Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Herbie The Love Bug

Television gets bit by the Love Bug

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic… Isn't a motion picture at all! Instead, I'm opting to be a completionist and we're going to take a brief look at the short-lived television show, "Herbie the Love Bug" (Disney and Columbia Broadcasting System, 1982). Yes: There was a "Herbie" TV series! Spanning five hour-long time slots in 1982, this situational comedy follows the adventures of Jim Douglas (reprised by Dean Jones) and his 1963 Volkswagen Beetle, Herbie after their racing career is ended.

Except for when it hasn't.

"I'm going to reprise this role forever!"

Jim now teaches driver's education at the local high school while also being the owner-operator of his own (financially failing) driving school along with his partner Bo Phillips (Richard Paul).
Not Buddy Hackett, not Don Knotts, and (sadly) not as funny as either.

One day, the duo spot a bank robbery taking place with the robbers taking a woman hostage during the getaway. Herbie immediately springs into action, saving the woman, Susan MacLane (Patricia Harty).
"I almost died! Can you tutor my daughter?"

Susan immediately recognizes Jim as her daughter's driver's ed teacher, and asks him if he can give the girl some additional tutoring. Jim meets Susan's three children, Julie (a young Claudia Wells), Matthew (Nicky Katt), and Robbie (Douglas Emerson) and Susan's overbearing rich fiancée, Randy Bigelow (Larry Linville).
Darwinism in action.

After Randy (rightly) accuses Jim of trying to steal Susan from him, Herbie begins a campaign of terror and intimidation to break up Susan and Randy (although it's done in such a cute way to make Randy seem like the villain).
"Badman away! To the Boatmobile!"

Randy retaliates by tricking Jim into racing again much to the chagrin of Susan, but at the last minute before the big race Herbie races with Jim to stop Susan's wedding to Randy.

Prepare for pablum

And that's the first episode. Every subsequent episode is a series of comical misunderstandings of the most rote and uncreative sitcom clichés as has ever seen the light of day. Episode 2: A very special episode as the boys run away. Episode 3: A misunderstanding with an old flame causes jealousy between Jim and Susan. Episode 4: Jim, Susan, and Herbie prepare for the wedding while Randy schemes to stop it as payback for ruining his wedding (this episode guest stars Disney veteran Richard Bakalyan as a dirty private eye). Episode 5: A very special episode as Herbie is mistakenly towed to an impound lot and little Robbie comes down with an illness.

Pictured: Herbie's greatest villain ever. STAIRS.

Never seen or heard from again.

This show follows the continuity of the "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo" (1977) timeline, although it appears to ignore the events of "Herbie Goes Bananas," (1980) as there's no mention of Paco or the rest of the characters from that film. The "Monte Carlo" character of race car driver Diane Darcy makes an appearance in episode 3, although she is now played by actress Andrea Howard instead of original actress Julie Sommars. Oddly, even though "Herbie Goes Bananas" is ignored, the props and puppet cars from that movie are used liberally (especially the articulated antenna prop).

Hey, if you have the prop, might as well use it.

Hey, if you have the prop, might as well use it. Again.

There are some clips of the original "The Love Bug" used at times, but to the show's credit only as film-within-the-film and not as a way of injecting the movie footage into the show as a cheap special effects. A remarkable thing about this show is that it has an actual continuing story rather than a more episodic nature, which is genuinely unusual for the time. I can't find a lot of notes about its production or airing, so I don't know if it was a weekly broadcast or if it was aired as a miniseries, which would explain the "surprise continuity."

Better than I expected, but still not great.

There are some standout moments, and believe it or not there are some car racing stunts sprinkled sporadically throughout which at first don't seem overly impressive until you realize that they shot them on a television budget and there weren't CGI effects at the time.

The stunts can seem to be a bit "obligatory" however. 

There are quite a few familiar faces from both the small and silver screen of the time, so people of my age are almost guaranteed to see actors that they recognize in some capacity. I honestly had a few genuine laughs while watching, but really only at the lines delivered by Douglas Emerson's Robbie MacLane character, while the 80s bowl-cut blonde kid's naiveté is the setup for some truly funny jokes (sadly after the first two episodes his role is greatly diminished).
Pictured: The greatest comedian of our time

The show has a *truly terrible* theme song that is actually sung by Dean Jones. Oddly, the show was directed by "Incredible Hulk" star Bill Bixby.

Approved for all audiences

The 1980s broadcast television standard of this program means that there's no swearing, no sex (not really even any innuendo), no real violence, and the only thing I noticed that could even remotely considered objectional is the fact that no one wears seatbelts and there are multiple incidents of teenagers riding unsecured on top of the seats of convertible vehicles. It seems perfectly presentable to young children if they can't get enough Herbie.

The most intense scene involving kids is when they get stuck in an old house. I mean, it's not even haunted or anything.

Where can you watch it?

While it had subsequent airings on the Disney Channel, the series was never released on VHS, DVD, or streamed officially on any service that I could find, which means that if you want to see it, you need to find it any way you can (say for example, a video service that rhymes with "MooCube").

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Herbie Goes Bananas

Herbie Fights the Bull

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Herbie Goes Bananas" (Disney, 1980). When race car driver Pete Stancheck (Stephen W. Burns) inherits winning car number 53 (AKA "Herbie") from his uncle, Jim Douglas (Dean Jones's character from the original film, not seen in this one), he travels with his friend, confidante, and mechanic Davy Johns (AKA "D.J.," played by Charles Martin Smith, looking for all the world like the bastard child of Don Knotts and Tim Conway) to Mexico to collect it, only to be temporarily waylaid by having their funds stolen by plucky street urchin Paco (Joaquin Garay III).

Pictured: NOT the film's lead.

Don Knottsway? Tim Conknotts?

This is probably the only time you're ever going to see a live-action movie starring a Latino minor played by an actual minor with actual Latin roots.

Paco bites off more than he can chew, however, when he steals the wallet of a man named Shepard (Richard Jaekel), an associate of a man named Prindle (played by John Vernon, who you may recognize as the villain in almost every movie and television show he's ever been in) and his henchman Quinn (played by actor-comedian Alex Rocco).
Shepard, who is played with nervous intensity by Richard Jaekel.

"I'll get you, Delta Tau Chi! I mean, Batman! I mean, Herbie!"

Alex Rocco, playing Alex Rocco, but with a different name and also he's a criminal.

Shepard's wallet contains a film negative of an as-of-yet undiscovered Incan (or possibly Aztec) ruin which the trio of villains seeks to loot. After Pete and D.J. catch Paco and force him to turn over D.J.'s wallet, Paco evades Prindle, Shepard, and Quinn by hiding in Herbie's boot.
Herbie, away!

Pete and D.J. then have Herbie loaded onto a cruise ship helmed by Captain Blythe (comedy legend Harvey Korman) with Paco stowing away inside.
Is this a normal thing that cruise ships do? Move cargo?

The villain that almost killed Herbie.

D.J. then convinces Pete to woo a graduate student named Melissa (Elyssa Davalos) while he tries to convince her Aunt Louise (played by the great Cloris Leachman) to sponsor their racing team.
Ew! Her hair's tied up, and she's wearing glasses! HIDEOUS!

Chloris Leachman is never not funny.

Meanwhile, Herbie causes havoc in the ship's hold in an effort to protect Paco, causing the two to be captured by the ship's crew.
We get not one but TWO "exciting" car chases... on a boat.

Paco then has a heart-to-heart with the little car, which he affectionately names "Ocho," only for the two to cause trouble a second time, wherein the overbearing Captain Blythe orders Herbie to die at sea, pushing him off a gang plank into the ocean.
Pictured: Not a prop car. Also: Litter.

Their hopes sunk with the little car, D.J. and Pete decide to get jobs at the next port of call to earn enough to go home. Paco evades capture by Prindle again, and is reunited with a drowning and dying Ocho, who he rescues with the help of some local fishermen, who return later to scrap the car for parts.
One of the saddest parts of the series.

The much-dilapidated Ocho comes back to life, and he and Paco begin a road trip, trying to find fortune while avoiding Prindle and his men.
What kid wouldn't want his own self-driving car?

Some background

1969. It really shares almost no through-line with the original film other than a brief mention of the ending of the previous movie, "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo." None of the casts of any the other films make an appearance, the settings have nothing to do with San Francisco (the setting of the first two films), and even the whole concept of Herbie acting as the catalyst of the movie's love story is largely absent, focusing most of the screen time on the bond between a little kid and the car.

All right, this is the second appearance of Vito Scotti in these movies, but he's not even the same character as the taxi driver in "Herbie Rides Again."

Heck, the name "Herbie" is only ever uttered once in the film, and afterwards the car is always referred to as "Ocho."

The bad

This is *possibly* the worst Herbie movie. Like the second film, "Herbie Rides Again," there is no racing in this film, instead focusing on Herbie being chased and acting as a sort of superhero to save the other characters when they need it, although it's far less formulaic than that earlier sequel.

Herbie fights a bull.

Herbie even fights a plane.

This movie mostly relies on the cuteness of its child lead, which can be a death sentence for a movie if not handled properly.
Pictured: Humor.

Fortunately, this film has an incredibly talented cast beyond its child actor, and everyone puts their all into their part, which does sell it despite several inconsistencies in the film; for example, D.J.'s wallet is stolen in the beginning of the movie, but in a subsequent scene in order to get the movie's MacGuffin film negative back, he later steals Pete's wallet. The filmmakers also can't seem to distinguish between the "Incan" and "Aztec" civilizations, and use the two interchangeably at times (I see you, movie). One of the biggest problems for this production is that almost a full third of it takes place on a boat, and really how many car chases can you have on a boat?
The answer is two.

My thoughts

Despite its many, many flaws, I have to say that I don't hate this movie. I still like it more than "Herbie Rides Again," mostly because I find the story of Paco and Herbie's friendship actually endearing. These movies had been becoming more and more kid-friendly since the original, so seeing an actual kid with their own anthropomorphic automobile is sort of cool. There's plenty of goofy car stunts, but they're all done with full-size props, puppeteering, and green screen, unlike the model and miniature based effects of "Herbie Rides Again" (this includes the scene where they dump Herbie in the ocean, as they reportedly dumped an actual VW Beetle into the water and never recovered it).

Herbie's retractable antenna becomes his newest trick.

I will admit that I felt a pang of sadness when Paco was "burying" a moribund Herbie, which is more than I have felt in the last two Herbie movies. Chloris Leachman's Aunt Louise's relentless pursuit of Harvey Korman's completely oblivious Captain Blythe is one of the funniest things in the film, and leads to many of the best comedic moments.

Parent-trying, kid-approved

So if you have young children, this is a pretty good film, provided they can keep their interest past the boat scenes; there's no violence (plenty of consequence-free references to it, though), no gunplay, no harsh language, plenty of south and central American flavor, and the most lovable automobile ever put to film.

Panama Canal included.

Where can you see it?

"Herbie Goes Bananas" is currently streaming on Disney+.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo

Still no seatbelts...

What's it about?

Continuing my Herbie kick, tonight's nostalgic pic is "Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo" (Disney, 1977). Jim Douglas (a role reprised by original actor Dean Jones) and his plucky mechanic "Wheely" Applegate (Don Knotts -- man, this guy's stock was through the roof in the late 70s) are looking to stage a racing comeback, and they've brought their lovable Volkswagen Beetle "Herbie" with them to Paris for the Trans France race and a shot at its $100,000 purse (yes, dollars not francs).

The film wastes no time establishing Herbie is a self-driving car that "pees" on everyone that insults him.

"And this is my OTHER sidekick Wheely. Yep... Been with me the whole time."

Before the race preparations can even begin, a nearby museum is robbed of its prized display, a giant diamond worth approximately six million dollars (not francs). This heinous crime is perpetrated by dapper thief Max (Bernard Fox) and his thuggish compatriot Quincey (Roy Kinnear), who in a desperate attempt to avoid the authorities hide the large jewel in a nearby Herbie's gas tank, unbeknownst to Jim or Wheely.
Hard to see a movie or television program from this time and NOT see one of these two.

Things are further complicated at the qualifying race, as Herbie falls in love with a 1977 Lancia Montecarlo driven by Diane Darcy (Julie Sommars), while Jim and Wheely are struck with a rivalry against German racer Bruno Von Stickle (Eric Braeden).
"You don't want me to compete because I'm a girl!"

"Hallo. Allow me to introduce mine self: I am Bruno Von Deutsche-Bag."

Meanwhile, veteran detective Inspector Bouchet (Jaques Marin) and his bumbling right-hand man Detective Fontenoy (Xavier Saint Macary) seek the diamond and its thieves.
These two were my favorite part of the film. Macary is just so likable and Marin gives another fantastic performance.

It's a wild race across the countryside as Herbie chases the Lancia and Von Stickle, the thieves chase Herbie, and the police chase the thieves on the long and winding road to Monte Carlo!
The race is on!

Some details about the movie

This film is another sequel to 1968's "The Love Bug," but seems more like an alternate timeline of events, completely ignoring the events of the previous (terrible) film, "Herbie Rides Again" in favor of being a direct sequel to the original. This in itself comes with a caveat: No mention is made of Carole Bennett (Michele Lee's character from the original film) or Tennessee Steinmetz (Buddy Hackett's character) despite "Herbie Rides Again" going out of its way to tie the two movies together. In fact, in "Herbie Rides Again" it is mentioned that Jim Douglas went to Europe to race and left Herbie behind, while in this film he clearly took Herbie with him. But there are other odd little inconsistencies as well, such as Wheely stating that they were looking for a comeback after twelve years, despite "The Love Bug" canonically taking place only nine or ten years previous, and Wheely not being a character in that film.

"This reminds me of the time we lost our wheel that one race." "For the last time, Wheely: YOU WEREN'T THERE."

If you're a stickler for continuity, this is probably going to put you on pins and needles, but if you can ignore it it's pretty benign.

Fortunately, this film is a return to form, better than the last movie by at least staying true to what made the first so special: Car racing and a cute little love story, even if the love story in this film is between Herbie and Giselle (the 1977 Lancia) more than the human characters.

It's adorable.

There are a fair number of puppeteering moments with full-sized cars rather than the miniature work of "Herbie Rides Again," which is much more convincing to the lens, and this is also the first instance featured in film of Herbie moving his headlights like they are eyes, although this was only done for a single visual gag and not regularly like in some future films.
A love bug in love.

While Giselle is another anthropomorphic vehicle, she is at least the only one in the movie and not the overblown and weird extras from the last film.
I'm looking at you, ABOMINATION!

Dean Jones is a serviceable leading man (although this is the last time he would be the lead in a Disney film), but the long list of comedic and veteran character actors filling most of the other roles really elevates the film. Xavier Saint Macary is a delight to watch as the ever-smiling, adorable, and almost idiotic Detective Fontenoy, which made me all the sadder to learn that he died a few years after the filming of this, robbing the world of his on-screen charisma.

Can't love it all, I guess

Is it all good? Well… It does have its flaws. It's far more reserved with its green screen effects than the last movie, but they are there and they are persistent.

The "Top Gun" moment.

The racing portions aren't quite as inventive as they were in "The Love Bug," but at least they're there. They mostly filmed on location in France and Monaco, so there is a lot of beautiful countryside to view.
They like to remind you of it, too.

They villains are serviceable, but they aren't quite the moustache-twirling delight of David Tomlinson. Von Sickle in particular just seems like an egotistical jerk rather than a devious and cartoonish saboteur, but he's not really the main villain of the film, so it's understandable. I don't want to sound like a "men's rights" troglodyte, but I do have to say that Julie Sommars's Diane Darcy is a fairly unlikable one-note "I'm a girl and I can do it" character that lacks the complexity or sex appeal of either Michele Lee's or Stefanie Powers's characters from the preceding movies.
Again, the love story here is between the cars.

Is it okay for kids?

While this film lacks the emotional impact of "The Love Bug," it is still considerably better than "Herbie Rides Again." Young children might be more entertained by the slapstick humor and numerous visual gags of Herbie basically being a superhero in the previous film, but older filmgoers will appreciate the more cohesive plot and (slightly) more complex storytelling of this movie; it feels far less of a chore to watch than that other sequel.

There's still some cartoonish slapstick, though.

Where can you watch it?

"Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo" is currently streaming on Disney+.  

It's hardly a "diamond in the rough," though.