"If Hal had been a woman, we would have had a wonderful marriage." -- Burt Reynolds
In the 1970s Burt Reynolds was one of American's biggest movie stars. He lit up the decade like a comet, from his breakout dramatic role in Deliverance (1972) through a string of Good Ol' Boy pictures, and the box office smash hit Smokey and the Bandit (1977), which became one of the most successful films of the decade. But beneath the swaggering machismo, mustache, and hair-raising stunts is a more complex story told in the feature-length documentary The Bandit which features new, original interviews with superstar Burt Reynolds.
Directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Jesse Moss, the documentary tells the little-known story of Burt Reynolds and his best friend, roommate and stunt-double, Hal Needham. Reynolds' success on screen -- and place in the popular imagination -- was due in large part to the daring and death-defying work of Needham, who was Hollywood's top stuntman. In addition to performing the car stunts, fights and falls that made Reynolds an action hero, Needham became Burt's confidante and roommate -- they lived together for nearly the entire 1970s. It was a mutually beneficial but complex and competitive friendship, dating back to the late 1950s when they met on the set of Riverboat.
Reynolds admired Needham and was drawn to the close-knit community of stuntmen that gathered around him. As one friend describes it, "Burt wanted to be doing what Hal was doing." Needham hungered for stardom in his own right, but lived in Reynolds' shadow. In 1976, Needham approached Reynolds with a script he'd written, Smokey and The Bandit. A modern moonshine picture about smuggling Coors beer across state-lines, it was admittedly poorly written. Burt was conflicted. After appearing in a string of similar pictures, he hungered for more serious dramatic roles, but he was intensely loyal to his friend. His decision to act in his best friend's film not only changed both of their lives forever, but created a legendary character and a movie that is still revered today, forty years later.
The film tells the action-packed story of the making of Smokey and The Bandit, while tracing the vivid personal journeys of Reynolds and Needham from obscurity to stardom and success and highlighting one of the most extraordinary relationships in Hollywood history.
Featuring new interviews with Reynolds, rare and never-before-seen archive material, including photographs, and footage from Reynolds' personal archive, as well as candid interviews with the late Hal Needham, and other close friends and key players, the documentary offers a kaleidoscopic perspective on their relationship, and tells an exhilarating and moving story about loyalty, friendship and creative risk.
Jesse Moss produces and directs. Amanda McBaine produces for Mile End Films. Jayson Dinsmore, Lewis Bogach and John Miller-Monzon executive produce for CMT. The film will make its television premiere on CMT later this year.