Sunday, February 18, 2018

The other GRAND THEFT AUTO

Oh sure Ron Howard is a major Oscar winning director now. He works on prestigious projects like the new STAR WARS (SOLO) 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 with 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, BEAUTIFUL MIND, 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 .

20 comments :

TireKicker said...

I still want to know...given that the movie used the real TenQ and that The Real Don Steele was on TenQ and was essentially playing himself...why did they choose to give him a character with a fictitious name?

Anonymous said...

I was really hoping for a Night Shift reference.....
-Sammy B

Rory Wohl said...

Hi Ken - Possible Friday Q -

The recent Twitter post of your family being together for your birthday made me wonder what a typical day-in-the-life of one Ken Levine is like?

How much of your day is spent wandering around the house ranting to the table lamp in the living room, or doing play-by-play of Debby getting ready to go to the store?

Thanks,
- Rory

gottacook said...

Ron Howard's had a directing career of more than forty years? Where does the time go?

ChipO said...

You meant this for April 1?

VP81955 said...

Of course Ron learned from the greats like Bert I. Gordon, the Lubitsch of cheap sci-fi. In "Village of the Giants," Opie plays Genius, a kid whose concotion makes eight "teens," including Beau Bridges, Tisha Sterling and the buxom Joy Harmon, six times their size, forcing them to use theater curtains as makeshift outfits as they take over a town.

Thomas Anderson said...

And Opie Taylor gets laid! In a shower, if memory serves. That was worth the price of admission all by itself!
Richie Cunninghsm didn't have to go to Blueberry Hill to find his thrill, after all...

Bob said...


Mr. Howard ?

I wouldn't give him that respect. Overrated hack.

Stole the Oscar from David Lynch.

Typical kiss-ass to the big daddies in the Academy. So they threw him bone.

One of the worst persons to work with.

Johnny Walker said...

Everyone’s got to start somewhere! Corman did have an eye for talent at least.

Always surprised when he I hear hated toward Ron Howard, though. He’s produced some great movies and seems like a very down to earth guy.

Peter said...

Bob, that seems a bit harsh. Have you worked with him?

I agree David Lynch should have won that year but the Oscars don't give awards to filmmakers like Lynch. They'll nominate him as a gesture to say they recognize independent auteurs, but they'll never give the actual Oscar to him.

michael del said...

Apparently, Howard had an agreement with Corman to star in Eat My Dust (1976), another car chase film, if Howard got to direct his own film. Both films made a nice profit.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

God knows why, but I remember the TV trailer for EMD.

Announcer: RON HOWARD POPS THE CLUTCH AND TELLS THE WORLD TO EAT MY DUST!

thirteen said...

I'm trying to figure out why making cheap films that people like is a problem. I obviously have no head for show biz.

Also, given his pinky-new Star Wars credit, I don't know why calling him "Opie-Wan" hasn't caught on.

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

Sounds pretty good, Ken. I'll look for the disc at Amazon.
Surprised the studio didn't title it "Bring Me The Head of Richie Cunningham." ;-)

VP81955 said...

Too much like the TV movie "Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis."

therealshell said...

Don Steele's finest performance can be found in the epic Death Race 2000 !

MikeN said...

I sense a sarcastic tone here. I don't understand it. This movie was good enough to be remade 11 years later with Robert DeNiro.

Jeff Boice said...

I remember Ron Howard guest-hosting The Mike Douglas Show around the time Grand Theft Auto was released. On one show he used model cars to show Mike how he directed the action scenes. He was so enthusiastic moving those cars around that you understood he was really into directing.

MikeKPa. said...

Nancy Morgan married John Ritter the same year.

Michael said...

"GRAND THEFT AUTO. Download it. Study it. Delete it." Ken, I laughed out loud when I read that, and for that I am grateful. Your posts are always a joy to read and often informative and eye-opening.