I remember the first movie that made me cry. Unfortunately, it wasn't tears of sorrow; they were tears of anger, a 9-year-old's hissy fit. I only say "unfortunately" because it is inherently unfortunate to admit that the first movie that ever made me cry was Smokey and the Bandit Part 3. I cried because I was tricked.
It's been 30 years since Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 was released in theaters and, as far as I'm concerned, the timeline that we all currently occupy cannot get far enough away from this movie. This is why I write about it now: Not to celebrate its existence, but rather to embrace the years it has not been in our movie theaters. For 30 years, it is not been a part of our lives. For that, I am grateful.
This is kind of weird to admit now, but from about 1977 to 1981, Burt Reynolds was the Hollywood actor as far as "cool" was concerned. Yes, Reynolds was a respected actor (Deliverance) and, later, sex symbol, long before '77 -- but as far as the guy every 8-year-old idolized, Burt Reynolds became that guy around '77. (After the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford would take that mantle away.)
Reynolds' appeal toward the adolescent male's psyche had a lot to do with the first Smokey and the Bandit. This had everything to do with the fact that most males under the age of 10 can't think of a better job than driving around in a cool car all day and being genuinely liked for doing so. This is basically what Burt Reynolds' Bandit represented: His job was to drive a Trans-Am all day, and everyone liked him because he drove his Trans-Am all day. The only person who seemed to not like Bandit was Sheriff Buford T. Justice (played by a hamming Jackie Gleason).
But Justice was a dolt and certainly didn't represent any kind of real authority figure. Sure, Bandit was breaking the law, but who cares? Bringing Coors beer from Texas to Georgia is a victimless crime. (Except for the people who had to drink that Coors, I suppose). And Justice didn't care, either. Justice was just angry that Bandit picked up Frog (Sally Field) who was supposed to marry Justice's dopey son, Junior.
To be honest: Smokey and the Bandit has no business being a good movie. And all the proper credit goes to director Hal Needham for striking the right balance between corny and cool. (Needham, finally, was honored with an honorary Oscar this past year.)
Smokey and the Bandit II was a pretty dumb movie. Instead of beer, it involved an elephant. Dom DeLuise was involved, too. In that film, Bandit wore a red jacket that had the word "Bandit" on his sleeves, which seems like an ill-advised thing to do for a criminal who was constantly being chased by the police. But, Burt Reynolds was still cool and, more important, Burt Reynolds was actually in Smokey and the Bandit II. It's nowhere near as good as the first film, but it is, strangely, watchable. (Well, at least until the multiple members of the Justice family show up in a joint effort to capture Bandit. I should add: All of them are played by Gleason.)
I desperately wanted to see Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 because, again, Burt Reynolds was cool. I begged my parents to take me to Smokey and the Bandit Part 3. As it turns out, Burt Reynolds has about 90 seconds of screen time in Smokey and the Bandit Part 3. So, yes, the title character isn't in the movie. I was devastated.
(As an aside, August 12, 1983 should go down as "The shittiest day at the movies ever." Not only was a Smokey and the Bandit movie released without the Bandit, a Pink Panther movie was released -- The Curse of the Pink Panther -- without Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau. Of course, Sellers had died three year prior, so he wasn't around to reprise his role. So, instead, the lead role was given to Tedd Wass, who is best remembered as playing Blossom Russo's father on the NBC series Blossom)
It's weird to think of being tricked by a movie now, because there's very little chance in today's world that a moviegoer wouldn't be aware that the former star of a movie was not going to return for a sequel. I would imagine the vast majority of people who saw The Bourne Legacy knew ahead of time that Matt Damon would not appear. But, then, I honestly had no idea that Burt Reynolds would barely appear in Smokey and the Bandit Part 3.
The gist of Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (directed by Dick Lowry, who was best known for directing the television film Kenny Rogers as The Gambler; for the record: Kenny Rogers is actually in Kenny Rogers as The Gambler) is that Bandit's former partner in crime, the Snowman (Jerry Reed), would become the Bandit, drive the Trans-Am, and commit crimes.
To be fair: The Bandit is absent from the movie poster, which even to a 9-year-old should have been a hint, I suppose. Though, it does clearly say "And the Bandit is at it again." Spoiler alert: The Bandit was not at it again.
Again, Reynolds does eventually show up. But only in some convoluted scene in which Gleason's Buford T. Justice (who is still a dolt) is looking at Jerry Reed, but somehow is imagining that he is seeing Burt Reynolds. Either Gleason was tricked by this movie, too, or he represents every 9-year-old kid in attendance who was trying to do the same thing during the whole movie.
(As another aside: Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 was originally supposed to be called Smokey IS the Bandit, which, amazingly, would have starred Gleason as both Smokey and as the Bandit. Here's the trailer for that version:
This idea was scrapped. I am not saying this version would have made a better movie, but it certainly would have made a much more interesting movie.)
Honestly, I have nothing more to say about this movie other than: Happy 30th birthday, asshole. I will continue to celebrate every year that we get further away from you.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.
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