I may have been born and raised in Manhattan, in the heart of New York City, but after twenty-four years of living in Southern California, I can’t help but admit that I love LA! Out here in the City of Angels, we worship certain things: the sun, the surf, a good taco, and most of all, our movies and our cars. We especially love our films with cars in them, and if you go ahead and set that car movie in our town, you’ve got yourself the cinematic equivalent of an eight point earthquake for Tinseltown audiences! And so is it any wonder that The Hollywood Knights should be this month’s subject of Rob’s Car Movie Review?
Released by Columbia Pictures in 1980, The Hollywood Knights was written and directed by Floyd Mutrux, who was fresh off helming American Hot Wax, and scribing Freebie and the Bean. Knights features a fairly impressive cast of soon-to-be notable thespians, including Michelle Pheiffer, Tony Danza, Fran Drescher, Robert Wuhl, Gary Graham and T.K. Carter.
The film is a slapstick comedy that examines the wacky antics of the Hollywood Knights, a hot-rod car club, on Halloween night in 1965. Having learned that their favorite haunt, Tubby’s Drive-In, is set to be demolished to make way for (yet another) Beverly Hills office complex, the Knights decide on one last hurrah, to make sure the town forever rues their decision.
From this basic log line, the film intercuts between three storylines featuring Knights leader Newbomb Turk (Wuhl) and his co-offenders playing endless pranks on a pair of local beat cops and community leaders; the somewhat syrupy romance between Knight mechanic Duke (Danza) and his actress wanna-be girlfriend (Pheiffer); and the aspirations and anxieties of conscript Jimmy (Graham) on the eve of his shipping out to Vietnam.
To be honest, the dialogue and acting in the movie are nothing to write home about, and the film annoyingly looks as if every shot was made through a heavy diffusion filter, both surprising given the acting talents involved and the fact that the movie was lensed by William Fraker, of Rosemary’s Baby, Bullitt, Looking for Mr. Goodbar and Heaven Can Wait fame.
But who cares about all of that when a film is as chock-full of great music and cars as this one is? The movie features legendary disc jockey, Dr. J, who spins seemingly most of the hits of the mid-1960s including tracks by The Beach Boys, Ray Charles, The Four Seasons, The Byrds, The Mamas and the Papas, The Supremes, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and Martha & the Vandellas.
But the real stars and standouts of The Hollywood Knights are the cars, and boy, what an assemblage of period musclecars and hot-rods we have here! The standout vehicle in the film is Duke’s hot-rod, a canary yellow 1957 Chevy 210 post model. Originally the 1965 project car for Popular Hot Rodding Magazine, the 210, dubbed Project X, served as a test bed for many different engine combinations, drivetrain tweaks and suspension setups over the years.
At the time of the filming of The Hollywood Knights, the car featured a small block Chevy with a Dyers 6-71 supercharger, a 4-speed manual replete with a number 1 pool ball shifter knob, a 9-inch rearend with ladder bars and leaf springs, Cragar s/s wheels, and most famously: no hood.
Another great ride in the movie is a silver-blue 1966 Shelby Cobra 427, driven by a pair of nameless and dialogue-less Asian men who terrorize Van Nuys Boulevard throughout the flick, beating all comers at the stoplight drag strips.
Newbomb’s brother’s black 1965 Chevy El Camino is a tough standout in the film, as is Wheatley’s (Randy Gornel) cherry red and cherry condition 1965 Pontiac Le Mans.
Other cars of the veritable muscle menagerie in The Hollywood Knights include a 1923 Ford Model T hot-rod, a gorgeous 1961 Ford Galaxie Starliner (my favorite car in the film), a pair of Porsche 356 A Speedsters, and a smattering of 1965 Mustang ragtops and Fastbacks, rodded Ford and Chevy coupes, and even a modified 1963 Cadillac Sedan deVille.
The Hollywood Knights is no Lawrence of Arabia. It’s plot consists of not much more than a collection of cheesy sight gags, boob shots and silly vignettes; the characterizations are often poor; and for the most part we have seen this film before in the form of George Lucas’ vastly superior American Graffiti. But what the movie lacks in the cinematic department, it more than makes up for in terms of the soundtrack and the immense collection of primo horsepower throughout. As such, I give The Hollywood Knights six 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.