This morning, we sat down to watch The Love Bug and had a complete ball. The only problem with this movie, to hear Daniel tell it, is that somehow there’s not enough racing and weird magic Volkswagen business. This is the sort of very silly complaint that only a five year-old can make. If there’s a legitimate complaint at all to be leveled at the first film in the famous and successful Herbie franchise, it’s that it’s got some very dated hippie business, and some very, very dated “inscrutable Chinese” business. Otherwise, it’s a very funny and very solid little film.
One thing I really enjoy about revisiting older Disney films is how downright brilliantly they’re cast. As the heroes: Dean Jones, Buddy Hackett, and Michele Lee. They are fantastic; they make every click and clack of the plot appear completely effortless. As the villain: David Tomlinson, whom we enjoyed a couple of months ago in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, here playing a snob luxury auto salesman, who has a sideline racing a downright beautiful 1962 Apollo.
But the real stars of the film are Herbie, and all the unbelievably talented drivers. Awesomely, they get their own screen of credits at the beginning of the movie. Some of the perfectly-timed zips, zigs, and zags in between each other’s cars had me wincing. Much of the close-ups are rear-screen projection of course, but all of the live stunts and what we now call practical effects are still amazing. The climax of the film involves Herbie coming in first and third place in the big race. Just imagine how that looked; providing a visual would spoil a remarkable gag and a great special effect sequence.
Backing up these leads is another really impressive bunch of supporting players. Joe E. Ross is here, playing a police detective, and he doesn’t say “Ooh! Ooh!” Gary Owens is here, playing a radio announcer, because that’s just perfect. There’s even a guy who’s the racing association president, greeting all the drivers to the big race. “Spot the non-actor,” I said to Marie. Turns out he was Andy Granatelli, the former CEO of the motor oil company STP. You get the feeling the movie’s got a lot more Easter eggs than just that for gearheads and racing fans.
In the days before home video, it was common to see paperback novelizations of films and TV series. I tracked down a copy of this one years ago because of a legendary bit of writing. The book is one of dozens by a guy with the remarkable name of Mel Cebulash, and, rather than actually coming up with a description of what Buddy Hackett’s character should look like, he wrote the following:
“Instead of going into the firehouse, Jim walked around to the courtyard. There he found Tennessee, welding another piece of metal onto a growing pile of junk. Tennessee, who looked and talked like Buddy Hackett, regarded his sculptured pile of parts from wrecked autos as a work of art.”
It’s actually kind of aggravating to have this really good movie that so many people worked incredibly hard to make – seriously, the cinematography is just downright beautiful throughout, with gorgeous location filming around San Francisco, and simply looks far better than a silly kids’ film needs to look – and when it came time to merchandise the movie through Scholastic Book Services, somebody just hacked that out, but you know, that really is kind of funny.
Daniel’s favorite part of the movie, or so he claims, was the final slapstick gag, in which Thorndyke and his former lead henchman, demoted by his business’s new owner to a simple mechanic, spray each other with motor oil. I don’t believe that. I told him that Disney made four of these movies and asked whether he’d like to watch another in a couple of weeks. He said yes, of course.