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.

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