Gone in 60 Seconds

[box cover]There are really only a few staples in American film: the gunfight, the song-and-dance number, the screen kiss, and of course, the car chase. And directors love these things, because it gives them the opportunity to re-invent the wheel (rather than, God forbid, do something authentically original). Most film historians agree that Peter Yates' 1968 Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen, was the movie that first introduced the extended car chase to audiences around the world, and that early effort -- a lengthy, gorgeous amalgam of rubber, steel, and roaring engines -- still remains one of the best in existence, largely because Yates decided to forego a musical score and let the booming V-8s set the pace. Since then, the car chase has been a ready standby for Tinseltown scribes suffering from writer's block, and while most of them nowadays are routine (and at times, even boring), there have been a few more notable sequences to reach the screen, including in such favorites as To Live and Die in L.A, The Blues Brothers, and Ronin. You all can argue about which one is best, but which one was the longest? If you think the hyperbolic conclusion to The Blues Brothers wins the prize, you're close, but in fact, actor/writer/director H.B Halicki's low-budget 1974 indie flick Gone in 60 Seconds holds the record, with an unbroken 40-minute car chase that forms the extended conclusion to his cult classic.

To sit through Gone in 60 Seconds is an unusual experience. The events leading up to final chase are merely perfunctory, chronicling a ring of L.A. car thieves and insurance swindlers who only have a few days to steal more than 40 expensive automobiles in order to complete their biggest job ever. It's mostly dull stuff, and it's hampered by some very low-budget production qualities. Dialogue is muffled and occasionally indecipherable, and since it was shot in the early '70s, there's lots of big hair, plaid trousers, and leather jackets, and it seems that everybody's wearing sunglasses. It's the sort of filmmaking that Paul Thomas Anderson adoringly mocked in Boogie Nights -- seriously, you almost expect John Holmes to appear at any moment.

But eventually the monumental car chase gets underway. Two undercover cops find Halicki pilfering a souped-up '73 Mustang, and what was a boring porn film without the sex turns into a compelling multi-car chase across Long Beach and the suburbs south of L.A, as crisp editing and compelling sound design suddenly invade the proceedings. Halicki was a self-made auteur who actually owned several junkyards and loved nothing in life more than four-wheeled thunder, and many would say that a movie camera only gave him an excuse to demolish Detroit's finest. And lots of 'em -- no less than 93 cars are smashed for the sake high-octane cinema.

After making a couple more low-budget flicks, Halicki undertook Gone in 60 Seconds II in 1989, in which he planned to crash 400 cars, including 80 police cruisers. Tragically, he was killed in a freak accident on the set, leaving only the original for high-speed fans to savor, and that isn't easy anymore -- the videotape has long been out-out-print and hard to find in local rental shops, and original copies currently sell for upwards of $60 on eBay. But we have reason to hope that this forgotten curio will arrive again on home video, and even on DVD, because Gone in 60 Secondswill be remade as a Hollywood A-project starring Nicholas Cage and Angelina Jolie in the summer of 2000, and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (you know, the guy behind Armageddon, Enemy of the State, The Rock, Con Air, Crimson Tide, et. al.). And since Cage's salary alone is reputedly higher than the entire budget for the original, we're confident that the upgrade will generate renewed interest in Halicki's film. Expect a new DVD edition of Gone in 60 Seconds to arrive sometime in 2000 or 2001.

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