What do you do when the star of a franchise refuses to return for a sequel? Well, you bump up a supporting character to a featured role and build the whole movie around them of course!
That’s what happened with Smokey and the Bandit Part 3. Mr. Gleason, you sir are the star now!
Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) is ready to retire, that is until the Enos boys (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams once again) make him a wager that will get him back in his squad car and this time he’ll be the one who has to make a high speed run tearing down the highways! If he can manage to bring a fake fish from Florida to Texas in a given amount of time Sheriff Justice will win $250,000. If he fails he has to give up his badge.
The Enos’ aren’t going to play fair either. Every chance they get they try to slow up the legendary lawman and his son Junior (Mike Henry) on their run. They even hire Snowman (Jerry Reed) to impersonate the famous Bandit to try and steal that fish back from Sheriff Justice! This will be one wild race to the finish!
Is it crazy that I prefer this third entry in the Bandit series over the second?
That doesn’t mean I’m saying this third movie is any good. In fact, this might be one of the weirdest sequels ever made, but I do think it’s more entertaining than the second one. That’s thanks mainly to Gleason and Henry who again have some funny moments as Sheriff Justice and his dumb-as-a-rock son Junior. There’s also a focus on a high-speed story that is more in line with a funSmokey and the Bandit tale than anything the second one had.
Up front, there’s not a lot of logic going on. For one thing, if Sheriff Justice is about to retire the stakes of him giving up his badge seem pretty pointless to me. This time the Enos’ are must more malicious in their bet and aren’t playing very fair. Towards the end they’re trying to kill Sheriff Buford. Also I think the logo on the fish for the Enos’ seafood restaurant is spelled wrong. I’m not sure how they could goof up a prop that was going to be so featured in this movie. But I guess that shows how much effort was put into this.
So, Justice straps this big fish to the roof of his squad car and barrels down the road and of course it’s not smooth sailing. He gets detoured by crowds, milk trucks, demolition derbies, a boat chase, land mines, a nudist picnic, a truckload of klansman and a passionate female who falls for him.
Reynolds and director Hal Needham were too busy working on either Stroker Ace or Cannonball Run 2 to have any part of this. Fortunately, Reynolds somehow was convinced to film a small cameo in this, but that still left a huge role to fill. They had a Smokey, but they desperately needed a Bandit. That’s where Jerry Reed comes in.
Jerry Reed returns in the most awkward way. Essentially, he dresses up as Burt Reynolds and plays the role of the Bandit. Reed was a very likable guy in the original and that’s where he worked best at – in a supporting part. He tries his hardest here, but it’s pretty hopeless. He ends up excitedly talking to himself for a lot of the movie and saying dumb jokes.
Colleen Camp as a girl he picks up and helps him on his counter mission to get that fish back is probably the worst out of anyone here. I just found her so grating everytime she’s onscreen. Her name is Dusty Trails, and after hearing that amusing name it’s all downhill from there with her.
There’s a scene of her trying to sneak off with the fish and she literally does that exaggerated tip toe move, like she’s in an old Warner Brothers cartoon. It’s quite startling to see.
Of course we get some car chases and there are a few moments where it starts to look like some fun is about to happen, but they fizzle out almost immediately. They’re all a lazy letdown.
Director Dick Lowry who mainly worked in television doesn’t translate well to the desired big-screen excitement of a Bandit movie. There’s a lot of slo-mo used during the stunts and they’re all put together pretty poorly. The movie really does play and feel like a bad TV movie. None of the chases comes close to comparing to any from the original ’77 film.
During one sequence Reed’s Bandit sneaks up on Sheriff Justice’s car to steal the fish. He does this by lassoing it from his Trans Am.
The whole scene is so strange. For one thing the cheapness of it just erupts from the screen. Not only is the whole premise ridiculous, the cars are clearly going at a leisurely pace, they’re not fooling anyone.
OK, I can live with all that, but what I found the most striking thing is that it didn’t look like they were even on a highway. There are no white lines on the road. It just kind of looks like they filmed it at some racetrack somewhere and tried their best to hide it. So don’t look for much excitement when the tires start to spin. It’s more like you’ll be staring at it and gingerly shaking your head.
There’s some pretty strange things going on. Sheriff Justice and Junior make a detour to a sex motel where some brief nudity is displayed for laughs and things get more and more embarrassing. Then it’s crashing a nudist picnic. If it doesn’t hit you after a few minutes in that they’re desperate for some gags, the scene of the Enos’ showing up in drag will make you realize the gas tank of the Smokey and the Bandit franchise was completely empty at this point.
Reynolds’ cameo is a gauzy confusing scene and does not have any payoff to it. I’m not sure what exactly is meant to be going on during it. It’s a very bizarre way they incorporated him into this. I could think of a handful of different ways they could have used him that would have been better.
At the beginning have Burt make Buford the bet. Have him be the one to hand over the winnings to Buford in the end. Have him pop up somewhere along the lines to help Buford succeed. Instead he appears as some kind of hallucination or something. I don’t know how they came up with that. Maybe Burt just refused to even get out of his car to film his bit.
The sole saving grace in this is Gleason once again. Him and Junior exchanging dumb observations, aggravated insults and exhausted looks are the high point. These two are like a cheesy sitcom on wheels. Gleason and Henry in no way can save the movie, but I can get some chuckles out of them as the rest of this dreck unspools.
Oh, and that opening theme song is pretty catchy. Silly, sure but I can’t help but tap my foot while it’s playing.
It’s hard to watch or talk about this movie without discussing the backstory of it. There’s the old urban legend that it was originally called ‘Smokey is the Bandit Part 3’. The story was that Gleason played the role of both Sheriff Justice and the Bandit. The movie was finished and then things get a bit hazy.
It could have been the movie was previewed and audiences were either confused by it or just plain didn’t like it. Or maybe based on the preview reception or having ideas of their own Universal decided changes needed to be made.
So in order to repair a broken movie, Reed was recruited to return as the Snowman with the job of impersonating the Bandit and all the Bandit bits with Gleason that were already in the can were reshot with Reed. The movie was patched together with the older and new footage and the result is what went out to theaters and sat on video store shelves for decades. This has been the story I had heard since I was little regarding this movie.
There are indications that Gleason playing both parts did indeed take place. For one, as its IMDB trivia page mentions, you can see in that picture above that the stuntman on top of the car does look like a much more heavyset man than Reed was. So the scene looks like it could have been filmed with Gleason in mind with the stunt double meaning to be Gleason’s Bandit.
Later when the movie was changed up with Reed in the role, but deciding not reshoot the stunt scene it now looks like a pretty poor selection of a stunt double for Reed. Just from that image I can buy the stuntman was originally meant to be Gleason in his Bandit costume.
Also, there was already precedence of Gleason playing multiple roles in the second Bandit film, so the idea of him being Smokey AND the Bandit doesn’t seem that outlandish an idea for them to try. Maybe a silly one, but not something that they wouldn’t have cooked up. It could have seemed like an inspired idea to some drunk, coked up studio exec.
But the big sign that the movie was originally shot with Gleason in dual roles is this picture of him wearing the Bandit costume. How surreal is this! It looks to be true – Smokey was the Bandit once upon a time!
As of yet no footage has ever surfaced of Gleason in the role of the Bandit and I’m guessing never will be found. Recently someone discovered a movie trailer with Gleason explaining the original premise of the movie and it being advertised as ‘Smokey is the Bandit’ (it’s down below).
My guess is if any actual scenes existed from the first pass of the movie they were probably just tossed. Back then there were little concern of saving or preserving film that didn’t go into the final cut of a movie. I don’t think anyone anticipated of being able to get any mileage from its use in a home video version or anything like that.
What’s strange is I never heard anyone from the production or the studio ever confirm Gleason playing the Bandit was originally what was filmed and the idea was nixed after it was all shot. It’s not like the movie is one hundred years old. There must be people who worked on it who can offer their memories and confirm this unusual story.
I would love to hear their recollections of what went down and their opinions of how Gleason handled the role of the Bandit. What exactly was the idea? Was Gleason meant to be the actual Reynolds Bandit or Justice pretending to be the Bandit? Did Reed just reshoot the exact scenes Gleason filmed? Were the studio and/or Gleason so embarrassed by it they intentionally buried it? Was the original Smokey 3 version that much worse than this final cut and did the reshoots actually improve the movie? There are just a ton of questions! Without any actual footage some firsthand accounts would be the best we can hope for – other than this photograph of Gleason in his Bandit garb and the trailer.
Original Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 footage could rival a screening of The Day the Clown Cried as one of the most intriguing bits of unseen film history ever!
Ok, maybe not. It would only be a treasure for those who love bad movies, love a good ‘movie train-wreck’ and have been intrigued by how Bandit 3 might have turned out since first learning of it.
Admittedly, uncovering Gleason as the Bandit footage wouldn’t exactly rival the discovery of long lost silent films or Kubrick outtakes. And all this fascinating behind-the-scenes chaos doesn’t redeem the final version of this third Bandit film at all. The story is some interesting trivia, but the final product ended up being a goofy, silly, very bad movie.
But I still have to say despite all its cheapness and problems, I think it’s better than the second Bandit movie. At least it didn’t have an elephant in it.
A hint of what might have been….
The catchy opening tune for the movie. What can I say, I kind of dig it.