Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)

This is a very interesting movie for a lot of reasons — it’s a great car chase film for the drive-in crowd, and remarkably manages to create more vehicular devastation than bigger budget films like “The French Connection” and “Bullitt” (although I would note that this film is actually pretty expensive compared to many drive-in films). It’s also something of an homage to films like “The Asphalt Jungle” with its modestly subversive focus on the mechanisms of the criminal element.

The first part of the movie is a bit slow granted, but compared to a lot of the newer auto-crash/race type movies it’s somewhat welcome that the film allows the pace to build up somewhat. Let’s not get carried away talking about characters and motivation and so forth — about halfway through the movie I still couldn’t tell who the main character was supposed to be. I don’t think this is a defect in the movie, it’s actually part of its self-conscious charm — the producers of the film have only listed one star for the film: Eleanor, a 1973 Ford Mustang. Basically the plot is about a trio of kids who inherit their daddy’s insurance business and use their savvy and information to become wholesale auto thieves. They get an order to deliver 48 cars in a 48 hour period and thus begins a mad spree that makes Corman and Howard’s “Grand Theft Auto” look conservative.

Minimal sexual/exploitation value here — it’s probably best as a movie for car lovers, the type of movie you used to see all the time on “Lost Drive In” and shows of that type. It’s notable that the movie’s style is more of a throw-back to films as I say like “Asphalt Jungle” and “The Killing” — instead of focusing on the kind of shenanigans that the so-called “biker” movies by AIP and CI from the late 60s this one is pretty much only concerned with allowing us to vicariously enjoy the element of theft and with its fascination with fine auto machinery. This gives it a refreshingly adult and even documentarian quality. Someone looking back a century from now wanting to see the great sports cars of the late 20th Century in action could do worse than to watch this movie.

One of the aspects of the film that gets a lot of attention is the extensive stunt driving, much of which was apparently done by the film’s star/director H.B. Halicki, a famous auto collector who died while making one of his subsequent films. In this area the film certainly lives up to its reputation because it’s hard to believe that people actually walked away from some of these stunts without some kind of permanent reminder. The car itself undergoes such an unbelievable beating that by the end you feel like you owe it some kind of respect regardless of how you feel about the movie, like Rocky and Apollo Creed after their big fight.

I think this is one of the drive-in films that will survive and be seen as a model of what can be done on a relatively small budget by people with a lot of passion and focus. It will never be considered a straight-up “classic” per se because the dialog is pretty awkward and there’s a bit too much of it perhaps in the first half. But once the film really starts going it never slows down to let you think too much about the details, and it sure is a lot of pure fun.