Wednesday, June 8, 2011

RON HOWARD ACTION PACK: EAT MY DUST / GRAND THEFT AUTO

Shout! Factory's outstanding "Roger Corman's Cult Classics" line revisits two 70s country car chase classics starring Ron Howard, with their EAT MY DUST / GRAND THEFT AUTO double feature.

At the height of his popularity as "Richie Cunningham" on HAPPY DAYS, Howard was offered a part in a Roger Corman-produced, country car chase movie. Now, Corman says he didn’t actually expect the red-haired TV icon to accept, but Howard agreed to do the flick – if Corman promised him an opportunity to direct another.

The resulting film, EAT MY DUST (1976), went on to become one of the biggest drive-in hits of the era, and one of the highest grossing films released by Corman’s original New World company.

The plot – if I may dignify it with such a term – is simple: to impress a shallow, speed freak blonde in itty-bitty hotpants (soap opera mainstay Christopher Norris, AIRPORT 1975), Hoover Niebold (Howard), the son of the local sheriff (veteran character actor Warren J. Kemmerling, GODZILLA 1985), steals a stock car and takes her on a reckless joyride across rural Puckerbush County. Soon, his father and a bunch of deputies – as well as a posse of drunken race car drivers – are on the kids’ tail, resulting in plenty of high-speed pursuits, car crashes and other blatant traffic violations.

With, ironically, a pedestrian script & direction by Corman vet Charles B. Griffith, EAT MY DUST is pretty thin, nonsensical stuff. But I’ll give it this: it keeps moving, is never boring, and the ending is strangely perfect.

The movie was hugely successful on the drive-in circuit, and Corman wanted an immediate follow-up in the same vein. Howard was agreeable – but only if Corman lived up to his promise to allow him to direct the movie as well. Corman agreed. Immediately, Ron and his father, veteran character actor Rance Howard, began to put together the script for a fast-paced, funny car chase flick they called GRAND THEFT AUTO (1977).

Young Sam (Howard) and Paula (Nancy Morgan) are madly in love and want to get married. Unfortunately, Paula’s wealthy parents object – they intend for her to marry rich, spoiled Bigby Powers (Barry Cahill) instead. Paula’s the headstrong type though, and after storming out of her parents’ house, she and Sam steal the family’s Rolls Royce and head for Las Vegas to elope. Paula’s father puts a $25,000 bounty on his daughter, and soon the two young lovers find themselves chased by a motley assortment of pursuers – including amateur bounty hunters, inept private eyes, various cops, an ambitious radio DJ in a helicopter, and Paula’s spurned fiancĂ©.

Of course the plot is just there to link the car stunts together, and it works marvelously. In fact, it’s great fun, with plenty of well-staged car crashes, comedic appearances by Ron’s whole family (or, at least, father Rance and brother Clint) and HAPPY DAYS mom Marion Ross, and even a little bit of pointed media satire.

Both titles were previously released on DVD by Corman's New Concorde label and by Disney/Buena Vista, but Shout! Factory has trumped all those previous versions with their new "Ron Howard Action Pack" double feature set, which presents the movies in their correct "matted" widescreen theatrical aspect ratios for the first time. Each film is on its own disc, and are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, sourced from good, although not pristine prints. There are random specks and occasional instances of age-related wear, but overall, they look quite good. Audio is a solid Dolby Digital 2.0 mono.

Shout! has ported over all the extras from the previous additions and added more. EAT MY DUST includes a new on-camera interview with star Ron Howard, wherein he discusses both films; a Leonard Maltin-Roger Corman discussion; a "Making Of" featurette; a new featurette on Corman's go-to poster artist, the great John Solie; and the theatrical trailer. GRAND THEFT AUTO includes an audio commentary track by Howard and Corman; a commentary track by Ron's dad, Rance, who co-wrote and appeared in the film; on-screen interviews with Rance Howard and Ron's brother, Clint; another interview with Corman & Howard; another Maltin-Corman piece; and the original theatrical trailer and TV spots.

If you've bought any of the previous editions of these films, I suggest trading up; this presentation is the best yet, and includes everything that was on the earlier editions, plus new, properly matted, widescreen transfers. If you've never seen these films, they are good examples of the 70s car chase genre, and well worth checking out. GRAND THEFT AUTO, in particular, is a lot of goofy fun. Recommended.

BUY: The Ron Howard Action Pack (Eat My Dust! / Grand Theft Auto) [Roger Corman's Cult Classics]