I don’t know about you, but I love a story about an underdog overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve a goal they hold highest. In the world of filmmaking there are many such tales, but my favorite by far is that of H.B. Halicki and his making of the original Gone in 60 Seconds; the subject of this month’s installment of Rob’s Car Movie Review!
H.B. Halicki truly lived out his version of the American dream. A car and movie obsessed youngster, he left home in New York State to pursue his ambitions in California at the age of 15. Halicki worked a range of odd jobs, and within two years parlayed his savings into opening his own body shop. Reinvesting his profits enabled Halicki to expand his fiefdom to include a successful junkyard business and an impressive collection of muscle and sports cars.
But it was movies that really interested Halicki, especially car movies like Bullitt, which had been released just a few years before. And so, in 1973 he turned his attention and considerable moxie towards drafting an outline for his personal version of a car movie. No true screenplay was ever written, and in typical B-movie fashion Halicki self-financed the project, used friends and family as cast and crew, and took on the positions of director, producer, stunt driver and star himself. In early 1973, team Halicki was ready, and went into production on Gone in 60 Seconds.
On the surface of things, Maindrian Pace (Halicki) is a legitimate auto insurance investigator, but his nocturnal activities include running a chop shop in Long Beach, California, and heading up a professional car-theft ring. Key to his theft operation is using VINs and parts from legitimately purchased wrecks to mask the true identity of the cars the gang pilfers to aid in their resale. As a legitimate insurance industry insider, he maintains a salient and sacrosanct rule: all the cars the gang steals must be insured so that the owner does not assume the loss.
Approached by a crime boss, Pace is offered $400,000 to steal 48 vehicles of specific types to be delivered to the Port of Long Beach in five days. Taking the deal, Pace enlists the aid of his best thieves, including his fiancé, Pumpkin (Marion Busia), and his soon-to-be brother-in-law Eugene (Jerry Daugirda). Since the cars on the list include many exotic and vintage cars, filling the order won’t be a cakewalk. Pace and his crew scout out the locations of the cars on the list, and give each one a female code name.
All is going well until one of the stolen cars, a Cadillac Coupe de Ville, is found to have several kilos of heroin in the trunk. While Eugene thinks the sale of the narcotics would bring a windfall profit, Pace wants nothing to do with it, and after a heated argument, takes the car and the drugs to a remote area and burns them, unbeknownst to Eugene.
The stealing of most of the vehicles goes well, except for the acquisition of one car: a yellow 1973 Ford Mustang, code named “Eleanor.” After multiple attempts to steal one fail, an Eleanor is finally located in the parking garage of the International Towers in Long Beach.
As Pace is on his way to finally claim Eleanor, Eugene finds out about the destruction of the heroin. Angered, he anonymously tips off the police to expect a theft of a yellow Mustang at the International Towers. Two detectives in an unmarked car are dispatched to the location and witness Pace drive away in Eleanor. They give pursuit, resulting in a chase across six cities from Long Beach to Carson.
Made by amateur filmmakers, and lacking a coherent screenplay to shoot from, Gone in 60 Seconds is a bit of a mess, both technically and in terms of storytelling. Scenes are underlit, continuity errors abound and what little dialogue that is present is of fairly horrendous quality and is uttered in a wooden fashion by the actors.
The movie at times can be incomprehensible, as character motivations and cause-and-effect loops are poorly defined throughout. But what the movie lacks in terms of cinematic quality, it more than makes up for in terms of action for the movie-loving gearhead.
The cars in the film which include Plymouth ‘Cudas, Dodge Challengers, Mercedes 300SL Gullwings, Rolls Royces, Cadillacs, Ferraris, Jaguars, Maseratis, De Tomaso Panteras, Corvettes, and a Manta Mirage, in addition to the film’s true star, Eleanor (which was even given a screen credit!) are sensational; and the film’s climactic car chase, the longest in film history at 35 minutes, is simply dazzling. An amazing 93 cars were destroyed to film it.
These elements truly make Gone in 60 Seconds worth sitting through, and solidify the film as a triumphant example of what an underdog with the will and a dream can do. I give Gone in 60 Seconds six-and-a-half out of ten pistons.
About The Author: Rob Finkelman is a freelance writer for Street Muscle Magazine. He attended and graduated from New York University’s film school in 1992, and subsequently worked in the movie business for twenty years as a documentarian and screenwriter. Combining his two great passions in life – films and cars – and writing about them is a dream job for him. He will be bringing us a Car Movie Review each month, and he’s open to suggestions so list yours below.