"Ron Howard pops the clutch and tells the world to EAT MY DUST!" in the former half of this double bill of Roger Corman/Ron Howard New World Picture collaborations. Both previously released on fullscreen DVD (not without considerable extra features themselves), EAT MY DUST! and Howard’s directorial debut GRAND THEFT AUTO have been given the 16:9 overhaul in an extras-laden two-disc set from Shout Factory!
Hoover Niebold (Ron Howard) is a bit of an embarrassment to his father, Puckerbush Sheriff Niebold (Warren Kemmerling, FAMILY PLOT). The young man has wracked up more speeding tickets than anyone else in the town and uses his job restocking tissue paper to sneak his buddies into events. Hoover only has eyes for right-side-of-the-tracks girl Darlene (Christopher Norris, AIRPORT 1975), who is anything but demure (our introductory shot of her is a close-up of the rear of her short-shorts). To impress Darlene, he steals “Mabel,” a race car belonging to idol Big Bubba Jones (Dave Madden, TV’s "The Partridge Family") in front of the track audience, including his father. Outrunning the cops on the way out of town passing the local auto parts store, Hoover, Darlene, his pals and “Mabel” rack up a considerable amount of damage, including several wrecked police cars, a Chinese restaurant store front, and a completely demolished farm. With each police car taken out of commission and the drunk tank filling up with irate parents, business owners and residents, Niebold finally has to relent to Bubba’s plan to set his drunken racing buddies after Hoover and Darlene, but the young couple are determined to push “Mabel” to her limits to avoid considerable fines and likely jail time.
Written and directed by longtime Corman scripter/associate producer Charles B. Griffith (NOT OF THIS EARTH), EAT MY DUST! is funny and entertaining but problematically positioned between mischievous small-town fun and BONNIE & CLYDE territory. The viewer constantly wonders how Hoover can so easily cross the line from boys-will-be-boys speeding tickets and sneaking his buddies into paid venues to stealing a car and the wholesale destruction of his home town and the property of his friends’ parents (to be fair, a fair share of the destruction is caused by the bumbling police officers and inability to maneuver bulkier police cars through the the usual movie car chase obstacles of auto parts store fronts, strategically-positioned fruit carts, ditches, water-tower supports, and scattering pedestrians, including the local high school marching band). Darlene’s fun-loving tease act has an almost sadistic and manipulative edge to it. While Hoover is likeably written and played by Howard, Darlene has been scripted in less-appealing terms (her repeated whispers of “faster” to Hoover might as well have been “you’re not breaking the law fast enough”) despite Norris’ screen charisma. Madden is not particularly believable as a race track star, but Griffith in general seems to have been less concerned about sketching out the supporting characters (the additional comic relief of the irate parents and other citizens of Puckerbush is ridiculously broad – from Darlene’s pompously German parents, the stereotypically Chinese restaurant owner and his lawyer, the rattled old man taken on part of the chase, to the repeatedly-goosed single mother of one of the miscreants – and merely pads the film in between chases). Hoover’s rowdy buddies – including his brother Clint – are similarly one-note (Howard’s father Rance plays one of the cops). One also wonders if parents taking their children to see a “Ronnie Howard” film expected to hear the "Happy Days"/"Andy Griffith Show" star saying “hell” and The Partridge Family’s Madden uttering variations of “shit on a twisty stick!” while chugging beer after beer.
Griffith and cinematographer Eric Saarinen (THE HILLS HAVE EYES) accomplish some exciting car-rig shots during the chases thanks to some careful choreography and more subtle framerate manipulation than seen in the chase scenes of other films of this budget, although some cuts on locked-down shots are not so seemless (in the making-of featurette, Saarinen and editor Tina Hirsch [GREMLINS] admit that some of the cut-together stunts do not hold up to close evaluation). The filmmakers are also too dependent on overdubbed dialogue and reactions during the speeding and crashing (in place of close-up inserts to convince us that the actual actors were in the cars during those bits). Actor Bill Paxton worked on the sets (as he had with a few other New World Pictures) with art director Peter Jamison (HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH) and HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP director Barbara Peeters did the second unit work. David Grisman’s folksy scoring (performed by The David Grisman Quintet) nicely complements the comedic action as well as the sweeter scenes between Hoover and Darlene. The film slows down momentarily for the young couple to hide out at a farm and have the pre-requisite love scene (offscreen), but gets back into gear quickly. Despite the number of demolished cars and wooden structures, the drawn-out final chase lacks the exhilaration of the previous chases, and the viewers may find themselves caring whether Hoover and Darlene end up together in the end.
EAT MY DUST! was previously on fullscreen DVD twice by Corman’s own New Concorde company, and then later by Buena Vista. The only extras on Buena Vista’s “Super Charged Edition” were the theatrical trailer and the making-of featurette “How to Crash on a Dime” which is a refreshingly specific retrospective featuring the anecdotes of editor Tina Hirsch, director of photography Eric Saarinen and co-star Christopher Norris. Hirsch mentions how editing was used to save and rework footage of a stunt that went wrong after Saarinen and crew thought it meant that entire day’s shooting had been ruined (Corman’s suggestion of the fix is cheesy and cheap, but ultimately amusing in the finished film). Saarinen mentions that the cars were all on their last legs so he would shoot even the run-throughs for usable footage. Norris recalls that the direction for the driving scenes was done by radio and that there was very little to hold onto in the largely hollow shells of the stunt cars. Hirsch also mentions that the original title was THE CAR, but Universal asked Corman if they could have the title. Corman had the title tested at a high school alongside the alternate suggestion EAT MY DUST! and the latter won out (she mentions that Universal’s film – the possessed car film with James Brolin – did poorly at the box office while EAT MY DUST! was a success). For more information on auto parts used see www.directfitautoparts.com
Shout Factory presents a new anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1 transfer. The image is largely clean apart from the usual reel change marks and scratches (the only truly notable degradation is during an optical zoom, but that would have looked the same when new). Some odd jump cuts late in the film seem to have been an odd stylistic choice – possibly to keep the film under 90 minutes – since they all happen between the two reel change cues (as such, there was very little footage in between those points that might have been lost to damage). Besides the trailer (1:00) and aforementioned featurette (9:31), Shout Factory have included some new featurettes. First, there is a new interview with Howard (15:15), which might have been more appropriately placed on the GRAND THEFT AUTO disc since he spends more time talking about that film (his discussion is further augmented by scene-specific clips). Next up is an excerpt from “Leonard Maltin interviews Roger Corman” (2:59) focusing on EAT MY DUST!, in which Corman tells the story of how Howard got to direct GRAND THEFT AUTO somewhat differently. Lastly, “The Illustrated Man” (13:03) is an interview with Corman’s poster artist John Solie. It latter has nothing to do with either film but sheds light on yet another lesser known but major contributor to Corman’s New World days.
Howard wanted to become a director fairly early on and had taken the lead in EAT MY DUST! as a way of wrangling a project from Corman. Corman said he would give Howard the chance to write a project and develop it (if he would also star). Howard did this with the help of father Rance Howard, and also got to direct the result: GRAND THEFT AUTO. Young Sam (Ron Howard) wants to marry Paula (Nancy Morgan, FRATERNITY ROW) but her gubernatorial candidate father Bigby Powers (Barry Cahill, COFFY) and socially-preoccupied mother Priscilla (Elizabeth Rogers, THE VAN) want to marry her off to a wealthy “turkey” named Collins Hedgewood (Paul Linke, MOTEL HELL). Paula steals her father’s Rolls Royce and soon the young couple are off to Vegas to wed. Collins, in riding gear, pursues in his sports-car. He crashes and steals a Dodge Charger from a car lot and continues after Paula and Sam (when Paula tells him she does not want to marry him, he reasons that she has been brainwashed). After he crashes the Charger, he calls the local radio station and offers $25,000 for his fiancée’s safe return. When his doting mother Vivian (Marion Ross, Howard’s TV mother on HAPPY DAYS), she steals her butler’s car and goes after her son (while herself being doggedly pursued by a cop [Howard regular James Ritz, COCOON] for a moving violation and the stolen car). When Vivian offers up another $25,000 for her son’s return, the chase is on. As local DJ Curly Q. Brown (real Los Angeles radio personality “The Real Don Steele”) comments from a helicopter above, Paula and Sam dodge the police, a pair of mechanics (Peter Isacksen and Clint Howard), a dynamite-hurling farmer, a car of lowriders, a P.I. (Howard’s father Rance Howard, CHINATOWN) and his men, the mob (including HALLOWEEN II’s Leo Rossi), and a horde of California motorists out for the reward. Meanwhile, a greedy preacher (Hoke Howell, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP) has stolen a police car in pursuit of the reward for Collins’ return. Multiple cars are stolen and wrecked, a bridge is blown up, Curly Q. has his listening audience picking sides, and the whole thing comes to a climax in a demolition derby.
On the commentary track, Howard admits that IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD was an inspiration for this not-quite-cross-country chase flick. At Corman’s urging Howard developed the script, with his father Rance, so that he could both direct it and still be the star (rather than the nominal lead). While he has a lot of screen time (most of it in the Rolls), his character is less interesting than the one he played in EAT MY DUST! Indeed, the central pair of young lovers are less interesting (the scene where they pull over to argue about whether she actually wants him or if she is just defying her father merely pays lip service to the conflict). That said, Howard keeps the action moving and the supporting players are funnier than in the Griffith film. Four different Rolls Royces were used for different scenes (including a Rolls frame on a truck chassis). Director Paul Bartel shows up as a newlywed whose “just married” truck is stolen. Corman executive produced the film, which was produced by Jon Davison (STARSHIP TROOPERS) who had also produced Joe Dante’s PIRANHA. Dante edited the film alongside Allan Arkush. Prolific TV director Arkush got his start out in the New World trailer cutting room with Dante (Arkush is uncredited as editor, but also served as the film’s second unit director). Associate editor Mark Goldblatt later edited Dante’s THE HOWLING. Veteran exploitation cinematographer Gary Graver gives the film a slicker look than EAT MY DUST! (as well as several of his Independent International entries). Late composer Peter Ivers provides a funky score – and the theme song “Grand Theft Auto” – but the soundtrack also includes the 1977 Pablo Cruise hit single “What’cha Gonna Do?”
Like EAT MY DUST, GRAND THEFT AUTO was previously released twice on DVD by Corman’s New Concorde, and then by Buena Vista. All three DVDs featured fullscreen transfers (the Buena Vista included a 5.1 remix, but not the original mono audio). Buena Vista carried over the Roger Corman/Ron Howard audio commentary from the earlier release, but not the interview with Corman and Howard (13:39). Buena Vista did add “A Family Affair” (8:39), an interview with Rance and Clint Howard. Shout Factory has carried all of these extras over and added a second commentary with Rance Howard, second unit director Arkush, editor Dante, and key grip Ben Haller. Both commentaries are interesting, with Howard pointing out all of his relatives (his aunt recruited all the senior citizens for the bus scene and his wife and in-laws provided the catering), actors who would later become regulars the films he directed, and all of the crew members doubling as actors. The New Concorde disc also featured the excerpt from the Corman interview by Maltin focusing on GRAND THEFT AUTO, and it has been carried over here (5:30). The theatrical trailer (2:18) and two 30-second TV spots round out the package. Fans of Howard and Corman may already have the earlier individual releases of these two titles, but THE RON HOWARD ACTION PACK compiles extras from the previous releases and includes new ones, as well as new 16:9 transfers for less than $20! (Eric Cotenas)
BACK TO REVIEWS