Smokey and the Bandit (1977, directed by Hal Needham)


 

Smokey and the Bandit is a simple film. Burt Reynolds is the Bandit. He’s hired by two bored brothers to smuggle beer from Texas to Georgia. Working with the Snowman (Jerry Reed), Bandit is easily able to pick up the beer but it’s while driving back that the two of them run afoul Smokey, a.k.a. Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason, who reportedly improvised most of his profane lines). Bandit also picks up a hitchhiker and runaway bride (Sally Field) who he calls Frog.

There’s not much to Smokey and the Bandit. The Bandit has an incredibly cool car and he drives really fast. Snowman is funny and has a dog. Smokey has a dumb son and is constantly threatening to hit people.   It’s a dumb movie but it works.   The cars are fast, the crashes are spectacular, and the entire film is the perfect daydream for when you’re sitting in your office at work and wondering whether there’s something more rewarding you could be doing with your life.

Who hasn’t wanted to the Bandit at some point in their life?

Who hasn’t wanted to get behind the wheel of black trans am and just take off, driving down country roads while giving the slip to old Smoky and joking with Snowman on your CB radio and maybe picking up a young Sally Field while smuggling beer and winning a bet?

(There’s been a lot of terrible moments on The Family Guy but, for me, one of the absolute worst was when Brian Griffin went into the past and asked 70s Burt Reynolds, “So, you’re going to go get some of that hot Sally Field action, huh?” Anyone who has seen Smokey and the Bandit knows that Sally Field was smoking hot back in 1977!)

Smokey and the Bandit comes to us from a different time. No one worries about what speeding halfway across the country in a little over 24 hours is doing to the environment. No one apologizes for who they are or where they’re from. The Bandit lives by a simple rule: Treat him with respect and he’ll treat you with respect. Talk down to him or try to tell him what to do and the Bandit’s just going to jump in his car and leave you standing in a cloud of dust.

During the latter part of his career, Burt Reynolds would often lament that appearing in financially successful but critically lambasted films like Smokey and the Bandit made him a huge star but also kept him from getting the type of roles that he felt he deserved. Reynolds was right but there are worse things than being known as The Bandit.   For many, Burt Reynolds will always be the Bandit because he was so perfectly cast for the role. Not many actors could pull off the scene where, after fooling a cop, the Bandit looks straight at the camera and grins. Burt Reynolds could. Playing the Bandit may have never won Burt Reynolds an Academy Award but it did make him an American icon.

If you’re feeling down, watch Smokey and the Bandit. If you need an escape, watch Smokey and the Bandit. It demands so little and gives so much.

Megaforce (1982, directed by Hal Needham)


Megaforce is the code name for America’s daring, highly-trained, Special Mission force. Its purpose: To defend human freedom against Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

Oh wait, that’s G.I, Joe!

Megaforce is another daring, highly-trained, Special Mission force.  Led by Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick), Megaforce is a group of international soldiers who have the latest technology at their disposal, like dune buggies and lasers and all of the cars the were left over from Cannonball Run.  They also have flying motorcycles that can shoot missiles and we can all agree that’s pretty damn cool.  When Megaforce is recruited to protect the Republic of Sardun from being conquered by the nation of Gamibia, it brings Ace and his men into conflict with Duke Gurerra (Henry Silva), who used to be a friend of Ace’s until he became a mercenary who would work for the highest bidder.  Duke’s latest employer?  GAMIBIA!

Megaforce is a strange movie.  Director Hal Needham later said that, when the film went into production, he felt he had his finger on the pulse of the country and apparently he thought America was ready for a movie about a group of men who wear skin-tight uniforms and who communicate almost exclusively by giving each other a thumbs up.  What led to Needham choosing to cast Barry Bostwick in the lead role?  Bostwick is very enthusiastic as Ace but he’s not a believable military leader.  We expect discipline and stoicism from our military leaders but Bostwick always seems to be a little too excited about everything.  “Remember,” he says, “the good guys always win!  Even in the 80s!”  Then he kisses his thumb, which is his way of letting the newest member of Megaforce, Zara (Persis Khambatta), know that she is loved.  I don’t know of many military leaders who were known for kissing their thumbs.  Patton probably could have gotten away with it.  Eisenhower, however, never would have been elected President if he had been half as enthusiastic as Ace Hunter.

There’s not really any plot to Megaforce.  Zara tries out for the group but she’s a woman so she has to prove herself.  Ace and his second-in-command, Dallas (Michael Beck), lead the troops in Gamimbia.  The soldiers shoot lasers and rockets from their glowing cars and their flying motorcycles but Megaforce is one of those strange action movies where no one is actually injured as a result of all the violence.  Megaforce was made for the kids.  It was made for an audience that cares more about flying motorcycles than plot or good acting or the non-existent romantic sparks between Barry Bostwick and Persis Khambatta.  In 1982, there probably wasn’t a parent alive who didn’t dread the prospect of their child demanding to watch Megaforce for the hundredth time.

Megaforce has a reputation for being one of the worst movies ever made but it’s not that bad.  How many other films feature something like this:

It’s impossible not to appreciate the brave efforts of the actors as they feign excitement over something that was definitely not actually happening in front of them.  Michael Beck and Barry Bostwick will make you believe that a green screen can be used to make a motorcycle look like it can fly.  Megaforce’s slogan may be Deed Not Words but who needs either when you’ve got a hundred dollars to spend on your special effect budget?

I will be the first to admit that Megaforce is no Delta Force but it’s dumb and sometimes it features Barry Bostwick on a flying motorcycle and it’s got Henry Silva in it, laughing like a maniac.  And finally, it leaves us all with a valuable lesson.  The good guys always win!  Even in the … 20s.

Scenes That We Love: The Bandit Fools Smokey in Hal Needham’s Smokey and The Bandit


Today would have been Hal Needham’s 89th birthday and that means that it’s time to celebrate with Smokey and the Bandit.

Before he made a name for himself as a director, Hal Needham was a legendary stuntman.  In 1977, the same year that Smokey and the Bandit came out, Gabriel Toys even sold as a “Hal Needham Western Movie Stunt Set,” which came with a spring-launched Hal Needham action figure.  When Needham went into directing, he made unpretentious movies for people who wanted to have a good time at the theater.  The majority of his films featured fast cars, tough good old boys, and spectacular action.  They also often featured Burt Reynolds doing what he did best.  Needham made the type of movies that never won Academy Awards but which audiences loved.  In fact, audiences still love them.  When I watch Smokey and the Bandit, I always want to quit my job and just smuggle Coors east of the Mississippi for a living.  I know that Coors is legal now so there’s no need to smuggle it but that’s the power of a good Hal Needham film.

In the scene below, the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) and Snowman (Jerry Reed) manage to avoid getting caught by the Mississippi Highway Patrol.  Not only do we get to hear Eastbound and Down but this scene also features the moment that Hal Needham knew the film was going to be a hit.  He later said that, as soon as Burt Reynolds broke the fourth wall and stared straight at the camera with “that shit-eating grin on his face,” he knew that audiences were going to love the Bandit.

And he was right.

Hal Needham died in 2013 and Burt Reynolds followed him five years later.  However, their legacy lives on.  The characters of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time in Hollywood were based on Burt and Hal.  If anyone could have taken on and beat the Manson family single-handed, it would have been the great Hal Needham.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Burt Reynolds Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today would have been Burt Reynolds’s 84th birthday.  In honor of a legendary career that is only now starting to really be appreciated, here are 4 shots from 4 of Burt’s best films.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Deliverance (1972, directed by John Boorman)

Smoky and the Bandit (1977, directed by Hal Needham)

Sharky’s Machine (1981, directed by Burt Reynolds)

Boogie Nights (1997, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)

Special Memorial Day Edition: THE DEVIL’S BRIGADE (United Artists 1968)


cracked rear viewer

In the wake of 1967’s THE DRITY DOZEN came a plethora of all-star, similarly themed films. THE DEVIL’S BRIGADE is one of those, though just a bit different: it’s based on the true-life exploits of the First Special Service Force, a collection of American misfits straight from the stockades and the crack, highly disciplined Canadian military, forging them into one cohesive fighting unit.

William Holden  heads the cast as Lt. Col. Robert Frederick, tasked with putting the units together. His seconds-in-command are the cigar chomping American Major Brecker (Vince Edwards) and proud Canadian Major Crown (Cliff Robertson). The Americans, as rowdy a bunch of reprobates as there ever was, include Claude Akins , Luke Askew, Richard Jaeckel, and Tom Troupe, while the Canadians are represented by the likes of Richard Dawson, Jeremy Slate, and Jack Watson , war movie vets all.  Andrew Prine is also aboard as an AWOL…

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A Movie A Day #6: The Cannonball Run (1981, directed by Hal Needham)


cannonball_runA legendary Hollywood stuntman, Hal Needham moved into directing in the 1970s and proved that all he required to make a successful film were willing stuntmen, fast cars, Coors beer, and Burt Reynolds.  Following that logic, The Cannonball Run may very well be the ultimate Hal Needham movie.

The Cannonball Run follows several teams of racers as they compete to see who can be the first to reach California from Connecticut.  Trying to stop them is Arthur J.  Foyt (George Furth), who represents the Safety Enforcement Unit and who believes that cars are a menace.  However, Foyt is no match for these racers, who include:

  • J.J. (Burt Reynolds), who is racing in memory of his father, and his mechanic Victor (Dom DeLuise), who turns into Captain Choas whenever he is feeling threatened.  J.J. and Victor are driving an ambulance and are accompanied by crazy Dr. Van Helsing (Jack Elam) and a fake “patient” (Farrah Fawcett),
  • Bradford Compton (Bert Convy) who is riding a motorcycle and who, because of the weight of his mechanic, has to pop a wheelie for the entire race,
  • An Arab oil sheik (Jamie Farr) who is racing for “the glory of Islam” and who would probably not be in the movie if it were made today,
  • Sidney Goldfarb (Roger Moore), the heir to a mattress fortune who has had extensive plastic surgery to make himself look like Roger Moore,
  • Jackie Chan and Michael Hui, called “The Japanese team” even though they both speak Cantonese throughout the entire movie,
  • Terry Bradsahw and Mel Tillis because why the Hell not?,
  • Marcie (Adrienne Barbeau) and Jill (Tara Buckman), using their cleavage to get out of speeding tickets, or at least they do until they’re pulled over by Valerie Perrine,
  • And Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., pretending to be priests and apparently drunk throughout filming.

Based on a real life (and very illegal) cross-country race that was held four times in the 1970s, The Cannonball Run is profoundly stupid movie that, if you’re in the right mood for it, is also profoundly fun.  It’s a movie that really has no plot but it does have a lot of cars, a lot of stunts, a lot of cleavage, and a lot of politically incorrect humor, some of which has not aged well.  Despite being hated by the critics, The Cannonball Run was a huge box office hit and it still remains a nostalgic guilty pleasure for a lot of people, myself included.  One person who did not like The Cannonball Run was Burt Reynolds who, in an interview with the New York Times, once said, “”I did that film for all the wrong reasons.  I never liked it. I did it to help out a friend of mine, Hal Needham. And I also felt it was immoral to turn down that kind of money. I suppose I sold out so I couldn’t really object to what people wrote about me.”

Burt has a point but, in defense of The Cannonball Run, what other movie actually features Jackie Chan beating up Peter Fonda?

chan-fonda-cannoball-run

Or Roger Moore playing someone who thinks that he’s Roger Moore?

roger-moore

Or Jack Elam playing a mad scientist?

jack-elam

Or Sammy and Dino, phoning it in one last time?

sammy-and-dean

Or Captain Chaos?

captain-chaos

Like most of Hal Needham’s films, The Cannonball Run ends with outtakes of Burt Reynolds blowing his lines and hitting people.

Tomorrow’s movie a day will be a film that Burt Reynolds is presumably much more proud of, Sharky’s Machine.