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Learning from Movies: Smokey and the Bandit

You heard about the legend of Jesse James
John Henry just to mention some name
But there’s a truck driving legend in the South today
A man called Bandit from Atlanta G.A.

If you didn’t live through it, I’m not sure I can adequately explain the trucker/CB radio craze of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s.

Partly, Citizen’s Band radio was a frontier for free expression.

It was a pre-Internet, pre-public access cable way to broadcast yourself.

In American Nerd, Benjamin Nugent suggests that prejudice against nerds is rooted in the occupational shift of the Industrial Revolution.

At that time, people moved from physical labor out doors to repetitive, mental work indoors. Societies’ values changed, and the brawny guys who used to be cultural heroes found success harder and harder to achieve. The trucker may have risen to cultural prominence, however briefly, as a loner hero tough enough to make his own rules.

Every gear jammer knows his name
They swear he’s got ice-water runnin’ in his veins
Foot like lead, and nerves like steel
He’s gonna go to glory ridin’ 18 wheels

Personally, I think the answer is simpler.

Hal Needham created a richly visual folktale about the power of individuality.

Sprinkled liberally with humor, it just worked.

He left Atlanta back in ’63
Callin’ him the loner from Tennessee
He hit Monteville in the driving rain
So hard he couldn’t even see the passing lane.

“Breaker, breaker, hold on to your ass, Fred.”

Lessons from the legend after the break!

Well he started down the grade when he lost the gear
He hit the brakes found he had no air
The Monteville grade is steep and long
And everybody that seen it thought the Bandit was gone.

In 1977, Hal Needham was a stuntman with a screenplay.

He managed to get a directing deal on the picture, and got buddies Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed to star. Burt was the sexiest man in America back then, and Sally Field was poised to be America’s sweetheart. She was Burt’s girlfriend, and not yet an Academy Award winner, when she landed her co-starring role.

Jackie Gleason was, of course, the Great One, but not as powerful as he was when he set the proportions of TV screens to make himself look thinner.

The basset hound was just a basset hound that Burt Reynolds chose because it refused to obey commands.

Smokey and the Bandit was the #2 top-grossing movie in America that year. Star Wars was #1.

Over the next two years, the sales of Pontiac Trans Ams almost doubled.


Well his truck jack-knifed turned completely ’round
He was coming down backwards ’bout the speed of sound
A lot of folks seen him and they all say
He had his head out the window yelling, “Clear the way”
  • A legend and an out of work bum look a lot alike
  • Yes, Virginia, there really was a time when brands of beer were strictly regional, and transporting them across the regional lines was bootlegging
  • The good, old, American lifestyle – for the money, for the glory, and for the fun. Mostly for the money
  • Sometimes people do things because they’ve never been done before
  • The Bandit can drive any forking thing around
  • Never run out on a wedding to the son of a Texas sheriff
  • In 1977, you could decorate and entire town for $40
  • Driving and talking to you are both challenges
  • You can’t claim someone is disrespecting the law when you haven’t got any respect for it, either
  • A “diablo sandwich” is made with ground beef, taco seasoning, corn, and diced tomatoes; served on a hamburger bun with lettuce and sour cream
  • If you’re in a hurry, skip the hushpuppies. They take too long
  • There is no way, no way, that you could come from my loins. Soon as I get home, the first thing I’m gonna do is punch your momma in the mouth.
  • When you tell somebody something, it depends on what part of the United States you’re standing in as to just how dumb you are
  • Some men will take on a whole biker gang just to defend their dogs
  • Hold on to Fred,son,here comes the cavalry
  • If you’re a good person, your friends will give you work
  • Conversely, if you do good work, you’ll make friends and keep getting work

Well he got to the bottom safe and sound
Everybody asked Bandit how he made it down
He said folks when the truck picked up too much speed
I just run along beside it and drug my feet.

The cast and crew all came back for the sequel, but Burt Reynolds bowed out of the third film – and you shouldn’t see it, either.

Sorry, Jerry Reed.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Mike Sherman

    January 25, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    Good article and I enjoyed it. Wanted to point out though, in Jerry. Reed’s “The Legend” he says “haulin him a load up from Tennessee. He hit Monteagle in a drivin rain”. Monteagle was known for it’s steep grade.

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