor-mouth as she ploughed through half a page of dialogue at a time. The only footage of this iteration to survive the re-filming  were long-shots of the her in the car, which just isn’t the same.

So what’s good about it? Well, some of the action scenes are deftly handled, but not enough to save the movie as a whole. Scenic shots of Florida look particularly nice, and it’s good to see the two Justice boys get more screen time, along with Reed having more to do than sit in a Peterbuilt whilst playing second fiddle to a Bassett Hound. There is a surprisingly tender scene between Gleason & Henry, played for both pathos and humour with Justice Sr. almost letting his guard down before being given the chance to redeem his ego. What remains of Amazonian Faith Minton's performance is also good, with the hot n’ bothered giantess determined to bag herself a genuine piece of Texan beefcake, and Buford is on the menu!

"Oh Jesus, did I just hear a slide-whistle?"

Another plus is the clear indicator that the film was trying to make Sheriff Justice the protagonist comes in the toning down of the racist elements to the character in the first film. You can almost look at the trilogy as the evolution of Buford T Justice, following him from exclaiming “…what the Hell is the world coming to?” when he claps eyes on a black sheriff in the first movie, through to an indifference in the second, arriving at a point where he takes on the Ku Klux Klan in Part 3. He even goes out of his way to tell Junior that he refused to join the clan, although his wife did, “When she put on that sheet,” he chuckles, “…she looked like an iceberg with feet!” Georgia resident Burt Reynolds vetoed Hal Needham on Klan gags years before, as the people of the area were “…my audience”.

Speaking of the man with the Trans-Am and the moustache, Reynolds' cameo is a fun coda to not only the movie, but the whole trilogy.  OK, he really doesn’t look too good, and is very limited, but at least is gives the final version of the film some right to have the name “Bandit” in the title. It was only recently that Reynolds talked about his participation, and how it only came about through him visiting the set whilst in the area, being begged/emotionally blackmailed into appearing - a decision Reynolds really regrets to this day.

"Yes, it's me.  I just couldn't take the begging."

The music score is also fun, with artists falling over themselves to record songs for another Smokey and the Bandit movie, and you have to wonder at what point they found out that Reynolds wasn’t starring in it. Theme song Buford T Justice is a riot, whilst others like Bandit Express and Dixie are also fun, but best of all is Ticket for the Wind, a sincere, downbeat track which combines with the final image to produce a potently melancholic ending to the free-wheeling series.

To understand why it all went wrong, it’s necessary to take a look at what should have been, if redneck audiences didn’t get all confused by the original version of the movie. Pretty much everything wrong with the “finished” product comes from the re-shooting, and the fog of denial and shame is pretty hard to cut through, but more and more titbits have been surfacing over the last decade, be them so damned elusive. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary (including newspaper clippings from local press in Miami during the shoot) aforementioned producer Mort Engelberg denies that Gleason was ever The Bandit. The guy even denied that the trailer for the original version of the movie was on YouTube..., when it's there for all to see - no wonder Burt Reynolds hated him so much that he refused to star in the third film if Engelberg was producing. The only surviving photo of the Gleason-bandit surfaced about ten years ago, and was of poor quality, predictably drawing cries of “fake!” from the doubters, but not long ago, a high-res copy found its way onto the net, and there is no quibbling if it’s real! You can even place that it was taken from the fight scene at the “skull orchard”.

Smokey definitely IS the Bandit in this rare pic.

The original script is a lot of fun to read, with the simple premise that it’s business as usual, showing a very much single Bandit still a hit with the ladies, and we even join him as his latest conquest is sprawled out on the bed in post-coital bliss. Said popsie answers the phone whilst the Bandit is showering, taking the call from Big Enos and handing it over when he’s through in the bathroom. The only thing different about the character is that when he makes his big appearance from the shower, he happens to look A LOT like Jackie Gleason. He is silent throughout the movie, with Colleen Camp’s motor-mouth DJ doing all the talking, with the exception for the Gleason-Bandits’ one line at the end, being the famous one from Gone With The Wind. His authenticity as The Bandit is never questioned.

The real problem comes when eliminating the Gleason-Bandit from the movie, replacing him with Jerry Reed on all of the close-ups. You might think logic would have told them to re-do anything which gives the game away, but the producers only took care of the bare minimum to allow as much original footage as possible to be saved. That Reed is so skinny makes it painfully easy to pick out material featuring the Gleason-Bandit in action - and there is a lot of it. Any driving shot where you can’t see Reed in close-up is a padded stuntman pretending to be Gleason pretending to be The Bandit. Sound confusing? It really isn’t, especially when watching in HD. On the very first sequence where the Trans-Am comes screeching into the movie, it does an impressive handbrake turn and comes to a stop side on to the camera. A quick pause gives you a REALLY good look at the Gleason-Bandit driving, and once you’ve seen that, you’ll be scrutinising every shot afterwards.

Not quite every boy's hero or every ladies' dream!

Worst of all is the aforementioned boat chase, where the body doubles are so obvious that you just have to wonder if it was worth including it in the final movie for the sake of not holding a neon sign over it. As The Bandit roars over the water, the awkward, low-angle inserts of Jerry Reed give way to both medium and wide shots of the Gleason-Bandit and his copious padding being pursued by another stunt-double even more unconvincingly “fattened” trying to be Gleason as Buford T. Justice! Matters are made worse by Gleason hanging onto his Sheriff’s hat with his hand on his close-ups, contrasting sharply with those of his double, who sits with both hands firmly grasping his seat and clearly didn’t get the brief.  Nothing about this scene works. It’s almost a landmark in bad film-making.

The end is the beginning is the end...

As with second unit work, Gleason was not involved in the re-shooting at all, through either being designated an unnecessary expense or refusing to do more than his contract stated after fulfilling it. Even though there is stronger material in this one, they still altered a vowel in post-production to bring us “Moose-twit", only without the luxury of Gleason to loop it. The poor impersonation of Gleason’s voice is also used to paper over the narrative gaps when crudely putting material from the original version with the newly-shot stuff, all the while alerting the audience that something was wrong more than if they just left it.

The only new piece from any other cast of the first two movies (apart from Reed) is a crudely looped, off-screen line from Pat McCormick where he nixes any notion of the actual Bandit from the original concept with the line: "No, I'm not talking about that egomaniac. I'm talking about the only one we can really trust - the Snowman".  Ever wonder why Big Enos refers to Cletus as “loverboy” in that scene? Well, that’s because the footage comes from the original version, as he’s talking to the post-coital Bandit. The jury is still out on if Mike Henry was brought back to record the line about still being in downtown Miami to get around some changes, though.

Camp’s character was heavily altered for the re-shoot, and goes from being a gifted DJ to a victimised used-car worker, the transition requiring her to conveniently change clothes right after she joins the movie so as to match upcoming footage from the original shoot.  The big surprise at the end of Smokey IS the Bandit Part 3 was to have been that Trails wasn’t her real name, being ashamed to admit that it was actually Enos. Yep, Dusty was Daddy’s little girl, buying her a Texan radio station to work at in a state where just being a woman was enough to preclude any decent jobs. Here, she’s just a drifter who stays with Cletus for reasons best known to her.

Don't even ask...

The “finished” movie is a masterpiece of incomprehensible editing, so Einstein might well have been the only person smart enough to come up with a way of explaining the holes in logical fashion.    How about this: at the 16 minute mark, the Enos boys are parked in the middle of the road, and The Bandit has not entered the story yet, but if you look carefully, you can’t fail to notice black a familiar black Trans-Am streaking off in the background! This was from an original sequence where a couple of fake Bandits are deployed by the Enos’ to try and get Buford chasing the wrong one and waste valuable time. This is just one of numerous instances where pieces they shot from the original version were used purely for the sake of not wasting it. One bit shows the Enos' sitting by the side of the road having tea and makes no sense when plonked in haphazardly, and is even worse when they have magically transported themselves ahead yet again. Yep, their Cadillac really IS a fast car, allowing them to outrun a Trans-Am and set up all their schemes before Buford can get there before them. Maybe Reginald Van Justice did their driving for them…

Paul Willams either needs a crap or hates being in the movie.  Probably both.

There are even gags which are set-up, executed and left without their punch-line. The redneck police officer who flips his car after crashing into a parked hippie-mobile merely has the stoner exclaim "far out", was named “Beethoven”, whereas the joke was supposed to have him note the officers name-badge and chuckle: "Roll over, Beethoven!"  They even get the joke which is the whole point of the Enos’ restaurant chain being given its name.  When the shark mascot is brought out, it’s accompanied by a number of people dressed as California Highway Patrolmen. Junior gets the gag right away, and exclaims: “Look, Daddy - Fish and CHIPS!”  

What are the chances of Smokey IS the Bandit Part 3 ever seeing the light of day? Sadly, it’s highly unlikely. Even those involved with the film are doubtful that the materials even exist any more, and standard Universal practice was to store unused footage (deleted scenes, trims, b-roll, location film, etc) for a period of 15 years, and then they would be destroyed for financial/storage reasons. When you couple this with the eighties fire at Universal Studios - which many believe caused more damage to their archive than they’ve let on - the movie will only exist in what we can imagine from the script. Jackie Gleason was VERY anal about keeping copies of his work (his vast archive turned up loads of previously lost Honeymooners episodes) but even his collection didn't contain a copy of Smokey IS the Bandit.

Well, let’s keep our concentration in the here and now, where it belongs. Fabulous films have brought us Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 in HD. This - in itself - is pretty miraculous for a movie with this bad a reputation. Does it look good? Let’s find out:

Video:


Those of us who saw it on video at the time probably recall the awful pan & scan job performed on it, and the lower resolution did nothing to bolster the movie. It was dumped on VHS to a wave of indifference. When it comes to the Blu-ray edition, we‘re reminded of Richard Pryor‘s assessment of his pay-cheque for his appearance in the 3rd of another successful series: “For a piece of shit, it smells great” Yep, the 2.35:1 image on Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 is really rather nice, but this might be that it was such a disaster that they didn‘t run that many prints off to cause degradation of the negatives! Colours are very strong, showcasing the various awful suits worn by the Enos boys, and the existing celluloid materials are in pretty good shape without too much in the way of edge-enhancement applied. Gleason-Bandits are VERY easy to discern through the added resolution, and adds and entirely new level to the entertainment factor. There is a pleasing amount of grain to enjoy, and the whole endeavour looks pretty film-like.  When it comes to image quality, this is the pick of the Smokey and the Bandit trilogy. A very nice effort from the Fabulous folks.

Audio:


The DTS-HD:MA 2.0 mono track is all you really need, as a full 5.1 remix would have been sticking a tiara on a turd. Here we have an authentic representation of how the movie sounded when it hit cinemas (not in the UK…) over three decades ago. If you’re not expecting copious bass and scintillating highs, then it’s an enjoyable listen with the aforementioned songs given Justice and sounding fine. That it makes the impressionist trying pass themselves off as the voice of Jackie Gleason even more embarrassing is testament to this disc.

Extras:


None. Nope, not even the original trailer, let alone including the Smokey IS the Bandit Part 3 teaser - which is a damn shame.  Originally, there was a real slip in their presentation/quality control where the menu comes with the same montage of clips from II, again accompanied by the song "Charlotte's Web". This was brought to the attention of Fabulous Films and has been corrected.  Nice that a company bothers to make such changes, as others certainly wouldn't have.

Overall


Smokey & The Bandit Part 3 is a mess. This was a movie so disastrous that it didn’t even get a cinema release in the UK, a territory where the other two films had done very well, limping out on VHS 3 years later. We remember when it hit the shelves of our local video shop (Star Videos - *sigh*) and a young kid excitedly handed the case to his father, who quickly read the back and scoffed that Burt Reynolds was credited as “The Real Bandit”, before tell his son it wasn’t worth bothering with. It’s a movie nobody wanted, few people watched and even less liked. It’s one of the sloppiest films produced by a successful company like Rastar, even Ed Wood might have balked at the continuity errors, bad doubles and illogical writing.

But it was cool to see Gleason back in action one last time.

Let's hear it for the guys.

Overall


Well, there you have it. Britain is the first country in the world to get Smokey & the Bandit Part II and Smokey & the Bandit Part 3 on Blu-ray. Like Yigael’s Wall in the Omen series, the trilogy shows a force of great power from birth to downfall, and it is only by seeing the whole thing can we appreciate the entire context. We can love the carefree exuberance of youth, learn the pain of adolescence and witness the decline and eventual death at the end. We have a soft spot for all three movies, and there are many out there who would agree that the unbounded joy found in Smokey & the Bandit far outweighs the lows of the subsequent instalments.

Fabulous Films are to be congratulated for putting them all together in a triple-pack which will have Bandit fans abroad puking with jealousy.  The visual presentations are good ( Part 3 being great!) the audio very nice (aside from the 5.1 mix of the first films eliminating most of Fred’s barking and a punch-line horn-honk) and whilst the lack of extras is a little disappointing, Smokey & the Bandit: The Complete Collection is definitely worth skinning your wallet for.

Let’s end things appropriately on the last verse of Texas Bound & Flyin’:

“Now Smokey & the Bandit,
Is a tale you don’t forget,
Every time you hear an engine scream and whine

Well, you have to think about Ol' Bandit
Ol' Buford, Frog and Fred and Snowman
Their story is a legend that will live on in time”












* Note that the images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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