There’s more to Smokey and the Bandit than I realized

Amazon Prime is featuring Smokey and the Bandit (Universal Studios, 1977) in tribute to Burt Reynolds, who died this past week at 82. I was 8 when the movie came out, and I remember coming home from summer camp and going to see it in the theater with my childhood friend, Steve K. We counted the cuss words in the movie – I remember that we emerged from the cinema telling our friends that there were 76 bad words uttered in the film. We thought that was awesome. My parents, however, didn’t like the movie. They said it was disrespectful to law enforcement, and they were generally put off by movies about irreverent playboy outlaws being pursued by pathetic and humorless cops.

In one of the most iconic (and controversial) moments of the film, Carrie (Sally Field) flips the bird to get the attention of a motorcycle cop, so she can lure him away from Cledus’s big rig.

Anyway, I spent this past Saturday night watching Smokey again for the first time in decades, and while I can’t say that there’s anything about this movie that asks to be taken seriously, I was surprised by some of the images and touches in the film. It’s a film whose Southern US world is one where white good ole boys, working class black folk, truckers, prostitutes, and little old church ladies are friends and collaborators in resisting the authority of ridiculous white lawmen, who themselves are the poorly paid errand boys of repugnant Southern white billionaires who have so much money and power that they entertain themselves by placing bets on contests in which the working people try to pull off risky and absurd feats. That’s right: Smokey and the Bandit is a socialist allegory aimed squarely at the capitalist menace. OK, not really. But there’s some surprising social commentary embedded in a movie that is basically a cinematic bag of potato chips. Read on if you’re interested and I’ll explain more 🙂 …

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