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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Zemeckis|
|Produced by||Bob Gale|
|Written by||Robert Zemeckis
|Music by||Patrick Williams|
|Cinematography||Donald M. Morgan|
|Edited by||Michael Kahn|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Release date(s)||July 11, 1980|
|Running time||113 minutes|
|Box office||$11,715,321 (USA, 1980)|
Kurt Russell portrays a devious car salesman working for affable but monumentally unsuccessful used car dealer Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden). Luke's principal rival, located directly across the street, is his more prosperous brother, Roy L. Fuchs (also played by Warden), who is scheming to take over Luke's lot.
The movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Zemeckis and his long-time writing partner Bob Gale. The executive producers were Steven Spielberg and John Milius. The original music score was composed by Patrick Williams.
Filmed primarily in Mesa, Arizona, the movie was released on July 11, 1980. Although not a box-office success at the time, it has since developed cult film status due to its dark, cynical humor and the Zemeckis style. It is also marketed with the tagline "Like new, great looking and fully loaded with laughs."
Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) is a young and cunning used car salesman in Phoenix with aspirations of running for senate. He works at the struggling New Deal used car lot owned by the elderly Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), who agrees to help invest $10,000 in Rudy's campaign if he promises to keep the business alive. Meanwhile, across the street, Luke's younger brother Roy L. Fuchs (also played by Warden) is desperate to keep his used car lot from being demolished and replaced by a proposed freeway exit. Wanting to collect life insurance money and New Deal from Luke, Roy hires his mechanic, ex-demolition derby driver Mickey (Michael Talbott), to recklessly drive Luke's 1957 Chevrolet Two-Ten coupe around the block with Luke in the passenger's seat. After the Chevy crashes back into the lot, Luke dies of a heart attack, but leaves Rudy with evidence that Roy staged the "accident". In an attempt to prevent Roy from gaining any inheritance, Rudy has his superstitious co-worker Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and mechanic Jim (Frank McRae) help him bury Luke in the lot's backyard in an Edsel that was once New Deal's sign ornament. They explain to Roy that Luke went on a vacation to Miami.
The next night, Rudy and his friends make an illegal live broadcast of their commercial in the middle of a football game, but it goes awry when Jeff finds out the car on display is red (which he believes is bad luck) and female model Margaret (Cheryl Rixon) has her dress stuck on the hood ornament - which rips and exposes her when the hood is popped open. The commercial results in New Deal receiving a massive number of customers the next day. In one deal, Jeff cons a family into buying a station wagon by having the lot's mascot dog Toby fake being run over during a test drive. While Roy lures customers in his lot by hiring a circus animal service, Rudy counters with a live stripper show. Luke's estranged daughter Barbara Jane (Deborah Harmon) visits the lot in hopes of reuniting with him after more than ten years, but Rudy conceals the truth about her father by taking her out on a date, which inadvertently convinces her to stay in town for a while.
Rudy's gang then broadcasts another commercial in the middle of Jimmy Carter's presidential address, destroying some of Roy's used cars in the process - most notably his prized Mercedes SL. In retaliation, Roy storms into New Deal and attacks Jeff before discovering Luke's resting place. Roy brings the police to New Deal to dig through the backyard the next day, but Jim had taken the Edsel out of the pit, and he rigs it to crash on a power transformer and explode - making everyone believe Luke was killed in the fiery accident, and destroying the evidence in the process. Roy believes he now has possession of New Deal, but Rudy points out that Barbara is effectively the new owner. Barbara, however, discovers the fiasco over her father's death and fires Rudy. As a final means of shutting down New Deal, Roy has his connections in a local TV station alter Barbara's commercial to imply that she has a mile of cars; he then pushes a trumped-up charge of false advertising.
Meanwhile, Rudy's luck changes when he wins a bet on a football game, guaranteeing him enough money for his campaign. Once he discovers that Barbara has been sent to court for false advertising, though, Rudy rushes in and convinces her to tell the court she actually does have a mile of cars. However, in order to avoid a charge of perjury, she must prove it in front of Judge H. H. Harrison (Al Lewis) by having over 250 cars on her lot by 2:45 p.m. Rudy spends his senate investment on buying 250 cars from Mexican dealer Manuel (Alfonso Arau) and having 250 student drivers deliver them to New Deal in less than two hours. After overcoming Roy's attempt at disrupting the resulting convoy and Jeff's superstition of driving a red car, the drivers arrive in time, with the total measurements just long enough to equal a mile; thus saving the used car lot. Rudy and Barbara are then informed by Roy's former attorney Sam Slaton (Joe Flaherty) that once the freeway ramp across the street is constructed New Deal will become the largest dealership in town.
- Kurt Russell as Rudy Russo
- Jack Warden as Roy L. Fuchs and Luke Fuchs
- Gerrit Graham as Jeff
- Frank McRae as Jim
- Deborah Harmon as Barbara Jane Fuchs
- Joe Flaherty as Sam Slaton
- David L. Lander as Freddie Paris
- Michael McKean as Eddie Winslow
- Michael Talbott as Mickey
- Harry Northup as Carmine
- Alfonso Arau as Manuel
- Cheryl Rixon as Margaret
- Al Lewis as Judge H. H. Harrison
- Woodrow Parfrey as Mr. Chartner
- Dub Taylor as Tucker
- Betty Thomas as Bunny
- Dick Miller as Man in Bed
- The movie was filmed at the working Darner Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Mesa, Arizona. The dealership served as the setting for "Roy L. Fuchs Pre-owned Automobiles", while a vacant lot across the street served as the setting for "New Deal Used Cars". The vacant lot now has an apartment complex while the Chrysler Bankruptcy caused the Darner dealership to lose its Chrysler affiliation. Many local police officers worked in the film in several capacities, including the "cowboy" Shotgun role.
- Kurt Russell produced some commercials for Darner's inviting customers to come in and shop while the movie was still being filmed.
- In the scene where Rudy and Jeff are burying the Edsel on the lot and are confronted by Roy and Sam over Luke's whereabouts, Gerrit Graham repeated some of Kurt Russell's lines, which was not in the script. Jack Warden was so angered over the impromptu ad-libbing that he ended the scene with his own ad-libbed 'what are you, a fuckin' parrot?' directed at Graham.
- According to Bob Gale, Jack Warden had initially passed on the role of Roy Fuchs but agreed to play the role under the condition that he be able to play Luke Fuchs, since he was interested in playing both dual roles and the role of a dead man.
- Luke Fuch's old Edsel switches back and forth between 1958 and 1959 model years. When it is on top of the pole as a sign, it is a 1959 model. When it is dropped to the ground to bury Luke, and when it is dug up, started and drives across the lot with the dead Luke behind the wheel, it is a 1958 model. When it hits the transformer, it is again a 1959 model Edsel, with a turquoise scallop painted on the side to match the 1958 car (only 1958 models have this feature).
Used Cars was met with positive reviews, based on 17 reviews Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 76%. Bill Chambers of Film Freak Central gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, saying it "makes us wish that Robert Zemeckis had directed every T&A comedy of the period." Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote, "...a movie that has more laughs in it than any film of the summer except Airplane! It wipes out...just about every other recent comedy aimed, I assume, at an otherwise television-hooked public."
- Internet Movie Database. Box office/Business for Used Cars (1980). Retrieved on April 18, 2009.
- Max Jarman (June 13, 2009). "For Mesa's Darner family, Chrysler era is over". The Arizona Republic.
- Used Cars at Rotten Tomatoes
- Film Freak Central - Used Cars
- Vincent Canby (August 22, 1980). "Used Cars (1980) 'USED CARS,' BUMPER-CRUNCHER FARCE". The New York Times.
- Roger Ebert - Used Cars