Just Look Away

Posted on February 18, 2011

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Gone in 60 Seconds

“I bet five more cars have been stolen in just the time I’ve been here.”

I bet you thought I was going to write about Nicholas Cage. Gotcha!

This 1974 car-theft action movie has a 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where 46% of respondents want to see it. In comparison, the 2000 version has a 25% rating but 79% of respondents liked it.

Why Bother?

“Long Beach PD is in pursuit of a 1973 Ford Mustang, yellow in color. The reason for pursuit unknown.”

Critics, both amateur and professional, panned the 2000 Nicholas Cage/Angeline Jolie vehicle, Gone in Sixty Seconds. Some of that was hating on Nick Cage. Some of it was anger over the CGI car jump toward the end of the film. That might make you curious about the original.

Or maybe you have a thing for Eleanor, the 1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1 fastback (I do). Or maybe you like 1970s counter-culture cinema, and some of the great car movies that came out at that time.

If you’re a fan of DVD bonus material, the DVD of the 1974 film is loaded with extras.

I watched it

“That is negative – pursuit is not terminated, repeat, not terminated.”

Maindrian Pace (in case you thought “Memphis Raines” was a stupid name) is an insurance investigator who leads a double life as the leader of a ring of car thieves. A South American drug lord hires Pace and his crew to steal 48 cars and deliver them to the harbor in Long Beach. Every time they try to steal a 1973 Mustang, something goes wrong. When Pace makes one last attempt to get the car, he doesn’t know that his boss betrayed him over some found heroin, and anonymously tipped off the cops. A chase through five cities ensues.

The Verdict

I’m a big fan of original source material. The Blues Brothers sent me on a lifetime journey into blues, soul, and jazz, for example. I like car chase movies. I like movies from the 70s. So I wanted to watch the 1974 Gone in 60 Seconds. Let me save you the 97 minutes: I don’t like this movie.

Yes, I totally understand that this was a labor of love for H.B. Halicki (writer, producer, director, and star). Nobody in this film is a professional actor. It’s poorly directed. It’s mired in auto insurance gibberish. The sound is muddy. The editing is distracting because the non-actors improvised their dialogue and the editor had to make it work. The music is boring (the original music may have been better, they changed it out and re-mastered the sound effects for the 1999 DVD release). The cars just don’t matter. Even Eleanor is just a commodity.

There are brief moments when the heart and soul underlying the movie show through, mostly in that grueling 40-minute car chase.

In All Fairness

“Did we get coverage?” – H.B. Halicki, when he regained consciousness after an 85 MPH crash during filming.

Gone in 60 Seconds inspired a lot of film-makers and fans. It showed that low-budget didn’t have to mean low-action. H.B. Halicki, the King of Car Crashes, had a dream and he made it come true. He did it so well that 29 years later, his movie got re-made. That, gentle readers, is worth everyone’s respect, including mine.

In Comparison

The 2000 version abandons the insurance angle in favor of more character development and more colorful characters. The humor is brighter. The stakes are higher. The villain is more memorable. The morality is clearer. The love for automobiles almost approaches a fetish. It’s fast, flashy, loud, and professional all the way through.

Does that make it a disposable, plastic, soul-less, pathetic, re-make? Maybe, but it’s still more fun to watch.

Alternate Recommendations

  • Bullitt (1968)
  • The French Connection (1971)
  • Vanishing Point (1971)
  • Duel (1971)
  • Death Race 2000 (1975)
  • The Gumball Rally (1976)
  • Mad Max (1979)
  • The Blues Brothers (1980)
  • The Cannonball Run (1981)
  • Ronin (1998)
  • Death Proof (2007)

Say It Loud

Here’s the number one thing that a writer can learn from the 1974 Gone: Read your dialogue aloud. If you have to pause in the middle for a breath, it’s too long. Brevity is the soul of excellence in dialogue, especially if you’re working in low-budget film with less-experienced performers.

The Special Hell

Yes, I know: I’m going to a very special Hell for liking a Nicholas Cage remake more than an original movie. Tell the world why in the comments.

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