Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Herbie Quadrilogy (1968-1980) [The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's The Shortening]

Perhaps no other car in fiction has gained the level of adoration and fame as Herbie, the love bug! Or should I say no other living car!...

The Love Bug

Has-been racecar driver Jim Douglas is seeking to become an all-star racer once more, but he needs a new car. He ends up coming across an unloved VB in a car dealership run by Peter Thorndyke, and staffed by the pleasant Carole. Jim soon finds out there's more to his new car than meets the ye. Dubbed Herbie by Jim's mechanic friend Tennessee Steinmetz, the car could very well be Jim's ticket to the racing big leagues. However, the antagonistic Thorndyke has noticed Herbie's talents too, and sets his eyes upon getting the car for himself. While Jim has grown attached to the car and refuses to sell it, he also doesn't have the money yet to fully pay it off, so he and Thorndyke set up a wager, decreeing that whoever wins a st number of races will receive full ownership of the love bug...

The Love Bug is a bundle of fun, with lots to like. The design of Herbie is instantly recognizable, and despite having no anthropomorphic features, he's still an adorable and complete character in his own right.

The character interactions can be a little unpleasant, from the misunderstandings when characters don't think Herbie is real, characters getting angry all the time to each-other, as well as the awkward section when Jim hurts Herbie's feelings, which was borderline hard to watch!

One concern I had with the story is that for all his talk of wanting to get back into the racing game and prove he's still got the touch, Jim isn't really racing at all-Herbie is! That also makes the races patently unfair, when the regular cars and racers have to contend with the magical Herbie.

There are a few great scenes and setpieces, but a few moments are just odd, like when Herbie literally tries to commit suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge!

The dialogue is mostly fine, with some great lines, like when Tennessee espouses "We take machines and stuff 'em with information until they're smarter than we are!", or the bizarrely hilarious hippie scene!

The effects are impressive in some scenes, not so much in others. There's some pretty obvious green screen use, which is somewhat annoying, especially for scenes that aren't even in cars! Jim is just looking into a storefront/shop window from the street, and he's in front of a green screen! As for the good effects, the racing and driving all looks fine, minus the occasional zany moment (as well as some potential nature destruction, unless it's fake! Poor cacti), and the aforementioned finale is impressive!

Coming to its length, The Love Bug isn't exactly a short movie. It's one of those films that absolutely could've benefited from a deranged madman with a hacksaw in the editing room, but isn't sunk by its somewhat lengthy running time.

Dean Jones is a good lead, along with Michele Lee. Buddy Hackett may grate on some people, but I thought he was mostly fine. David Tomlinson was by far my favourite actor in the movie! He's hilarious as the bitter and shouty villain! Finally, I must say it was nice seeing Iris Adrian for a brief cameo!

The score to The Love Bug is great fun! There's not a whole lot of it, as evidenced by the same refrain being repeated time and time again, but though it comes close to being overused, it luckily avoids that fate by this much.

This is a really good movie, and while it's not perfect, The Love Bug is still fun for all ages...

Herbie Rides Again

The dastardly businessman Alonzo Hawke is trying to nab all the land in an industrial area, but standing in his way is one last holdout-An old firehouse that's the home to the old yet energetic Mrs. Steinmetz, and her feisty granddaughter Nicole, and a variety of fun artifacts. Hawke sends his young nephew Willoughby Whitfield to case the joint out, and to try and convince Mrs. Steinmetz to give up the property. In way out of his head, the hopeless Whilloughby is no chance for either her, Nicole, or their car Herbie, who doesn't take kindly to intruders. Soon realizing the error in his trust of his uncle, Willoughby starts to help the Steinmetz family keep their home...

At first, Herbie Rides Again seemed like a superior follow-up to The Love Bug, but as it went on, that opinion waned. In some ways it is better than its predecessor, but in other ways, it's worse. The characters are really good, but the story they're in is rather lacklustre most of the time

One major thing distinguishing this movie from the previous entry is that there's no racing, which is odd, and might turn some off, but I was ok with it. I did miss the racing, as it's an important part of Herbie, but as long as he's in the story, it doesn't necessarily need to be about the subject.

The biggest turn-off for me with Herbie Rides Again was the zaniness. This movie feels like a cartoon in a way the previous entry never did. One scene is is particularly crazy, as instead of simply going up the incline around a car blocking the way (which based on what we've seen Herbie do so far is no mean feat), he instead drives right off the dock and into the ocean, where he drives on the water! This whole section stretches suspension of disbelief, but it does gives us the golden line "That's ridiculous. Why would a shark be following a volkswagen", so I guess ready to forgive the movie its transgression.

Herbie Rides again thankfully doesn't overdo the whimsy when it comes to the firehouse. It may be presented as a 'magical place', but the residents are normal people, rather than super quirky caricatures, which makes  feel more real. Unfortunately the movie comes close to underdoing the whimsy, and we see so little of the firehouse that I wasn't that invested in it being saved, which is more than a little annoying when that's the entire point of the story.

The movie is somewhat heartbreaking when Hawke's repo men start removing all of the firehouse's belongings, but it doesn't dwell on it much at all, almost instantly cutting to the leads sneaking through Hawke's security to get the stuff back. This whole section drags the film to a bit of a halt. Another problem with these scenes is that they paint Mrs. Steinmtz as truly senile, and her actions  are sometimes downright psychotic!

Despite their relationship, Hawke and Willoughby barely meet, having only two scenes together in the first hour, and one's over the phone! Following that, they continue barely interacting. It was almost unnecessary having them be related in the first place, if not for what it at least gives to Willoughby's character progression.

My biggest issue with the plot is that Hawke's actions against the firehouse are illegal. He doesn't own the property, nor have any kind of right to repossess her belongings, and he doesn't have the right to demolish the house without permission like he attempts to. I'm tempted to say this takes me out of the movie, but nope, as while this kind of behaviour should be unrealistic, I imagine corporate dickheads in the real world do this all the time. So, I'm not actually sure if this is a problem for the movie or not...

The conclusion is pretty disappointing, as well as a bit depressing. Not only does it reach peak ridiculousness, but it's also car-racist against any vehicles that aren't volkwagens! Willoughby and Nicole play zero part, and the ending is super abrupt.

Herbie himself is ok here, but he doesn't have nearly as much character as he did in The Love Bug

The effects look pretty good in Herbie Rides Again, with plenty of cars on display! Not all is great though, and the worst effect is when a couple in their car are kissing, and it's obviously a still image!

The acting is standout! Ken Berry is a fine lead, Stefanie Powers is a tough female character, and my favourite female lead in the series. Keenan Wynn is great as the diabolical and frothing antagonist, while Helen Hayes is decent, but brought down somewhat by the gradually unlikeable character she plays.

Herbie Rides Again isn't that great, but is still an ok sequel, and an ok way to kill time...

Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo

Several years past his former glory, the race car Herbie and his old driver Jim Douglas, along with mechanic Wheely Applegate, are off to France for the Monte Carlo Trans-France race in the hopes of making a comeback. Meanwhile, a corrupt police detective and two bumbling cohorts have staged a daring diamond heist, and hidden their spoils within Herbie's gas tank

Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo is ok. As with Herbie Rides Again, it's saddled with both improvements and...uh...deprovements. It feels just as different from the second Love Bug film as that did from the first. I'll say this about the series, at least they aren't just the same story repeated over and over again!

What I found most trying about this is the runtime, which is back to nearly being two hours after last movie's merciful 88 minute reprieve. The plot here really doesn't support how long its dragged out, and feels even tinier because of the length. Not a whole lot happens, and I was just feeling a bit unsatisfied by the end.

Getting more in depth with the story, it's sometimes annoying, and sometimes plain unpleasant! Everyone screws each-other over! Herbie screws Jim over by either refusing to start while in a race, or going into races he shouldn't and harassing other drivers because he has the hots for their car. Jim and Diane are pretty nasty to each-other, and Jim and Wheely are nasty to the two cars. That lie in particular was a bit needlessly depressing!

The romance isn't particularly well-handled. Far too much time goes by with Diane still skeptical of Herbie's true nature, and what took only a matter of minutes in the first movie takes damn near two hours in this one! Also tanking the romance subplot's potential is that Diane disappears for most of the final act. Speaking of disappearing acts, where's the love interest from the first movie?!

Coming to the villains, the French and German racers are so villainous you'd think this was a nationalistic British movie! The rivalry between them and Jim probably would've gone down better than it did had the movie focused more on that rather than the diamond caper, though that direction would've been a pretty cliched one to take. Points against the movie for partly going down that route, but points for not making it the main conflict.

One thing that especially irked me are the numerous instances where due to falling behind, or being waylaid or sabotaged, it would be IMPOSSIBLE for the leads to get back in the running, yet not only do they do just that, but they win! Also annoying me is that this film really does hammer it home even further that the drivers here aren't doing shit, and Herbie's a magical racing car with no use for anyone behind the wheel, which comes off as cheating in a race!

Everything relating to the cars looks fine, and what effects there are are good. Apparently if you keep an eagle eye out, cars often disappear between shots, though I never noticed that, even when somewhat trying to spot such goofs (though I was mainly focusing on just watching the movie).

The acting is ok. Dean Jones is good as usual, even if his character is more unlikeable this time round, and his age is a bit distracting given how much more youthful he appeared in the first movie. Co-star Don Knotts does what he can. His character is a dick, but he's still at least slightly amusing. Julie Sommars is an ok female lead, but can get a bit frustrating to watch at times. Jacques Marin makes for an ok villain. Weirdly enough, one of the weaker performances was from Bernard Fox! Huh?! How unthinkable! I think the lacklustre script just didn't give the man anything to work with. Roy Kinnear fares a bit better, but not much. Finally, Xavier Saint-Macary is fun as the doofy and eager cop Fontenoy.

Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo is an ok watch, but I don't really recommend it. It perhaps might be the lowest point in this series...

Herbie Goes Bananas

Famed former racecar Herbie is in the care of two young guys, skeptical of the VB's prowess. They're planning on taking him to race in a South American race, and they set out on a voyage via a cruise ship run by an eccentric captain. Unfortunately, a mishap on the ship sends Herbie out to sea, and he washes up on the shores of Mexico. There he meets Paco, a young street urchin, and they become fast friends, eventually uncovering a criminal smuggling plot, all the while Herbie's proper owners are searching for him...

We're now at the last, and what's considered by pretty much everyone to be the worst, Love Bug film (not counting remakes, and that short-lived TV series).

Herbie Goes Bananas feels cheaper than the other entries in the series. Perhaps it's because of the lack of car action. In the first three, even when they weren't racing-centric, there were still dozens of cars on display, whereas here, there's only Herbie.  This, together with other problems make the movie feel spiritually cheap, if that makes any sense.

There aren't any familiar leads this time round, to the film's detriment. Now one could make the same argument with the second film, since the first film's characters have completely vanished in that entry too, but we're still in a familiar location, and there is at least some attempt at an explanation on the relation between the old and new protagonists, so they're not too out-of-left-field.

main reason  don't like Paco taking centre stage is that he   to the point where he doesn't even know his name! Though if he was to call him anything], Ocho is an amusing nickname

is that Herbie himself has nothing to do with the plot, with this being compounded by the above mentioned problem of Paco not knowing who he is. Really he's just ambling about, while stuff just happens. A child watching might be more receptive to Paco as a lead, but lemme tell you, as a kid I did NOT appreciate this movie for having Paco painting Herbie over!

The plot is [pretty weak] in various areas. As I said, it's pretty ambling, and only really kicks into gear in the final act. There's a superfluous matador scene, which is a little amusing, but/though it feels like it drags out the plot/stops the plot in its tracks.

The romance here is pretty weak. The two actors have decent chemistry, but the script doesn't care enough about their romance to give it much focus at all, so we see the start of it, Melissa gets pissed at Peter, then the entire remainder of the movie happens before we come back to it! Even then, it's just a brief making up, and making out.

The humour in Herbie Goes Bananas is likewise weak. Some of the dialogue did make me laugh though, like Harvey Korman's delivery of "It's a car, woman, not Lassie.".

Herbie has returned to his vandalistic ways after a reprieve last movie, smashing up a cargo-bay's worth of presumably priceless antiques and ornaments. Also, this is quite a depressing entry for the poor VB, given how beat-up, dirtied, and rusted he gets! One almost memorable scene he gets is where he's made to walk the plank, but it turns out I slightly misremembered how this scene plays out. I was right on what happens, but not on the how. From when I saw this as a kid. I could've sworn Herbie is actually stood up on his rear on the plank while Korman's holding him at swordpoint! I remember thinking it was such a striking (yet profoundly silly) image.

Something random I appreciate is how much these Mexican characters in Mexico speak their own language, rather than English. You see that all the time in movies, and it's annoyingly unrealistic. On a related note, the locale is neat, with the Mexican landscape being a nice change of pace for the series, after entries in America, and France.

The effects present are pretty decent, minor some obvious green screens here and there. The golden artifact prop is clearly not heavy, but props to the director for trying to be realistic, in having the three villains using all six hands between them to carry the 'hefty' artifact.

Onto the acting. Joaquin Garay III is decent, but a little annoying sometimes. Stephen W. Burns is a pretty milquetoast lead, so it's kinda good that Garay wrests the movie's attention away from him! Elyssa Davalos is ok, but doesn't appear as much as 'd hoped, while Cloris Leachman fares a bit better. She's nice in her role. Bruce Dern lookalike Charles Martin Smith at first comes across as a less talented Don Knotts stand-in, but as the movie goes on, he becomes more bearable, even if not particularly likeable. John Vernon isn't as good here as other roles  but he's still a joy to watch, and exudes villainy. The other two baddies, played by Richard Jaeckel and Alex Rocco feel a bit wasted though. Harvey Korman was annoying at first, and while the jury's still out on whether that's still the case for me, he did kinda grow on me as the movie went on.

The soundtrack is ok, but not really special. There's a briefly heard rescoring of the main theme, which just feels a bit inferior, while the song that plays midway through the film and over the ending credits is decent, but a bit overly kiddy.

Ultimately, Herbie Goes Bananas is by no means terrible, and it's worth a watch for fans, but it's definitely not on par with The Love Bug. In fact, none of these sequels are! The series really is a great example of the steady decline in quality a series can go through if you don't leave well enough alone....

This post is for The Shortening, a blogathon set up by Emily of  The Deadly Dolls House of Horror Nonsense.

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