About the Author: R.D Francis is the writer of The Ghosts of Jim Morrison, the Phantom of Detroit, and the Fates of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Tales from a Wizard: The Oral History of Walpurgis. Both non-fiction works explore the myth and mystery behind the 1974 album, Phantom’s Divine Comedy: Part 1—an album many believed to be a solo album by Jim Morrison of the Doors. You can read his music and film criticisms on Medium and learn more about the Phantom on Facebook.
“Shoot, Hoke. I thought you said this were’s a sequel to Smokey and the Bandit,” says Cletus with a baseball cap smack to the head of Hoke. “Oh, now wait jusda gosh-dang minute. Now who be that little darlin’ in the yellow daisy-duke overalls? She’s purty.”
And that’s the plot of Smokey Bites the Dust: Janet Julian in that yellow jumper.
And it’s the same exact plot as the Halloween rip-off, Humongous (1982), the Iceman rip-off, Ghost Warrior (1984), and the Rambo rip-off, Choke Canyon (1986): Janet Julian. And they all suck celluloid donkey ass. And the only reason to watch any of them, class . . .
“Janet Julian, Mr. Francis.”
As for the “plots” to Eat My Dust and Grand Theft Auto: It’s the same ol’ Smokey and the Bandit car chases and car crashes tomfoolery caused by another bumbling Sheriff Buford T. Justice-clone chasing another Bandit-clone—both owing their existence to Burt Reynolds’ White Lightning—but without the desperately needed Janet Julian fix. Yeah, Christopher Norris in Eat My Dust is cute and Nancy Morgan in Grand Theft Auto is okay. But they’re all the same Sally “Frog” Field character from Smokey and the Bandit and, again, class . . .
“They’re not Janet Julian in those yellow daisy-duke overalls, Mr. Francis.”
Look, the hicksploitation plot equation is real simple, Bocephus: Ron Howard’s Hoover Neibold in Eat My Dust x his Sam Freedman in Grand Theft Auto ÷ Jimmy McNichol’s Roscoe Wilton in Smokey Bites the Dust = Burt Reynolds’s Bo “Bandit” Darville in Smokey and the Bandit. You got that, son?
Yeah, I know that William Forsythe (Stone Cold), one the best—if not the best—“heavies” in the business, makes an early film appearance as the lovesick football player in pining for Janet Julian’s Peggy Sue Turner. But Big Bad Bill is not yet into his full bad assery-mode that we know and love—and there’s not enough of Bill and way too much teen-idol “Bandit” tomfoolery with Jimmy McNichol getting in the way. Thank God, Janet is there in those, class . . .
“Yellow daisy-duke overalls, Mr. Francis.”
While B-Movie novices may have been buffaloed into thinking they were seeing a sequel to Smokey and the Bandit (a skill in which Roger Corman excelled), Smokey Bites the Dust isn’t a sequel—at least not in the character or plot development departments—to Corman’s Eat My Dust, as commonly reported.
Ron Howard, then hot from his starring role as Richie Cunningham on TV’s Happy Days, was approached by Corman to star in Eat My Dust. Howard wanted to move into directing. So they made a deal: Howard starred in Eat My Dust and Corman financed Howard’s directing debut with Grand Theft Auto—both films stealing the White Lightning blueprints and quickly produced to cash in and beat Smokey and the Bandit into theatres. And they both cleaned up at the box office.
“Shoot, Cletus. You’s sure we ain’t bin seein’ this movie before? All these car chases and crashes sure du-be lookin’ fermilar,” head scratches Hoke with an oil can spout.
“Gud God, Hoke. Yer sures is dumb. Don’t ya know ya-be watchin’ a film produced by the king of stock footage recycling?” baseball cap smacks Cletus.
In the wake of Star Wars (?), Corman came up with an idea for a “sequel” to Eat My Dust called Car Wars—based around the stunt footage from Corman’s five previous “hicksploitation” productions: Eat My Dust, Moving Violations (starring Kay Lenz), Fighting Mad (starring Peter Fonda) (both 1976), Thunder and Lightning (starring David Carradine), and Grand Theft Auto (both 1977). In fact, Corman had Allan Arkush and Joe Dante use the same celluloid bricklaying concept to create Hollywood Blvd. (1976). And how many times have we seen the special effects footage from Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars?
Of course director Charles B. Griffith had the nerve to inject a plot and character development into Smokey Bites the Dust—which took away from the car chases and crashes—so Corman cut out all that character and plot crap getting in the way. And that’s how we ended up with a plot that revolves around, everyone . . .
“Janet Julian in those yellow daisy-duke overalls, Mr. Francis.”
As for the hicktastic Sheriff Buford T. Justice-clones of Bite My Grand Theft Auto Dust, Smokey:
Charles Howerton, who stars as Sheriff Sherman “Sherm” Bleed in Eat My Dust, dubbed voices for the Italian Giallos Confessions of a Police Captain, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and What Have You Done to Solange?, and is best known to trash cinema connoisseurs for his work in 1975’s Nazi-blaxploitation hybrid, The Black Gestapo. In addition to Charles B. Griffith’s Jaws rip, Up from the Depths, Howerton played another redneck sheriff in another hicksploitationer, Joyride to Nowhere (1977).
Barry Cahill plays a pseudo-sheriff as Bigby Powers, the corrupt Governor-father of Nancy Morgan in Grand Theft Auto. He also appeared in Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1969), Coffy, and The Stone Killer (both 1973), and had a fruitful career on American soap operas.
In addition to his role as Sheriff Hugh Turner in Smokey Bites the Dust, former NFL Philadelphia Eagle guard-turned-actor Walter Lee Barnes became a stock player in Clint Eastwood’s oeuvre, most notably as Tank Murdock in Every Which Way but Loose, along with roles in Bronco Billy and High Plains Drifter. In addition to working alongside John Wayne in Cahill U.S Marshall, trash cinema lovers may remember Barnes in Pigs (1972; aka Daddy’s Deadly Darling), The Christian Licorice Store (1971), and Day of the Animals (1977).
Class dismissed. Study your films. See you on Monday.