Before the Fast and Furious franchise there was the Smokey and the Bandit series. True, the latter didn’t have Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, the Rock, or the sight of a car flying from one skyscraper to another. But it did have Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason, and all manner of do-not-try-this-at-home automotive high-jinks overseen by stuntman extraordinaire-turned-filmmaker Hal Needham.
“I lived with Burt for about 10, 12 years,” the late Needham told EW in 2011. “He got very successful, and he bought himself a mansion, and I lived in the guest house. It was wonderful. I had great experiences with Burt. And because of my closeness to him — I’d doubled him for about 18 years, something like that — when I wrote Smokey, I got him to read it. He said, ‘Tell you what I’ll do, son, you get a studio to give you the money to do this film, I’ll star in it, and you can direct it.’ At that time, he was the No. 1 box-office star in the world. That’s how it all began.”
Now, Fathom Events has announced that it will screen Needham’s original 1977 Smokey and the Bandit in cinemas nationwide to mark the film’s 40th anniversary. The screenings are part of the year-long TCM Big Screen Classics series from Turner Classic Movies and Fathom and will take place on May 21 and 24. Each screening will also include specially produced commentary from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, before and after the feature.