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  Love Bug, The Four Wheeled Friend
Year: 1968
Director: Robert Stevenson
Stars: Dean Jones, Michele Lee, Buddy Hackett, David Tomlinson, Joe Flynn, Benson Fong, Joe E. Ross, Andy Granatelli, Iris Adrian, Ned Glass, Robert Foulk, Gil Lamb, Barry Kelley, Russ Caldwell, Nicola Jaffe, Gary Owens
Genre: Comedy, Action, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) is a racing driver whose best days are behind him, but still persists with the sport despite not making the money he used to. He lives in a San Francisco garage with his welder friend Tennessee (Buddy Hackett) who creates sculptures out of the remains of the cars Jim wrecks. Things are looking bad, but a twist of fate occurs when Jim happens to be be walking past a car showroom and a car catches his eye, as does the assistant Carole (Michele Lee). He stops to admire a sports car when the showroom owner, Thorndyke (David Tomlinson) goes over to encourage him to buy, but he soon changes his tune when it's clear that Jim can't afford anything. However, just as he's about to leave, a white Volkswagen nudges his ankle...

People can grow rather attached to their cars, even believing they have a personality as if they were pets, and some vehicle models simply look as if they have a personality from the second they roll off the production line. The Love Bug, scripted by Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi from a story by Gordon Buford, capitalises on this emotional connection by giving its star car the personality of a puppy dog and calling it Herbie - a perfect name. This film was the start of a long running series of movies featuring Herbie, but none of them matched the charm and good humour of the original, which has the car competing in various races and winning quite decisively.

Although Jim left the little car behind in the showroom, he awakes the next morning to be greeted by a policeman (Joe E. Ross) on his doorstep, asking if he would accompany him to the station. Why? Because Jim appears to have stolen Herbie as the car is sitting outside his home. Jim can't understand this, although we can guess the reason pretty quickly knowing the car has a mind of its own, and meets with Thorndyke to sort out a deal: Thorndyke will let him have the car if he pays the instalments on it, and Jim agrees when he finds out how powerful the car is after taking it out for a drive with Carole - or are they taken for a ride themselves?

Jim is unaware that Herbie (named after Tennessee's uncle) is "alive", and when he starts to race with it he thinks it's his driving that's beating the other competitors. This being the era of the hippy and spiritual awakening , Tenessee brings his unlikely Buddhist beliefs to explain the life in the Volkswagen, even as Jim says it's just a fluke that Herbie should be so effective. It's interesting to see Disney (for this is one of those live action Disney movies) tackle the spirit of the day, mostly through gentle humour - when Herbie refuses to let Carole out, she pleads for help from the two hippies in the car next to her, only to receive the reply, "We all prisoners, chickie-baby! We all locked in!"

But it's the races that provide the biggest entertainment as Herbie notches up victory after victory and Thorndyke, now racing against Jim himself, is suspicious and determined to buy the car back. Not even pouring Irish coffee into the fuel tank can deter Herbie, even if he gets a little tipsy, but it's the final race, the El Dorado, that Thorndyke erupts into full Dick Dastardly mode and the film resembles a live action Wacky Races. This is also the funniest segment, especially in the way Thorndyke's wicked plans are continually foiled - he ends up with a bear as his co-driver, and also gets trapped inside Herbie ("Get me out of here!"). Displaying wit and imagination that make you happily go along with its ridiculous premise, The Love Bug is engagingly acted and thankfully not too sentimental either. Distinctive music by George Bruns.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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