Sunday, March 09, 2014

The other GRAND THEFT AUTO

Oh sure Ron Howard is a major Oscar winning director now. He works on prestigious projects with only the most recognizable stars in Hollywood like Tom Hanks and does big budget racing movies like RUSH. But once upon a time Mr. Howard directed a much more modest effort – 1977’s GRAND THEFT AUTO. The producer was Roger Corman. Not exactly Brian Grazer but he had better hair.

And Mr. Howard was not content to just direct. He also starred and co-wrote the screenplay with his father, Rance. Mr. Corman admired and encouraged auteurs – he had great respect for any artist who would do three jobs for one salary.

The plot is deceptively simple: Sam (Opie) and Paula (Nancy Morgan) need to elope because her rich parents are vehemently opposed to this union. So they steal her daddy’s Rolls Royce and flee to Vegas. Daddy gets wind of this and offers a reward to anyone who can stop them. This sets off wild car chases that results in multiple crashes, collisions, explosions, and clarity.

One can see from the playful byplay between Sam and Paula as rednecks try to force them off the road a foreshadowing of the relationship between Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in A BEAUTIFUL MIND. And when Paula’s rich jilted doofus beau, Collins Hedgeworth calls TenQ radio and alerts disc jockey Curly Q. Brown of the reward, the scene between actors Paul Linke and the Real Don Steele was pretty much duplicated by Tom Hanks and Ian MacKellem in THE DA VINCI CODE.

The Real Don Steele, by the way, gave perhaps his finest screen performance in this film – a tip of the cap to Mr. Howard’s ability to work with actors.

The action sequences are spectacular and obviously gave Mr. Howard the experience and confidence he needed to pull off some of those intricate stunts in COCOON.

And who can watch the damaged space capsule in APOLLO 13 and not think immediately of the smashed up Rolls Royce in GRAND THEFT AUTO?

The media circus surrounding the chase undoubtedly was the inspiration for not only THE PAPER but FROST/NIXON, EDTV and maybe even THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS.

I won’t give away the ending. Suffice it to say it’s far and away better than FAR AND AWAY.

GRAND THEFT AUTO. Download it. Study it.  Delete it .

16 comments:

John said...

I always thought the original GFA was a way for Ron to get around being increasingly marginalized on his own TV show by Henry Winkler and Fonzie-mania (which began in earnest when the show went to the three-camera format and a live audience in 1975. By '77, Richie was becoming more and more of just a supporting character to set up the main story with Fonzie, so it was no shock he'd want to go out and do something that made him central to the story again and at the same time, let him try his hand at directing).

Tim W. said...

From what I remember reading about the movie, Howard was getting tired of acting and wanted to get into directing movies, but couldn't get a studio to let him, so Roger Corman let him do it as long as he starred in it, too, along with another Corman-directed movie, Eat My Dust.

I've never seen the movie myself, but remember that James Cameron's directorial debut was Piranha 2.

DBenson said...

I recall an interview where Howard said his initial scheme to break into directing was titled "Opie Gets Laid."

Marty Shorr said...

This seems like a lot of snark for the almost 40 year old directorial debut of a guy who went on to make some pretty enjoyable movies. Have you been harboring these feelings all this time?

BigTed said...

But did he ever end up directing the movie about the killer robot driving instructor who travels back in time for some reason?

Scooter Schechtman said...

Follows my not-so-paranoid theory that 70s movies are almost gone from TV because Hollywood sees the decade as ripe for looting and wants its hunting preserve. If you see a listing for "Carrie" or "Last House On the Left" it's 99% sure to be a crappy 21st century remake.

D. McEwan said...

"The producer was Roger Corman. Not exactly Brian Grazer but he had better hair."

For the record, the amazing Roger Corman STILL has better hair.

Aaron Sheckley said...

For the record, I think Carrot Top probably has better hair than Brian Grazer.

Pat Reeder said...

I moved Heaven and Earth once to get into a press conference in Dallas so I could meet Roger Corman. I wasn't an aspiring filmmaker, I just wanted to meet Roger Corman because I am a connoisseur of crap.

I loved how cheerfully honest he was about what he did. I recall him apologizing because his current release, "Sorceress," didn't live up to his expectations. I had to go see it then, because how high could expectations have been for a zero-budget movie shot in Mexico and starring two identical twin ex-Playboy models battling vaguely Romanesque villains with the help of a horny centaur who bleats like a goat and a Viking who apparently had a faulty GPS? If you want to see for yourself, it's hard to find, but a dark VHS copy of the whole mess has been posted on YouTube:

http://youtu.be/097J_vUuolc

For your convenience, the first nude scene is around 12 minutes in. Enjoy!

James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

RUSH to see it!

Ansel Williams Adams said...

couldn't you just post pics of hot women on the beach, or anywhere else?????

Craig Edwards said...

Mr. Levine - did you really recommend everyone just pirate a copy of the easily found on DVD Grand Theft Auto? And shame on Pat Reeder too for linking to a non-public domain movie on YouTube. Not what I expected around these parts.

Fletcher Rush said...

I respectfully submit that the Real Don Steele actually gave his best performance in "Death Race 2000."

Fletcher Rush said...

Pat Reeder: Corman may have been disappointed by "Sorceress," but that did not stop him from creating another movie--"Wizards of the Lost Kingdom"--purely to make use of the props and costumes left over from "Sorceress."

Which, of course, will surprise no one who has ever read a Roger Corman story.

Tim W. said...

Craig Edwards,

Why do you assume that Ken suggesting to download a movie means he's asking you to pirate it? It's 2014. The last movie rental store in my neighbourhood disappeared a few years ago.