Bandit and Cledus: Together Again

Published 4:21 pm Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The news came late, last Thursday that Burt Reynolds had died of cardiac arrest. He had been in declining health for many years, but, still, the news was surprising.

I have a church dinner and Bible study each Thursday evening so I knew where I would be from about 6:30 until 8:00. Usually upon returning home, I watch just a little bit of television and read the news online. However, I knew this night would be different. I made different plans for this night.

I don’t have as large a movie collection as many, but I have some favorites that I have garnered through the years. On this night, I knew what I wanted to watch. Burt Reynolds’ greatest movie, Smokey and the Bandit.

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You won’t find that movie on any serious movie reviewer’s list of Top 100. Or maybe even a Top 1,000. Yet, it’s one of my favorites.

The genre is not serious. There were no Academy Awards won by any of the actors in the movie. That is more a criticism of movie reviewing than it is of really good movies. I don’t know if it happened or not. I am not privy to all the top-notch movie reviewers in the nation, but I am sure there were at least a few snide remarks and sneers that went through the minds of those hoity-toity writers as they judged Smokey and the Bandit.

Sometimes they turn up their noses at movies made simply to make us laugh or escape the troubles of the days. I will admit. If Citizen Kane or Schindler’s List is your cup of tea, Burt Reynold’s movies, especially, Smokey and the Bandit is not going to “float your boat.”

But it’s funny. The soundtrack is banjo-driven country music. It’s got more car chases than The Dukes of Hazzard. It’s got plenty of rednecks talking on CB radios. And, it’s got Burt Reynolds, Jerry Reed, and Jackie Gleason.

Also, pretty important is the fact that it cost $4.3 million dollars to make and, so far, has grossed $300 million! Take that Mr. Serious Movie Reviewer.

As I watched it I remembered that Jerry Reed, a great guitarist and country artist, has also gone to heaven. I guess that’s assuming they went that way. If you believe in matches made in heaven, a case can be made that pairing Burt and Jerry as Bandit and Cledus was a match made in heaven.

I don’t remember when I saw Smokey and the Bandit at a theatre, but I think the “where” was in Thomasville. It would not have been when it was released in 1977, but in a second release perhaps 15 years later. I do remember, though, loving that opening song “Eastbound and down, loaded up and truckin’.” After the movie, I probably sang whatever I could remember all the way home. How did I feel after the movie? Happy.

I still like many of the scenes in the movie. I like Burt Reynolds’ mustache and that silly little giggle of his. There was a scene when he had outwitted a small town cop and had pulled behind a small, brick building. Ole Bandit was sitting in the front seat and the camera moved in tight. Burt didn’t say anything; he just turned his head and looked into the camera and smiled. That’s star power. No words, just a charismatic and iconic smile.

So I imagine Cledus (Reed) and Bandit (Reynolds) in heaven. I also wonder if Fred is there. Who’s Fred? The sleepy, long-eared hound dog that Cledus always took with him. As one of the lines from the movie put it. “Like Flatt and Scruggs, together again!” RIP Burt.