Our review of Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) (Blu-ray), published November 13th, 2012, is also available.
It's grand theft entertainment.
Recently I read an article, I believe it was in Entertainment Weekly, that discussed "the pitch." You know, the meeting where a writer, director, or other person comes to the studio to pitch an idea for a movie. In most cases, he or she has probably already submitted a treatment of the story, gaining access to an actual person at the studio; so now it's the big chance to sell the film in hopes it will get made. How do you sell a movie? What's going to be the hook? What can be said or done to entice the execs to drop a couple million into your hands? The one example from the article that readily comes to mind is the pitch for The Perfect Storm. I don't recall who made the sell, but I remember their claim: All they did was have a brief animatic, or maybe it was just a mockup, of the famous scene of the little fishing boat on the big wave. Supposedly, they said this is our film's climax, and the studio said here's your money. That's their claim. I'm sure having Wolfgang Peterson on board and making the film from a best-selling novel didn't hurt either.
Now let's go back to 1972 and imagine how H.B. Halicki, the "Enya of filmmaking" (I'll get back to this), is shopping around his idea for Gone in 60 Seconds:
"Hey, I've got a great idea for a movie," says Halicki.
To Be Continued…
Facts of the Case
Maindrain Pace (H.B. Halicki). Everyone knows him as an intelligent, respectable insurance investigator; they also know that he runs a quality auto shop in town. What very few know is that he is the leader of a group of professional car thieves. If a car disappears, it's most likely Pace's gang that's done it. Today is Tuesday and a very valued client has just contacted Pace with an exceptional order. The buyer wants Pace to deliver 48 specific cars to him by Saturday. All are very high-end cars ranging from Mustangs to limousines, making the order difficult to fill under the time limit. Still, Pace savors the challenge and agrees to complete the order.
His crew is somewhat taken aback by the audacity of the plan, but they realize that if anyone can do it, Pace can. Mapping out a basic strategy, the gang begins to scout out their targets, which have all been given female names. Being part of the insurance industry, Pace does have one small idiosyncrasy when it comes to stealing: all of the cars he steals must be insured. Pace refuses to take a car from a person who hasn't insured it.
And so they begin stealing the 48 cars. As it happens, it's proceeding extremely smoothly; the thieves have found all the cars they need with little hardship, and no complications have arisen. That is, until they come to Eleanor, a prized '73 Mach 1 Ford Mustang. They've found their Eleanor, stolen it, but then discover that it's not insured. The owner has placed an ad in the paper pleading for the car's return, no questions asked. Of course, Pace agrees, much to the chagrin of his buddies. However, they had scouted a second Eleanor, and Pace goes to secure his replacement. Unfortunately, by random chance, some undercover cops witness Pace stealing Eleanor.
And the chase begins!
What follows is one harrowing, 40-minute car chase through the streets of Long Beach, California, as dozens of police try to capture the elusive Pace. A skilled driver, can Pace escape? Can he still fill the order?
Let's get the obvious out of the way. Yes, this film is the basis of the boring and lifeless 2000 remake starring Nic Cage and Angelina Jolie. And, yes, I quite thoroughly detested the remake.
Still, how does "The Original," as H.B. Halicki now bills it, stand up after all this time?
Quite simply, it's a rather boring film, but allow me a moment or two to elaborate a bit further. The running time of this little gem is about an hour and a half. For the first half, about 50 minutes, you get the basic set up and the hunt for the cars. That set up is rather choppy, the acting is pretty weak, the direction is wanting, and the film looks very dated. As will become apparent later, there are reasons for all of this; nonetheless, you can't overlook the flaws that make that first half rather dull. I distinctly noticed myself being quite fidgety, wanting to simply "cut to the chase." Fortunately, as the film is "so 1974," you can pass the time chuckling at the awful hairstyles and fashion sense of the cast. My oh my, what a decade! Then you come to the entire reason that Halicki made this film: the infamous 40-minute car chase. By today's MTV standards, the chase itself is a bit on the slow side. It's missing all those rapid cuts, close calls, and needless crashes that we've unwittingly become accustomed to. But, actually, there are numerous close calls, lots of needless crashes, and tons of utter mayhem in the chase, but they're edited in the more sedate fashion of yesteryear. The thing is the chase actually needs some time to warm up. While the first 20 minutes (!) feel a bit routine and cautious, the last half of the chase does become far more taut, energetic, frenetic, and exciting. By the end of the chase, where Eleanor does her "big jump," I was actually on the edge of my couch wondering how he was going to get out of this mess. So, looking at our hour and a half film, is 20 minutes worth the price of admission? Inquiring minds want to know.
In its day, Gone in 60 Seconds was also quite an unprecedented independent film—yes, an independent film! Here's where the story continues, and here's why we get such poor set up, bad acting, and weak direction. Halicki financed the film on his own, recruited tons of family and friends into the crew, and tapped every other acquaintance to lend their support to the film. I haven't dipped too heavily into the history of this film, but it seems that no studio wanted to invest any money into a concept where 93 cars are destroyed during a 40-minute chase. Sound kind of odd? Why wouldn't a studio want to do that? It actually appears to be the type of movie that studios would thrive on: pure, unadulterated action. Well, my deduction is that perhaps the studio didn't quite care for the amount of carnage and the level of hands-on work Halicki wanted. Hence, Halicki went it alone and made this film, leading me to call him the "Enya of filmmaking." Why do I call him that? If you're familiar at all with the works of this Celtic artist, you know that she not only is the main voice of her music, but she also is the majority of the backup vocals, instrumentalist, writer, producer, and so forth. All in all, she's a one-woman army when it comes to creating her unique brand of music. Hence, when I learned how many hats Halicki wore in this film, I couldn't help but think of Enya. Here, not only did Halicki come up with the idea and finance the film, but he also directed, produced, wrote, helped edit, was a cameraman, starred, drove, and was lead stuntman. Wow!
So how does this film that spawned a remake fare in its Special 25th Anniversary DVD release? On the video front, you're treated to a reframed 1.85:1 non-anamorphic transfer. For those of you who care, the original ratio was 1.90:1; as the change is minor, I am not too affronted by the change, for whatever reasons Halicki deemed necessary. The print itself comes across reasonably well for the time and its independent roots. While colors are accurate and there are no significant errors, this transfer is certainly lacking in richness and detail. Errors are minor, but you will stumble across the occasional pixel, shimmer, and edge enhancement. There are three audio tracks to choose from: 5.1 DTS, 5.1 Dolby Digital, and 2.0 Dolby Digital. I watched the film with the DTS track and then went back and spot-checked the other two. In each, the main drawback is very hollow dialogue; while it is clear and understandable from the center, the dialogue lacks any dynamic range. On the DTS track, I found the mix somewhat unbalanced, with just a touch too much emphasis on the music, causing the vocal track to be washed out. Much to my pleasure, though, the DTS track has nice use of the surrounds and very powerful use of the bass. For the Dolby Digital tracks, you'll find a better balance between music and words, but the surrounds and bass aren't as expansive and rich.
And, what does the Special 25th Anniversary Edition have in the way of bonus features? While the packaging looks quite exhaustive, the material isn't all that encompassing. Not quite a bonus item is the special introduction by Denise Halicki that plays before the film. She relates a little bit of background on the film, giving those who haven't seen it before a nice frame of reference for the upcoming feature. The first real bonus item is the audio commentary by cinematographer Jack Vacek (on the right) and editor Warner Leighton (on the left). I liked this commentary and its discussion of the movie and various odds and ends. You will certainly learn a few things along the way, but, as is normally the case, it certainly isn't a track you'll find need to ever listen to again. Next up are four interviews with "special friends" of Halicki: Lee Iacocca (nine minutes), Parnelli Jones (five minutes), J.C. Agajanian, Jr. (11 minutes), and Bobby Orr (six minutes). The most interesting of them is the talk with Iacocca, while the most enthusiastic goes to Agajanian. The other two are lackluster and rambly. Next is a massive photo gallery that is broken down into 24 parts, ranging from "Aggie Speedway" to "A Walk in the Park." If you so desire, you can view a couple of the international posters for the film, but you won't miss much if you skip them. Next are three deleted scenes that are incredibly lame, and you'd be better off not watching them. Lastly are trailers for the remastered Gone in 60 Seconds, The Junkman, and the original trailer for Gone in 60 Seconds. If you look hard enough, there's an Easter egg that gives you an abbreviated version of the film in just 510 seconds. But, duh! Wouldn't it have been far cleverer for the egg to do it in 60 seconds?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Perhaps I haven't given the massive car chase its full props. When I take a moment to think about the complexity of the chase and the hurdles Halicki went through to film it, it is far more incredible than I originally perceived. Using his Enya skills, he created a chase that sustains and builds from minute to minute, eventually reaching quite an exciting crescendo. What I haven't discussed are the many instances of Halicki's ingenuity in filming the chase, for he often did not have permits to do what he did. According to some accounts, as he's racing through the streets of Long Beach, those bystanders are truly terrified as they have no idea a film is being made. But perhaps the most incredible story of the chase revolves around the crash into the pole on the interstate. As Pace is eluding numerous police cars behind him, weaving in and out of traffic, he suddenly swerves onto an off ramp and crashes into a pole. On screen, after a moment, Eleanor goes into reverse, weaves around some police cars, and the chase goes on. In reality, the crash was real and Halicki was seriously injured, calling off production for quite some time. But, when he healed up, it was back into Eleanor to finish the movie. So, I take a step back and give Halicki his kudos for putting together one of the most spectacular, special-effects-free chases in cinema.
If you're into cars and car chases, this is your film. There really is no denying the enormity and beauty of the 40-minute chase scene. Well constructed, amazingly accomplished, and slyly paced, the chase will make the film highly memorable and will help offset the rather lame setup in the beginning of the movie. If you happen to find the noxious 2000 remake a good film, then you certainly want to give the original a spin. All in all, it's an interesting look at Halicki's dream and a man with a singular passion. As such, I'll recommend the film for a rental, but I don't feel there's quite enough to sustain it as a purchase.
Despite the court's best effort to bring in Mr. Halicki, the accused remains elusive and at large. In absentia, I hereby find him not guilty on all counts. He is free to continue pursuing his love of cars and speed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Ventura Distribution
• Audio Commentary with Cinematographer Jack Vacek and Editor Warner Leighton
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