Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Film Review of Ron Howard's "Grand Theft Auto," 1977

One wonders if this love would really last!
Collin's mother defies the law. A recent court ruling says that this kind of gesture is OK, given our right to free speech.

Three years after the release of Halicki's "Gone in 60 Seconds" another feature film centering on auto theft appears, this time a zany comedy with the title "Grand Theft Auto."[1] A cross between "Gone in Sixty Seconds" and "American Grafitti," "GTA" was the first film directed by Ron Howard, while also drawing on the talents of B-grade film creator Roger Corman, who served as executive producer. The plot is as silly as it can be, and this viewer could not wait for the film to end. Filled with mindless special effect explosions, car chase scenes and crashes, and slanted characters, I guess Ron Howard had to start somewhere as a director. Despite its flaws, the film did make money, as it parlayed a $600,000 investment into a $16 million profit.

The "GTA" story centers on two very young lovers who want to get married, Sam Freeman (Ron Howard) and Paula Powers (Nancy Morgan). Paula, the daughter of wealthy gubernatorial candidate Bigby Powers, is one of those headstrong and independent young women so characteristic of that day, and is dead set on marrying Sam, contrary to the wishes of her parents. Instead of Sam, Bigby desires his daughter to marry wealthy Collins Hegeworth (Paul Linke), a foolish prig of a young man to say the least. As the young couple elope from Los Angeles to Las Vegas as fantastic chase ensues, as the couple take off from the Powers estate in a 1959 two-tone Rolls Royce. With a reward on their heads and numerous pursuants, the trail takes them (and us) through the desert wastes of California and Nevada, ending at the Nevada Speedway. As one might predict, love triumphs in the end, as the rich young girl chooses to follow her glands rather than her pocketbook.

Beyond the rather anti-materialistic message, Grand Theft Auto does contain a latent meaning concerning auto theft. From the moment Paula "borrows" her father's Rolls-Royce to the demolition derby scene at Las Vegas, characters "borrow" the cars of others to suit their immediate convenience. In fact, Paula remarked that she is merely "trading with dad," since she cannot drive off in her own Fiat X1/9 because he had taken the keys away from her. Consequently Collins drives off with a Dodge Charger, and then later a battered, yellow pickup truck. Collins mother, concerned over her son, "borrows" a servant's VW Beetle. Later, 2 gas station mechanics, 1977 clones for Beavis and Butthead, borrow a kit-car that was in their garage for service, and later a Chevy Luv pickup with a camper attached. A policeman "borrows" a bus filled with senior citizens, who do little to protest when they discover that they are going to Sin City. In sum, Grand Theft Auto perpetuated the notion that stealing a car was often not stealing, but just temporarily suing a motor vehicle because of a personal need.

[1] "Grand Theft Auto," 1977, DVD, Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

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