Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Herbie, The Love Bug - or "Car, Boy, Girl" - a film review and analysis of the original films (1969-1980) by Robert Steven Mack

Dean Jones was born on Janurary 25, 1931 in Alabama. After receiving small parts in films such as “Jailhouse Rock” with Elvis Presley and “Never So Few” with Frank Sinatra as well as on Walt Disney's show “The Wonderful World of Colour,” his first advancement to fame came with “Under the Yum Yum Tree.” Disney carefully studied his performance in this film and before long signed him up as feline allergic FBI agent Zeke Kelso in the comedy/mystery classic “That Darn Cat” with Haley Mills, Dorothy Provane, Ed Wynn, and Roddy McDowall. Between the years of 1965 to 1977, Mr. Jones played leads in some of Disney's most beloved films. These, of course, includes “The Ugly Dushwald,” “Monkey Go Home,” “Blackbeard's Ghost,” “The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit,” “The Million Dollar Duck,” “Snowball Express,” and “The Shaggy D.A.” – among others.

Despite his many fabulous roles, Dean Jones name is perhaps most intimately associated with his role as Jim Doulas in “The Love Bug.” Mr. Jones had come to Walt Disney with an idea for “The Love Bug” as a serious, darker film. Instead, Disney presented him with a lighter comedy and the usual “Disney-Dean Jones” touch. In my opinion, however, neither idea was discarded completely. Another interesting fact about the “Love Bug” is that before the film's producers finalized the name “The Love Bug,” they came up with some odd and not-so-odd titles including “Car, Boy, Girl; The Magic Volksy,” “Beetlebomb,” and “Tenderbug” - to name just a few. Of course, the first film would be titled no other than “The Love Bug.”

THE LOVE BUG: The film’s plot is simplistic nonsense, yet thoughtfully crafted, provocatively written, and ingenuously put together. A down-on-his-luck racer whos past glories and present press created stories weigh him down like a bird whose wings have been clipped, buys a car with a mind of its own. Douglas stood up for the little car when a snooty rich car dealer abuses the odd machine, the little car only thought that he was worth belonging to. Jim's car philosophical friend Tennessee Steinmetz -who theorizes that machines have an inner life and believes it! - names his new friend Herbie after his uncle Herb. Before long Jim discovers that Herbie, as Tennessee calls him, has great racing potential and decides to race him. Indeed, he wins! However, what he doesn't know is that Herbie is doing all the driving.

The film's cast did not only add to the film, they practically made it: With Dean Jones as the Boy, Michelle Lee as the Girl, Buddy Hackett as Tennessee Steinmetz, Herbie as the Car, and David Thomson as the typical Disney villain. Excellently cast and their performances brilliantly executed, they put on quite a show! While at times quaintly hillarious and at time heartfelt if not dramatic, this movie about a car that has always been underestimated. Hence, it is the ultimate Disney classic.

An interesting bit of “Love Bug” trivia is that Dean Jones aside from his lead role also played a hippie in a van.

LOVE BUG 2:“Herbie Rides, Again” was released in 1974 and starred Helen Hayes, Ken Berry, Stephanie Powers, and Keenan Wayne reprising his role of Alonzo Hawk (The Absent Minded Professor (1961) and Son of Flubber (1963).) While bearing little connection to its predecessor, the film is a lively addition to the Herbie franchise. The plot goes as follows: Alonzo Hawk plans to knock down Jim's former house -now in possession of Tennessee's great aunt; as is Herbie-, an old firehouse, so he can build his gigantic Hawk shopping center on the property. A nice connection with previous Disney films aids this family classic to success. Although you can't help but feel sorry for poor Mr. Hawk! This lively comedy is well put together and well thought up. It carries itself well throughout the entire movie, although the cast and story are only replacements to what might have been if the original cast had showed up. This movie is a joyful sequel that fans cannot miss!

LOVE BUG 3: Dean Jones returned in 1977 for his final lead Disney role in “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo.” Here, Jim Douglas travels to France and comes out of retirement when entering themselves in the France to Monte Carlo Derby with and attempt for a comeback after a twelve year absence in the field of racing. It’s good to have Dean Jones back as Jim Douglas. He's like an old friend visiting you on Mars. Accompanying Mr.Douglas is Don Knotts as Wheelie Applegate; although obviously a replacement and you don't no quite where he's from. Yet, he is a nice addition to this film. Continuing the tradition of romance in the “Love Bug” movies is Julie Somers as a competitive racer who owns the car Herbie has fallen in love with. Apparently Michelle Lee's character who had married Jim Douglas was no more which leaves a blank spot in the continuity in the Herbie series. Also returning is that gag where Herbie spills oil on those who insult him. Joining the fun are two bumbling jewel thieves (Bernard Fox and Roy Kinaer) who have planted a precious diamond in Herbie's gas tank. Although this seems slightly forced and the film could do without them, it’s a nice touch and pleasurable to see Herbie and his gang save the day. Another thing standing out is the age and maturity of Jim Douglas compared to the last movie. Overall, the cast, music, and story are a dream come true for those who have waited to see Jim Douglas ride again.

LOVE BUG 4: Three years later in the out-of-control year of 1980 Disney released yet another Herbie film and like its magnificent predecessor helmed by director Vincent McEverety (Love Bug and Rides again were directed by Robert Stevenson). Once again, the only returning cast member is Herbie but not Dean Jones! Seeing someone else drive Herbie in this movie is like seeing some other punk command the starship Enterprise. In this film Jim, after deciding to retire from racing has given his nephew Pete his beloved car Herbie. They must travel to South America to retrieve it. Despite this plot which could be decent enough to carry the story, Disney brought in reputable Mel Brooks’ collaborators Clois Leachgman and Harvey Corman. While their performances, which should be more along the line of supporting roles, are about the most real thing about this movie. It soon gets to unquestionable mark where you wonder whether Pete and his sidekick DJ are actually in any way significant to the plot. Also joining Herbie is Paco, an orphan pick-pocket who befriends Herbie. You feel no sympathy for this character, only disgust as Herbie helps this juvenile delinquent who at times seems hardly worth the fight.
One more notable thing in this stunt-oriented film is the heartfelt moment when Herbie is tossed into the sea; one of the few original moments in this entire film. The action, stunts, characters, and story are all contrived. For one thing Pete and DJ are too young to carry the film. More specific, the fabric of this largely contrived and forced picture is the lousy attempt at a sidekick: The smuggling ring coming out of nowhere is confusing and ridiculous. And although in the beginning, while it is so famously announced that Herbie will participate in a race Herbie, this part of the plot is stashed away until the end. It’s basically a experiment to squeeze Herbie in with the emerging '80's culture which is obviously not what Herbie is all about! Instead, they got a film with a glued together plot and flat characters who you feel no sympathy for. I would only recommend this film to you if you are a die-hard Herbie fan.

LOVE BUG 5: So basically, the stories went flat and there would not be another Herbie release in theaters until 2005 (although the mention of racing at the end of "Bananas" may have hinted the original intention to do a fourth sequel. While it’s apparent that Herbie and Dean Jones will not reprise their roles together on the big screen, it’s not as they only appeared together twice and be done with it. In fact, two years after the release of “Herbie Goes Bananas,” “Herbie, the Match Maker” appeared on TV. Herbie had its own television series! Unfortunately, it was canceled after five episodes and that would be the last the public would see of Herbie or Jim Douglas for 15 years. In 1997, “The Love Bug” a TV movie remake/ sequel appeared on TV with Bruce Campbell and a cameo from Dean Jones one last time reprising his famous role of Jim Douglas from 28 years before. In 2005 Lindsey Lohan would lead the Love Bug in his final feature film to date “Herbie: Fully Loaded.” I must admit that I have not seen any of these last movies/TV shows but as soon as I get around to it you'll be hearing from me!

Noone knows what the future of Herbie will be but I can tell you this: Sometimes we forget what Disney has brought us! Disney is not just some kiddie studio that's all about Mickey Mouse and nonsense. It’s about friends and family being together having fun and enjoying themselves. And there will be Herbie as long as there is a little love and imagination in the world.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

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