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Gone in 60 Seconds

      "This job is ruining my sex life."

-- Maindrian Pace    

 

     

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Sights &
Sounds:
Gone in
60 Seconds
(1974)
 Director:
  H.B. Halicki
 Screenplay:
  H.B. Halicki
 Producer:
  H.B. Halicki
 H.B. Halicki
 Mercantile Co.

Twisted
Metal &
Scorched
Asphalt:
The Smash-em'
Up Films of
Toby Halicki.

Love Me Deadly

Gone in 60 Seconds

The Junkman

Deadline Auto Theft

 
Crash-n-
Burn:
Chase Flicks
of the Highest
Octane.

Bullit

The French Connection

Vanishing Point

Gone in 60 Seconds

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

The Blues Brothers

 

Okay everybody, buckle up and strap yourselves in for one of the greatest car chases this perpetually-buzzed film critic has ever seen.

Bullit? Nope. Not even close. The Blues Brothers? Okay. Maybe this is the second greatest car chase movie ever made...

Actually, that particular honor probably falls on John Hough's Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, but the film Iím referring to today is the original Gone in 60 Seconds: a high-octane entry in the back-roads and muscle-car mayhem that thundered its way across the American Drive-In circuit in the mid 1970's. (And for heaven's sake, avoid the 2000 remake if it all humanly possible. Yeesh ... was that ever a giant turd-burger.) And though it may not have been the best overall car chase, it was definitely the longest sustained asphalt assault and paint-swapping rampage in cinema history. Shall we take a look?

Maindrian Pace (H.B. Halicki -- the star, writer, producer, director and lead stunt driver of the film --) is the top wheelman for a stolen car ring and illegal chop shop. Using the ruse of an insurance investigation firm as a front, Pace's crew can set their sights on any car and make it disappear in less than 60 seconds. Hence the title! And donít worry, it's all explained in greater detail by the Good Year Blimp. Seriously. As for the plot, well, Pace & Co. has received an order from an Argentinean client to deliver 48 exotic cars in a week for a $250,000 payoff; and while Pumpkin (Marion Busia) coordinates the thefts from the garage, Pace, Atlee and Stanley (George Cole and James McIntyre) don a few awful mod wigs, paste on porno mustaches, and some of the worst leisure suits the '70s had to offer, and then set to work finding and pilfering the heap of cars they need. Each targeted make and model is given a code name, and the most elusive car on the list is Eleanor: a '73 Mach-One Mustang. The first one they steal brings too much heat from the cops, so they return it. Then, with the second one they steal, Pumpkin lays the guilt on Pace because the owner didnít have any insurance, so he gives that one back, too. 

Well, you gotta love a car thief with a Robin Hood complex, even though all other indications peg Pace as a real asshole.

As the search for another Eleanor continues, turns out trying to fill out the rest of the order might prove just as tricky. And while most do go off without a hitch, others hit a few a snags -- like when Atlee finds a tiger[!] in the back of a Cadillac he tries to steal. But things really start to unravel when Stanley brings in an El Dorado thatís filled up to its dome lights in heroin. 

To make matters even worse, Paceís police buddy shows up for an unannounced social call right at that inopportune time. Somehow, they manage to hide the evidence, and after he's gone, Eugene, their slimy boss (Jerry Dauginola), who wants to keep and sell the drugs, thinks theyíve hit the narcotics jackpot. Pace, meanwhile, wants nothing to do with the H because it's against their code -- and bad for business. And when Eugene reminds everybody that heís in charge and to do what he says (-- for the record: these two have been butting heads since the film began), Pace gets the last word by taking the car and the drugs to an abandoned field, douses it all with gasoline, and then puts a torch to it.

This insubordination is the last straw for Eugene (-- apparently, he thinks Pace is a royal asshole, too --), who conspires with the authorities to get Pace caught and thrown in jail. Seems Pumpkin has tracked down another Eleanor; the last car they need to complete the massive shipment. And as Pace collects his gear and goes after it, seizing the opportunity, Eugene tips off the cops that Pace has been the one stealing all the cars and tells them exactly where and when the thief is gonna strike next.

Not realizing heís walking straight into a trap, Pace breaks in and hotwires Eleanor, officially triggering one of the longest, if not most spectacular, chase scenes in film history. Obviously, a car chase doesnít translate well into the written word, so Iíll just give you a few statistics to try and give you the true scope of what happens next:

The chase lasts almost a full forty-minutes, spanning seven different California towns, four car dealerships, two dispatch officers, and every single law enforcement division in as many jurisdictions are duly represented in the hot pursuit: City cops, County-Mounties, and the California Highway Patrol. (Hey! Whereís Ponch and John?) And according to the film's video box, 93 cars -- almost three wrecks per minute -- were totaled during the ensuing mayhem.

Incredibly, when the dust finally settles, Pace manages to engineer an escape -- an escape that stretches the plausibility-meter a little bit, sure, but, well, judge for yourself ... After circling back and jumping over a few wrecks he caused, Pace manages to distance himself from the pursuit long enough to spot another Eleanor entering a drive-thru car wash; exact same year, same paint, and detail job. Like I said, streeeeeeetched. Then, after forty minutes of carnage, his Eleanor beat all to hell, he still drives up and turns the wreck over to a carwash attendant. He then heads to the other end and spots the owner of the undamaged Eleanor. Posing as an employee, Pace says somethingís happened to his car and directs the man to the managerís office. And when the undamaged car comes out of the wash, he steals it and makes his escape.

A few moments later, a patrol car drives by and spots the damaged Eleanor coming out of the car wash. And while the manager argues with the owner about the damage done to what he thinks is his car, the police saunter up and ask if the irate customer owns the damaged Mustang. When the poor schnook says he does, he's promptly arrested and hauled off.

This admission happens just in time as several blocks away, Pace was about to try and bluff his way through a roadblock when it comes over the police band that the suspect has been caught and arrested. With that, Pace rides Eleanor off into the sunset for his big payoff.

The End

Born in Dunkirk, New York, and one of 13 children, Henry Blight "Toby" Halicki's love affair with the automobile began early while helping out with the family towing and wrecker service. This romance eventually moved him to California, where he quickly went from gas-pump jockey, to mechanic, to body-shop work, and eventually, his own salvage yard before he turned 21. Coupled with some savvy real estate deals, a now financially set Halicki's obsessions soon took form in an exhaustive collection of vintage toys and automobiles that filled up several warehouses. How Halicki officially got into show business is a little fuzzy, but get into it he did; first as an associate producer, bit-player and stunt-driver for Jaques Lacerte's Love Me Deadly; an oddball tale of a murderous coven of necrophiliacs who are on a recruitment drive for new members and new bodies that, to its detriment, is nowhere near as depraved or scurvy as that description would imply. Nonetheless, the film would prove a staging ground for Halicki's next effort, a pedal to the metal thrill ride, Gone in 60 Seconds.

Admittedly, the best part of Gone in 60 Seconds is that last chase scene. And the unfortunate part is, you have to sit through the first half of the film to get to that concluding, almost operatic, grand finale pile-up. Donít get me wrong, I really like the film, but when you break it down from beginning to end, no matter how many cars got trashed, the end just can't save the beginning. And therein lies the main problem with the film: the stunts are spectacular, yes, but the plot stringing them together could have used a little more attention, meaning Halicki should have spent a little more time behind the typewriter before crawling behind the steering wheel. According to several sources, the completed script was a mere four pages or so long so, if it wasn't obvious enough, about 98% of the film was made-up, ad-libbed, and shot from the hip as they went along. The film's editor, Warner Leighton, who was tasked with hammering out this massive amount of improvised incongruity into a straight line, recalls a rewrite being given to him that consisted of a piece of cardboard with a circle drawn on it. In the same vein, that Halicki would just assume the viewer would know what he's talking about goes a long, long way in explaining why the whole insurance front scam and chop-stop stuff leaves most of the audience kinda befuddled. And unless you really paid attention in auto-shop class, you'll be left grasping at several plot-straws that will never, ever be connected. 

But in Halicki's defense, his target audience probably understood it perfectly. Luckily, I managed to have a gear-head to English translation of the mechanic stuff done for me by my friend Bill -- No, not that Bill. The other Bill. The one who keeps his clothes on, and who tuned me into this film while we were discussing the existential overtones in Vanishing Point and managed to clear a few things up.

These amateurish qualities arenít all bad, though. It becomes very apparent that a lot of the film's financing was obtained by allowing various financiers and car dealers to make spotlight appearances in the film; and there are several of these awkward scenes shoehorned in, where the actors look very uncomfortable and fumble their lines, that I find priceless. Also, watch for a couple of throwaway scenes involving a hash-fried car-wash attendant and a little old lady with an umbrella, who isnít really thrilled with Paceís driving ability, that are truly hilarious.

The acting from the leads, meanwhile, is somewhere between grade school and high school dramatics -- I'll let you extrapolate from there, and I also enjoyed the splicing in of one of the cast's wedding reception footage to help pad out the film! The soundtrack is okay -- trust me, youíll have "Sheís Got the Lois Lane Blues" stuck in your cerebral random play jukebox for months-n-months -- but sometimes it doesnít synch-up with action very well. For example: the final chase music is a little too drippy and mellow, and things are even made worse with the later re-release on DVD, where the old music cues are chucked in favor of a new -- and even more awful -- electronic score. And if given the choice, I'd rather stick with and watch my old beat up VHS copy.

But, script, acting, and soundtrack aside, we're here for the car chases and stunts, right? Right. And though I can't confirm that 93 actual cars met there doom before the closing credits, when I gave up counting around 67, I think that's still a pretty fair assessment. But the most insane thing about Gone in 60 Seconds is when you realize that the majority of the more spectacular crashes were the result of a stunt gone awry; the most noticeable being when Pace plants one of the Mustangs into a light pole; and as the legend goes, when Halicki finally regained consciousness, the first thing he asked was whether they captured the wreck on film. They did, and along with several other close calls with disaster, Halicki left it all in the finished film. Then, for the big jump at the end, that sent the Mustang over 30ft into the air to span some 128ft, the impact left Halicki with a compacted spine and a permanent limp. Seemingly blessed with nine lives, alas, Halicki's luck tragically ran out while preparing a stunt for the long promised sequel, Gone in 60 Seconds II: The Slasher, where a freak chain of events resulted in his car being crushed by a telephone pole.

After his death, Halicki's estate, including the rights to all his films, was soon mired in a litigation quagmire that lasted for almost five years, where they were eventually awarded to Halicki's wife, Denice, who was forced to sell off the majority of her husband's collection to settle the massive legal fees. In an effort to recoup some of the losses, Denice Halicki signed off on Jerry Bruckheimer's less than stellar remake, whose final CGI-fueled jump proved the ultimate insult to its source material. And despite the gloss, glam-cast and the usual, heaping helping of Bruckheimer bullshit, my advice to all of you is to skip it and stick with the original, lumps and all.

For in the end, even if Gone in 60 Seconds isnít an overall polished film, we have to give some credit where credit is due. This is one of the few, rare films of this genre where the camera pulls back from the chase to let us see the bloody aftermath in the wake of the speeding cars. There are plenty of scenes of ambulances, fire trucks, and bloodied victims pulled out of their wrecked vehicles. And I canít recall any other film where the tragic ramifications of an ongoing car rampage are shown this extensively -- and Halicki deserves some major, major props for that.

Originally Posted: 02/08/00 :: Rehashed: 05/22/10

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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