The sto­ry behind Grand Theft Auto is a minor b-movie leg­end.  When Ron Howard signed on to star in Eat My Dust, he pro­posed the idea that he might get to direct a film for Roger Corman after­wards.  Corman said he’d think about it, main­ly to ensure Howard would sign on for Eat My Dust, but he took the offer a lit­tle more seri­ous­ly when their first team effort was a big hit.  Howard devised a sto­ry with his dad’s help that ensured he could both star and direct at the same time and Corman signed off.

The end result was one of the most enter­tain­ing flicks in the 1970’s car-chase cycle, a fast-paced romp that Howard admits was inspired by It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.  He gets the action going imme­di­ate­ly by hav­ing young adult love­birds Paula Powers (Nancy Morgan) and Ron Freeman (Howard) run off to Vegas for elope­ment pur­pos­es when her wealthy aspir­ing-politi­co dad Bigby (Barry Cahill) says no.  Bigby wants his daugh­ter to mar­ry wealthy Collins (Paul Linke) — and both men jump in their cars, deter­mined to bring Paula back.  When Collins takes off, his mom Vivian also joins in the chase to bring him back.

The com­plex­i­ty of the chase goes through the roof when disc jock­ey Curly Q. (Don Steele) starts report­ing on the hap­pen­ings.  Collins calls in and offers a $25,000 for Nancy’s return.  Not to be out­done, Marion calls in and offers $25,000 for the safe return of Collins.  This inspires a bunch of kooks to join in on the chase, includ­ing dent-head mechan­ics Ace (Clint Howard) and Sparky (Pete Isacksen) as well as a mon­ey-grub­bing preacher (Hoke Howell).  Pretty soon, every­one from a car of low-rid­ers to the Mafia are burn­ing rub­ber — and Curly Q. takes to the skies in a copter to keep up his reports as the this crazed car­a­van clos­es in on Las Vegas.

Howard has been mak­ing event movies and Oscar-bait for so long that it is easy to for­get the gift for screen com­e­dy that he showed at the begin­ning of his direct­ing career — and Grand Theft Auto shows this gift was in full force well before Night Shift or Splash.  Howard clear­ly did his home­work on the Corman pro­duc­tion style, deliv­er­ing a film that is col­or­ful and pace-con­scious.  It deliv­ers all the chas­es and grav­i­ty-defy­ing crash­es its sto­ry promis­es but skill­ful­ly uses Howard’s knack for com­e­dy to keep the action fresh.

Howard uses two key weapons to achieve his goals.  The first is obvi­ous: a well-stocked cast of sea­soned comedic play­ers.  Ron Howard deliv­ers a like­able per­for­mance in his trade­mark Richie Cunningham “gee whiz” style but he also has a game part­ner in Morgan, who’s every bit as com­mit­ted to her role.  However, it’s the back­ing play­ers that real­ly add the fire: Linke — soon to be on CHiPs and in Motel Hell — is hilar­i­ous as the bug-eyed, arro­gant ex-fiancée, Howell deliv­ers the hyp­o­crit­i­cal preacher rou­tine with plen­ty of Southern-fried gus­to and Clint Howard and Isacksen do a great job of becom­ing human car­toons as the loud, rude grease-mon­key duo.  Steele is typ­i­cal­ly pro­fes­sion­al in his famil­iar disc jock­ey role — it’s prob­a­bly his best show­ing in a New World film after Death Race 2000It’s also worth not­ing that Ross has great fun tak­ing a break from being “Mrs. C” to play a wealthy snob who gives a cop “the fin­ger” before punch­ing him in the balls.

The oth­er, equal­ly impor­tant weapon in Howard’s arse­nal is the tal­ent­ed gang of New World vet­er­ans mak­ing up his crew.  The film is beau­ti­ful­ly shot by low bud­get peren­ni­al Gary Graver, with an assist from Jamie Anderson on the 2nd unit stuff, and they give the film the bright, slick look it needs to achieve its pop appeal.  The snap­py edit­ing was han­dled by a pre–Piranha Joe Dante and Allan Arkush shot most of the car-crunch­ing action (he did quite well and would per­form the same task on Deathsport).  Vic Rivers chore­o­graphs the auto­mo­tive may­hem beau­ti­ful­ly, with the stunt dri­ving of a team led by Tim Chitwood putting it all over the top.

The final gloss is placed by the musi­cal score of a non-New World-er, off­beat pop musi­cian Peter Ivers: his syn­th-tinged soft rock approach is a fun addi­tion that fur­thers the film’s dis­tinc­tive 1970’s Californian style.

In short, Grand Theft Auto is a keep­er for fans of Corman’s 1970’s pro­duc­tions.  It might be a lit­tle light on sex and vio­lence for Corman afi­ciona­dos weaned on the likes of Death Race 2000 and Humanoids From The Deep but it has the same ener­get­ic spark that the best New World pro­duc­tions have.

The Ron Howard Action Pack

The Ron Howard Action Pack

var addthis_­con­fig = {“data_track_clickback”:true};Eat My Dust: Put the ped­al to the met­al and burn rub­ber with the clutch-pop­ping excite­ment of this new spe­cial edi­tion of Eat My Dust! Young Hoover Niebold is dying to impress Darlene. She’s into going fast, he’s into Darlene — but when they both get into a red-hot race car, the reck­less fun accel­er­ates into a wild ride. They’re off on the open road for a tire-squeal­ing, fend­er-bend­ing adven­ture to who-knows-where — and all Smokey can do is EAT THEIR DUST! Starring Ron Howard, Christopher Norris (Airport 1975), Dave Madden (The Partridge Family) and Ron’s broth­er and father — Clint Howard and Rance Howard.Grand Theft Auto: Cross Romeo & Juliet with a demo­li­tion der­by and you have Grand Theft Auto, Ron Howard’s direc­to­ri­al debut. Can Sam and Paula — a young run­away cou­ple trav­el­ing in her father’s stolen Rolls-Royce — get hitched in Vegas before their par­ents, a jeal­ous boyfriend, a pri­vate detec­tive and a mob of boun­ty hunters catch them? The race is on! Starring Ron Howard, Nancy Morgan (The Nest), Marion Ross (Happy Days) and Ron’s broth­er and father — Clint Howard and Rance Howard.