Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Netflix pick of the month: 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 that English guy who played David Frost. 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. Rent it. Study it. Send it back.


Chas Cunningham said...

My understanding was that Howard agreed to star in the movie if he were allowed to direct it, not vice versa.

Jason said...

Makes a great double feature with another Corman/Howard car chase movie, "Eat My Dust".

Larry said...

Ron Howard's first fifteen years of directing are a lot more fun than his second fifteen years.

D McEwan said...

You kept referring to Roger Corman in the past tense. He's not dead, nor even retired. He just won a secret Oscar. (I assume it was a secret,since it was slipped to him quietly in a special, rather unpublicised, and utterly non-televised ceremony, along with one for Lauren Becall and Gordon Willis. Shameful way to hand out Oscars.)

Mr. Corman still admires and encourages auteurs – he still has great respect for any artist who will do three jobs for one salary, and he still has better hair than Brian Grazer

Unknown said...

I remember reading a script a few years back for coverage on a film that was along this line and the story was REALLY good-it was disappointing it didn't get made while this crap Jennifer Lopez movie in which she was a cop I also did coverage for did get made. And around the same time I also did coverage for the Kurt Russell movie in which Elvis impersonators rob a casino during Elvis week-a lot of it shot at the Riveria-I forget the name offhand-but that script was pretty cool-also had one of the Friends chicks starring Courtney Cox. The movie did not live up to the script unfortunately which happens.

Anyway the plot in the film I'm talking about was pretty cool-some Mel Gibson type cop (before he destroyed his career by being a Jew hater, I'm thinking Lethal Weapon Mel Gibson) is showing off his police Charger to kids at a shopping center or something when there's some kidnapping or other emergency and he gets called into immediate duty-this sets off a chase to San Francisco that culminates in a helicopter rescue of some kind but before that happens there's some shootout and car chase at an abandoned Fresno drive in-it was a pretty cool script and I'm not the kind that loves those types of movies in general-but I loved that. It was way cool. I wonder what ever became of it. It is exactly the type of film Grand Theft Auto is and you would have loved it Ken. It was FUN and it was FUNNY. And yet that crap Jennifer Lopez thing did get made.

As a side note, I'm interested in starting some type of charity partially based on my wide knowledge of popular music to assist musicians, DJ's and the like. I don't have any pull of any kind myself so I need as much assistance as possible. It's one of many ideas I have (which also would involve matching the right scenes within scripts to the right songs and securing rights for them, another related idea which combines my love of music and movies and my much too unused talents as a DJ.) See my blog here called Creative Writing-While In A Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery Center and Love of Music:

also there's a list there of some rare records I used to own (for the most part) and can't find anywhere today so far at least. Plus my script for Cutting Confessions and an idea in the planning stages that is similar to Mad Men but instead of revolving around an advertising agency of the 60's, the center piece is a Top 40 radio station of the 70's and 80's (and as you point out, the radio station known as 10Q played a major role in Grand Theft Auto)-the idea would be for less corny humor and more reality based than WKRP for example with deeper storylines. I'm always thinking of stuff like this-the tough part is implementing.

Rodney Peterson

A. Buck Short said...

Mr. McEwan is much too modest and circumspect to hype his acquaintance Tallulah Morehead's wonderful and extensively researched homage to Mr. Corman at the Tallulah Morehead link Mr. Levine so graciously provides daily for your dining and dancing pleasure with this blog. Either that or he does not want to be accused of what I believe the New Yorker magazine refers to as "log rolling," the practice of authors exchanging rave reviews for each other's work. (No not that other kind of log rolling Dougie.)

All I can say to you slackers, is mosey on over there, and enjoy the additional information on the career of the great Swedish director Ingrid Bergman. Not to be confused with the great Hollywood songwriter Marilyn Bergman who (honestly) I once complimented on her choice of the word “fishes” rather than the more traditional “fish” to rhyme with “dishes” in Yentl. I wondered if she were writing about the people who catch them, whether she and Alan would opt for “fishers” instead of “fishermen,” all the better to rhyme with “pishers?” Not one to leave it as casual party conversation, I rushed home, looked it up, and learned that “fish” is generally preferred when referring to the plural, but “fishes” is really aces in talking about variety of species.

Now I hope this tangent hasn’t delayed your trip over to the CormanColumn.

Lairbo said...

Didn't Corman tell Howard that 'If you do this [film] right, you'll never have to work for me again'? Or words to that effect?

Matt Bird said...

Hey, Ken, I've always loved this feature and I now run a daily version of the same basic concept called "Cockeyed Caravan". Click on my name if you want to check it out.

I didn't realize that I had somewhat borrowed the idea from you until I made a list of possible movies and realized that too many were ones you'd already covered (Smile, The Stunt Man etc.) I then came up with a new list.

I should just mention how much I love your blog in general. My wife and I are still humming Johnny's Cash's theme from Thunderball around the house.

Unknown said...

I'm pretty sure the script I referred to above also had another cool story element-that this guy was in the process of a divorce and had a son who stowed away in the car as the chase begins or for some reason was along for the ride-so there was that cop buddy thing going with his son. And of course a family reconciliation thing at the end if I recall (which may have been his wife that was being saved in the helicopter rescue part-probably was. Now that's a pretty cool idea-I wish I could remember the name of it or find that script somewhere again. Whoever wrote it knew what they were doing when it came to this type of formula.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"A. Buck Short said...
Mr. McEwan is much too modest and circumspect..."

Little Dougie modest? It's a base calumny! Dougie makes Howard Stern look self-effacing.

Ron Rettig said...

"OSS 117: Cairo - Nest of Spies*OSS 117: Le Caire - Nid D'Espions" a must see French espionage comedy. Netflix streaming enabled.

Jonathan said...

I actually saw GTA in 1977 as a double feature with Eat My Dust at the Vogue in downtown Chula Vista, CA. No better way for an 11 year-old to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Matt Patton said...

Frankly, I'd take GTA over A BEAUTIFUL MIND any day. Unless, of course, Russell Crowe's hallucinations included car crashes and a cameo appearance by Marion Ross.