In 1983 the powers that be at Universal wanted a third addition to the very popular Smokey and the Bandit series. The only problem was that Burt Reynolds (and director Hal Needham) were not interested in taking the Bandit for another spin. When the two main central forces of a successful franchise do not wish to return, more often than not the whole enterprise is abandoned. However rumour has it that Jackie Gleason (Smokie) was not perturbed by this and suggested something that should have been thrown out as an idea immediately. Gleason suggested that he play both SmokeyAND the Bandit. What Gleason didnt reckon was that there is no way the world was ready to see a middle aged man squeezing himself into tight jeans, shirts and boots. 1983 was just not that progressive. However with the huge amounts of drugs that were undoubtedly coming out of the taps in Hollywood, this was seen to be an idea worth filming. These days of course, if Eugene Levy voiced the idea of playing the dad in American Pie and all of the kids, it would be thrown out quicker than a bomb on fire, but this was the early 1980s.
Gleason was no stranger to playing multiple parts. In Smokey and the Bandit 2, Gleeson played various members of Buford T. Justice (Smokey)’s family with varying degrees of success (which is a polite way of saying that it was shit). In an all too common story, the film was allegedly made (with Gleason playing both parts) and test screened, where upon it was greeted with confusion, derision and sheer terror. Universal panicked and brought Jerry Reed (Snowman – the Bandit’s friend and ally from the previous Smokey films) in to play the Bandit in a series of reshoots. The finished article is a mess of epic proportions. It makes Superman 4: The Quest for Peace look like The Usual Suspects. The film makes no sense and feels like a giant milk churn, full to the brim with confusion, teetering on the bonnet of a truck that is plummeting down a steep hill of chaos at high speed. There is little or no continuity (as if the concept was yet to be invented) and characters and sub-plots spin out of control like a whirling dervish with epilepsy.
Just a brief description of the plot only serves to underline the drug problem in Hollywood during the early 1980s. Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 begins with Big Enos and Little Enos offering a sizeable wager on one’s ability to transport a shipment a large distance in a short period of time. Offering a slight twist, however, the offer is this time made to a retiring Sheriff Buford T. Justice, betting $250,000 against his badge on his ability to transport a large stuffed fish from an eatery in Florida to Texas. They are betting a retired man his badge, that he can’t transport a giant stuffed fish from Florida to Texas?! That’s like threatening a guy who has retired that he will be sacked if he doesn’t come to work on Monday. You can imagine they came up with that idea while exchanging needles in a dark room while listening to Jefferson Airplane. Suffice to say the film clicks from scene to scene with the confusing efficiency of a drunk chicken and only offers solace with a cameo from Burt Reynolds at the end – which must have been a serious called-in favour by the studio; “Burt, the film is a Dodo, please come in and smile and do that laugh. It needs saving – pronto!”
The more fascinating concept is of course if the Smokey IS the Bandit rumours are true at all. They are certainly a convenient smoke-screen for how poorly put together the film actually is. Many believed the rumours to just be a myth for many years, that is until 2011 when a teaser trailer surfaced in which the title “Smokey IS the Bandit Part 3″ is used. This seems to back up this theory and substantiate the rumour.
If Smokey IS the Bandit was indeed shot, you have to wonder just how bad it was. In this modern age of everything being released onto DVD and special features usally being so jam packed full of content, it is hard to understand just why Smokey IS the Bandit has not been released. Unless of course it is totally awful and should never see the light of day. Almost like that tattoo you get on your arse when you have been up all night drinking parafin. In a world where you can see the excised footage from Superman 4, surely nothing can be worse? Unless of course it is.
The only conclusion must be that if it exists, it is so bad that it can never be seen again. Maybe it is the film that it is on the tape in The Ring?
Maybe this picture that recently surfaced could be a hint too? Maybe one day the truth will out.