The Love Bug
|The Love Bug|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Stevenson|
|Produced by||Bill Walsh|
|Written by||Bill Walsh
|Music by||George Bruns|
|Edited by||Cotton Warburton|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distribution|
The Love Bug (sometimes referred to as Herbie the Love Bug) is a 1968 American comedy film and the first in a series of films made by Walt Disney Productions that starred an anthropomorphic pearl-white, fabric-sunroofed 1963 Volkswagen racing Beetle named Herbie. It was based on the 1961 book Car, Boy, Girl by Gordon Buford.
The movie follows the adventures of Herbie, Herbie's driver, Jim Douglas (Dean Jones), and Jim's love interest, Carole Bennett (Michele Lee). It also features Buddy Hackett as Jim's enlightened, kind-hearted friend, Tennessee Steinmetz, a character who creates "art" from used car parts. English actor David Tomlinson portrays the villainous Peter Thorndyke, owner of an auto showroom and an SCCA national champion who sells Herbie to Jim and eventually becomes Jim's racing rival.
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In 1968, Jim Douglas is a down-on-his luck racing driver, reduced to competing in demolition derby races against drivers half his age. Jim lives in an old fire house overlooking San Francisco Bay with his friend and mechanic, Tennessee Steinmetz, a jolly Brooklynite who constantly extols the virtues of spiritual enlightenment, having spent time amongst Buddhist monks in Tibet, and builds "art" from car parts. After yet another race ends in a crash (and Tennessee turns his Edsel into a sculpture), Jim finds himself without a car and heads into town in search of some cheap wheels. He is enticed into an upmarket European car showroom after setting eyes on an attractive sales assistant and mechanic, Carole Bennett. Jim witnesses the dealership's British owner, Peter Thorndyke, being unnecessarily abusive towards a white Volkswagen Beetle that rolls into the showroom, and defends the car's honor, much to Thorndyke's displeasure. The following morning Jim is shocked to find that the car is parked outside his house and that Thorndyke is pressing charges for grand theft. A heated argument between Jim and Thorndyke is settled when Carole persuades Thorndyke to drop the charges if Jim buys the car on a system of monthly payments.
Jim soon finds the car is prone to going completely out of his control and believes Thorndyke has conned him. Tennessee, however, believes certain inanimate objects to have hearts and minds of their own and tries to befriend the car, naming it Herbie. Jim's feelings about his new acquisition soon improve when it appears Herbie is intent on bringing him and Carole together. He also discovers Herbie to have an incredible turn of speed for a car of his size and decides to take him racing. After watching Jim and Herbie win their first race together, Thorndyke, himself a major force on the local racing scene, offers to cancel the remaining payments Jim owes on Herbie if Jim can win a race that they will both be competing in at Riverside later that month. Jim accepts, and despite Thorndyke's underhanded tactics, he and Herbie take victory. Over the next few months they go on to become the toast of the Californian racing circuit, while Thorndyke suffers increasingly humiliating defeats. Thorndyke finally snaps, and persuades Carole to take Jim out on a date while he sneaks round to Jim's house. After getting Tennessee drunk on his own Irish coffee recipe, Thorndyke proceeds to tip the remainder of the alcoholic coffee and whipped cream into Herbie's gas tank. At the following day's race, an apparently hungover Herbie shudders to a halt and backfires while Thorndyke blasts to victory. However, as the crowd admires Thorndyke's victory, Herbie blows some whipped cream out of his exhaust pipe, covering Thorndyke.
That evening, Jim returns home in a brand new Lamborghini 400GT, having agreed to sell Herbie to Thorndyke to pay the remaining installments he owes on it. Jim states he needs a "real car" for the upcoming El Dorado road race, but finds no sympathy from Tennessee, Carole, or Herbie, who jealously proceeds to smash up the Lamborghini, proving to Jim once and for all he has a mind of his own. By the time Thorndyke arrives to collect Herbie, he is nowhere to be found, and Jim sets off into the night hoping to find Herbie and make amends before the car is seized by Thorndyke's goons. After narrowly escaping being torn apart in Thorndyke's workshop, and a destructive spree through Chinatown, during the Chinese New Year's parade, Herbie is about to launch himself off the Golden Gate Bridge when Jim reaches him. In his attempt to stop Herbie from driving off the bridge, Jim nearly falls into the water. Herbie pulls Jim back to safety, but then is impounded by the San Francisco Police Department. There, Tang Wu, (Benson Fong) a Chinese businessman whose store was damaged during Herbie's rampage, demands compensation that Jim can no longer afford. Using the Chinese he learned while in Tibet, Tennessee tries to reason with Wu, and learns that he is a huge racing fan who knows all about Jim and Herbie's exploits. Wu is willing to drop the charges in exchange for becoming Herbie's new owner. Jim agrees to this, as long as Wu allows him to race the car in the El Dorado. If Jim wins, Wu will be able to keep the prize money, but has to sell Herbie back for a dollar. Wu replies to this proposal in clear English: "Now you speak my language!"
The El Dorado runs through the Sierra Nevada mountains from Yosemite Valley to Virginia City and back. Before the start of the race, Thorndyke persuades Wu to make a wager with him on its outcome. Thorndyke (with his assistant Havershaw acting as co-driver) pulls every trick in the book to ensure he and his Thorndyke Special are leading at end of the first leg of the race. As a result of Thorndyke's shenanigans, Jim (with Carole and Tennessee as co-drivers) limps home last with Herbie missing two wheels and having to use a wagon wheel to get to the finish line. Despite Tennessee's best efforts, it looks as if Herbie will be unable to start the return leg of the race the following morning. Thorndyke then arrives and claims that this makes him the new owner of the car. Wu regretfully tells Jim of the wager and that in accordance with its terms this is true. Thorndyke, thinking he is Herbie's new owner, gloats to Jim about what he's going to do to Herbie and kicks Herbie's front fender, and punches Jim, but Herbie then unexpectedly lurches into life and chases Thorndyke from the scene, showing he is more than willing to race on. Thanks to some ingenious shortcuts, Jim is able to make up for lost time in the second leg and is neck and neck with Thorndyke as they approach the finish line. In the ensuing dogfight, Herbie's hastily welded-together body splits in two. The back half (carrying Tennessee and the engine) crosses the line just ahead of Thorndyke, while the front (carrying Jim and Carole) rolls over the line just behind, meaning Herbie takes both first and third place.
In accordance with the terms of the wager, Wu takes over Thorndyke's car dealership (hiring Tennessee as his assistant), while Thorndyke and Havershaw are relegated to lowly mechanics. Meanwhile, a fully repaired Herbie chauffeurs the newlywed Jim and Carole away on their honeymoon.
- Dean Jones as Jim Douglas
- Michele Lee as Carole Bennet
- David Tomlinson as Peter Thorndyke
- Buddy Hackett as Tennessee Steinmetz
- Joe Flynn as Havershaw
- Benson Fong as Tang Wu
- Joe E. Ross as Detective
- Barry Kelley as Police sergeant
- Iris Adrian as Carhop
- Gary Owens as Announcer
Story and development
Dean Jones credited the film's success to the fact that it was the last live action Disney film produced under Walt Disney's involvement, just two years after his death in 1966. Although Jones tried to pitch him a serious, straightforward film project concerning the story of the first sports car ever brought to the United States, Walt suggested a different and much better car story for him, which was Car, Boy, Girl, a story written in 1961 by Gordon Buford.
Car, Boy, Girl, The Magic Volksy, The Runaway Wagen, Beetlebomb, Wonderbeetle, Bugboom and Thunderbug were among the original development titles considered for the film before the title was finalized as The Love Bug.
Peter Thorndyke's yellow "Special" is actually a 1965 Apollo GT, a rare sports car built in the United States by International Motorcars in Oakland, California. It used an Italian-designed body along with a small-block Buick V8 engine. This car exists today, is in the hands of a private collector, and has been restored as it was seen in the film with its yellow paint and number 14 logo.
Before film began production, the titular car was not specified as a Volkswagen Beetle, and Disney set up a casting call for a dozen cars to audition. In the lineup, there were a few Toyotas, a TVR, a handful of Volvos, an MG and a pearl white Volkswagen Beetle. The Volkswagen Beetle was chosen as it was the only one that elicited the crew to reach out and pet it.
The Volkswagen brand name, logo or shield does not feature anywhere in the film, as the automaker did not permit Disney to use the name. The only logos can be briefly seen in at least two places, however. The first instance is on the brake pedals during the first scene where Herbie takes control with Jim inside (on the freeway when Herbie runs into Thorndyke's Rolls Royce), and in fact it is shown in all the future scenes when Jim is braking. The second instance is on the ignition key, when Jim tries to shut down the braking Herbie. The later sequels produced, however, do promote the Volkswagen name (as sales of the Beetle were down when the sequels were produced). The VW "Wolfsburg" castle emblem on the steering wheel hub is also seen throughout the car's interior shots.
|Donald Drysdale's number 53 was retired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1984.|
The car was later given the name "Herbie" from one of Buddy Hackett's skits about a ski instructor named Klaus, who speaks with a German accent as he introduces his fellow ski instructors, who are named Hans, Fritz, Wilhelm, and Sandor. At the end of the skit, Hackett would say "If you ain't got a Herbie (pronounced "hoy-bee"), I ain't going."
Herbie's trademark "53" racing number was chosen by producer Bill Walsh, who was a fan of Los Angeles Dodgers baseball player Don Drysdale (Drysdale's jersey number, later retired by the team, was 53).
Walsh also gave Herbie his trademark red, white and blue racing stripes presumably for the more patriotic color and came up with the film's gags such as Herbie squirting oil and opening the doors by himself.
Benson Fong, who played Mr. Wu, said that when he and the others were dragged along the dirt by Herbie, it was like being pulled by 40 horses. The 1961-65 Volkswagen Beetles actually were rated by the SAE at 40 horsepower (30 kW) in factory configuration (though only 34 horsepower (25 kW) by the European DIN system which measured engine output as installed in the car with cooling fan and exhaust system attached)
Herbie has his own cast billing in the closing credits, the only time this was done in the entire series of films.
Today, only a handful of the original Herbie cars are known to exist. Car #10 was recovered from a warehouse in Pennsylvania, and has been preserved-still sporting its original paint from the film.
The bonuses on the DVD provide two deleted scenes named "Used Car Lot" and "Playground".
A scene shot, but not included in the final cut of the film, featured Jim calling at a used car lot prior to his visiting Thorndyke's auto showroom. This missing sequence has long since been lost, and all that remains is the script and a single black-and-white photograph of Jim talking with the salesman at the lot.
An unfilmed scene at the end of the story that was scripted and storyboarded was to have shown Herbie playing with children at a nearby playground prior to taking the newly married Jim and Carole off on their honeymoon.
The opening scene of the demolition derby cars is footage from the film Fireball 500. Parts of this scene can also be found in a 1966-model year dealer promotional film by Chevrolet, titled Impact '66.
Some of the racetrack scenes were shot at the Riverside International Raceway in Riverside, California. Others were filmed at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California and Willow Springs Raceway in Willow Springs, California.
Cast and crew
Andy Granatelli, who was popular at the time as a presence at the Indianapolis 500 as well as the spokesman for STP, appears as himself as the racing association president. Announcer Gary Owens (of Laugh-In fame) and reporter Chick Hearn also appear as themselves. The driving scenes were choreographed by veteran stunt man Carey Loftin.
Drivers in the film billed in the opening credits include Dale Van Sickel, Reg Parton, Regina Parton, Tom Bamford, Bob Drake, Marion J. Playan, Hall Brock, Bill Hickman, Rex Ramsay, Hal Grist, Lynn Grate, Larry Schmitz, Richard Warlock, Dana Derfus, Everett Creach, Gerald Jann, Bill Couch, Ted Duncan, Robert Hoys, Gene Roscoe, Jack Mahoney, Charles Willis, Richard Brill, Roy Butterfield, Rudy Doucette, J.J. Wilson, Jim McCullough, Bud Ekins, Glenn Wilder, Gene Curtis, Robert James, John Timanus, Bob Harris, Fred Krone, Richard Ceary, Jesse Wayne, Jack Perkins, Fred Stromsoe, Ronnie Rondell, and Kim Brewer.
During one scene in the film, Herbie has lost one of his wheels, and Tennessee is hanging out of the passenger side door to balance him. The door opens, and there is no "53" logo on the door. This image was used heavily to promote the film.
The film was the third highest-grossing film of 1968, earning over $51.2 million at the domestic box office. It received mostly positive reviews from critics, earning a 75% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.
Four theatrical sequels followed: Herbie Rides Again, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Herbie Goes Bananas, and Herbie: Fully Loaded. Some parts of the racing sequences from the film were later reused for Herbie's dream sequence in Herbie Rides Again, responding to Grandma Steinmetz's telling Willoughby Whitfield that Herbie used to be a famous racecar.
A five-episode TV series, Herbie, the Love Bug, aired on CBS in the United States in spring 1982. In 1997, there was a made-for-television sequel which included a Dean Jones cameo, tying it to the previous films. The latest entry Herbie: Fully Loaded, was released on June 22, 2005, by Walt Disney Pictures.
A West German film series of five films featuring a similar Volkswagen, called Dudu or Superbug were written and directed by as well as starring Rudolf Zehetgruber.
The film was released on VHS on March 4, 1980. It was re-released on September 11, 1991 and on October 28, 1994 with Herbie Rides Again. It was soon re-released again on September 16, 1997 along with the entire Herbie The Love Bug film series. It was released on DVD for the first time on May 20, 2003. It was released again with its sequels on a four movie collection in 2012. A 45th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Disc was released on December 16, 2014 as a Disney Movie Club exclusive title.
In the scene in which Herbie competes at Laguna Seca, the banner over the start/finish line reads "Monterey Grand Prix". The 1968 Monterey Grand Prix was a Can Am Series race, and did not feature production cars.
- Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, p. 163, ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
- "The Love Bug, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
- DVD commentary, The Love Bug, 2003
- Smith, Sam (May 2014). "Shelby, American". Road & Track. 65 (8): 65.
- "The Love Bug, Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 9, 2012.
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