The Beastie Boys and Spike Jonze must have watched this movie before they made the Sabotage video. I don’t think I’ve seen so many one piece denim suits with protruding chest hair in any movie ever. Not even from Italy!
I’ll admit that I’m on a car chase kick right now. I’m trying to track down Two Lane Blacktop, The Driver and I have Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry on deck. Even when I was a little kid and loud cars should have appealed to me, I wasn’t terribly interested. I think I was even out of my teens before I realized the true value of car chase flicks. I covered Vanishing Point as an example of the THC fuelled heady road movie, Gone In 60 Seconds is the polar opposite. This one doesn’t give a shit about post-Woodstock America or the total burnout of the hippie dream it only wants to burn a lot of fuel, crash a lot of cars and thrill you with some great homegrown stunt driving.
A genuinely independent production, the production of the movie and the background of its one man show, H.B. Halicki is almost as interesting as the legendary forty minute chase scene that ties the movie up in the end.
When his brother is kidnapped by a Russian mob boss, Memphis Raines must steal 50 exotic autos in 24 hours to save his wayward brother. Shit, wrong movie. Maindrian Pace is a crooked auto insurance investigator and owner of a respectable auto shop. He and his shop crew are also the finest car thieves on the west coast. Pace is contacted by a South American drug lord to steal 48 cars of specific makes and models in only a few days for the sum of several hundred thousand dollars. His crew scoffs at the idea, but take on the challenge regardless. 47 of the cars are a breeze. Ranging from Rolls Royces to Cadillac Limousines to a Manta Mirage and so on. The one car that keeps getting away, however, is a yellow 1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1 codenamed Eleanor. Throughout the movie, Pace continually shits on his business partner. He holds him back from taking his honeymoon early in the movie, but all bets are off when he burns a stolen car with a trunk loaded with heroin. As an act of revenge, Pace’s partner tips off the cops to a theft that Pace is planning to take a Mustang that he knows he can get away with. Pace almost makes it happen until the police stake out spots him lifting the hood and yanking out the alarm. Thus begins the part of the movie everyone came to see. The legendary 40 minute demolition derby on busy California streets and highways. Halicki, who plays Pace and drove his own stunts was injured seriously twice during the filming of this final scene and both stunts, one completely accidental but totally awesome, were left in.
Back in 2001 I used to pass a yellow ’73 Mach 1 on the way home every day from work. The sign in the window advertised it for $5000. I can certainly understand Halicki’s hang up on the fastback. It’s a beautiful performance car with the sort of engine sound you would expect from one of the top muscle cars of all time. I wanted that car so badly, and at the time was in the market for a new car. I was also engaged to be married, so you probably know how this story ends. Halicki had the same fever I did and a love for an automobile will never be so evident than in Gone In 60 Seconds. The car, Eleanor, gets top billing. Before Halicki’s name rolls out in the credits, the nickname of his Mustang hits the screen.
For the first hour, Gone In 60 Seconds teases you with a single car chase as Pace makes one attempt at stealing an Eleanor, but the rest of the movie is a parade of shots of his crew nonchalantly strolling up to cars and driving off in them. Most of the movie is improvised on the spot with only a few bits and pieces here and there that are intended to establish some kind of plot. Somehow it all winds up making sense in the end. There’s even a conflict established in Pace’s gang when they refuse to take a car loaded with drugs. For a guy who had a dream of making the ultimate car chase movie and zero experience making movies, Halicki’s movie is extremely well made. It lags in the acting department, since he hired friends and relatives to play the major roles of the movie, but good luck finding a b-movie that actually features capable actors. It drags a bit here and there when it’s not involving car theft. There’s about thirty minutes of plot, twenty minutes of aggravating filler and forty minutes of car chase awesomeness that set the pace for the rest of the 70′s in terms of car chase flicks.
The chase, itself, is the holy grail. It’s expertly paced, beginning slowly with a few crushed fenders here and there and building to a point where police cars are wiping out everywhere and turning over on the road. I doubt it was, but the scene seems so deliberate. The crashes, the perspectives, the stunts. I’m sure there was a great deal of planning for the crown jewels of the chase, the construction area, the pile up on the bridge, the Cadillac dealership and the jump over the car accident, but the movie also leaves in the unexpected. Eleanor is clipped by a Cadillac at one point on the freeway which causes it to wipe out and smash into a light post. Halicki was hurt quite badly during this accident, yet it looks completely awesome and was left in for that fact.
Apparently, Halicki made a few other movies, I’ve seen none of them. The Junkman followed Gone In 60 Seconds in 1982 with a plot outline that sounds as if it blurs Halicki’s real life and the life of his character Maindrian Pace. In 1983, Deadline Auto Theft was released which is a recut of Gone In 60 Seconds with some new chase footage here and there, but for the most part, the same story and footage. Ultimately, in 1989, Halicki’s love for cars, stunts and film making led to his untimely demise. While shooting a stunt scene, Halicki was killed when a telephone pole wound up falling on him. Bummer. The guy died for his art, though, and in his wake left one of the undisputed champs of the car chase world that also shows off real independent film making and an unstoppable DIY attitude. Gone In 60 Seconds is loaded with glaring flaws but when called on to perform, it delivers exactly what you came to see.