The Van (1977 film)
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|Directed by||Sam Grossman|
|Produced by||Paul Lewis|
Marilyn Jacobs Tenser (executive producer)
|Written by||Celia Susan Cotelo|
Robert J. Rosenthal
Connie Lisa Marie
|Music by||Steve Eaton|
|Distributed by||Crown International Pictures|
|April 7, 1977|
|Box office||$4.5 million or $19 million|
The Van is a low-budget teenage comedy film directed by Sam Grossman and starring Stuart Getz, Deborah White, Danny DeVito, Harry Moses, Marcie Barkin, Bill Adler, Stephen Oliver, and Connie Lisa Marie. The screenplay concerns high school graduate Bobby, who buys a customized 1976 Dodge D300 Tradesman van (including a waterbed) with his college savings to pick up women. His desperate quest for sex leads him into a number of disappointing experiences. His ultimate goal is to win over Sally, the blonde bombshell girlfriend of his nemesis Dugan. Dugan is a burly, tough and heavily tattooed neighborhood bully who seems determined to have the fastest van in town. Primarily released to drive-in theaters in 1977, the film was released at the height of the vansploitation genre. It was followed by the 1978 film Malibu Beach, in which Stephen Oliver reprised his role as bully Dugan Hicks.
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Bobby and his best friend, Jack, sabotage their high-school graduation ceremony by rigging the stage to collapse. After leaving the graduation ceremony, Bobby and Jack (Harry Moses) drive up to another van and notice Sally (Connie Lisa Marie), his secret high-school crush, sitting alone inside, eating ice cream. Bobby cannot look away from her and expresses his fantasy to "be with" her just once. Dugan returns to the van and disapproves of Bobby's attention. Bobby and Jack run across Sue (Marcie Barkin) and Tina (Deborah White), and they attempt to arrange dates with them that evening. Sue is interested in Jack, but Tina states she is neither interested in Bobby nor other boys because they only care about sex.
Bobby works in a car wash. Bobby's boss Andy (Danny DeVito) is also a bookmaker, who refuses taking a high-risk bet from an old lady called Bertha. Bobby's co-workers send his convertible into the car wash with the roof down, but Bobby plans buying a van anyway - not just any van, but a custom van with items like a waterbed, a ceiling mirror, a refrigerator, a toaster, an 8 track and multiple television sets. Bobby then gets revenge on his co-workers while showing off his new van by giving them beers spiked with laxatives.
In a bar, Bobby unsuccessfully approaches women, including Sally. Finally, a pinball playing girl agrees sharing a joint in his van. Though going hand-in-hand, she objects his moves. Laughing it off, he tries raping her, but Bobby discovers she has stuffed her oversized bra with wads of toilet paper, and she runs off. Up next is a Mexican girl, who removes her top but demands payment. Another woman is also a prostitute, and her pimp barges in for payment.
Afterwards, Bobby and Jack force Sue and Tina to stop their car. Sue drives off with Jack, and Tina joins Bobby in the van. They plan to meet up again later at the beach, but Jack and Sue don't arrive until the next morning. Bobby and Tina form an uneasy truce and sleep in the van without fooling around. Eventually, they share a joint. When Jack and Sue return in the morning, Bobby makes them think that he is in the van having sex with Tina, who is actually out on the beach.
After dropping Tina home, Bobby spots Sally with a see-through wetlook in the car wash. After seeing her making out with Dugan, Bobby stops by a quiet take-out place. The take-out waitress praises his van, so he offers sharing a joint on the waterbed. Noting she likes waterbeds, she says she doesn't have time for a joint, but does have some time for a quickie. She steps out from behind the counter and Bobby gasps at her very large buttocks. Once she is nude in the van, Bobby tries a pickup line, but barely finishes it, when she throws and mounts him on the waterbed. He protests, but she obviously rapes him, breaking the waterbed in the process. Bobby mentions her buttocks' size to Jack, and notes he never knew sex could be so physical.
After tricking Bobby and Tina to join them to a van spot, at a local beach, Jack and Sue have sex in the back with occasional voyeurs in their window. Bobby and Tina see other vans, before Tina is nearly run over during the van drag races. Bobby and Tina get close, until Bobby again tries getting physical. Tina drives off in the van with Jack and Sue in the back, leaving Bobby to walk home.
When Andy reveals he got beat up for not paying for a winning high-risk bet, Bobby volunteers his van's down payment. After getting rejected when approaching Tina's window, Bobby visits Sally's house. Sally says she feels abandoned by Dugan, and Bobby finds himself with her in his van. Unzipping him, she notes he is bigger than Dugan. Taking off her top, they proceed to have sex.
The following morning, Tina runs across Bobby in a diner and agrees going together inside, where they meet Jack and Sue. Dugan then enters, lifts Bobby up and says he saw Bobby's van last night around Sally's place. Jack stalls Dugan, but Tina doesn't want to see Bobby again. Refusing to give up again, Bobby kidnaps her. Dugan drive chases Bobby, and the police join in. Bobby escapes, but Tina pleads to get freed. Bobby finally stops when she agrees hearing his side. He says he got the van to succeed with girls, but it changed upon meeting Tina. Tina says she too could never play "the game", and they have sex.
Bobby drag-races Dugan to regain his money, but not before mentioning he really was at Sally's place. Dugan tries crashing Bobby, but eventually crashes himself into a police car. In result, Bobby's van turns over. Tina, Sue, Jack and Andy are relieved when Bobby is neither dead nor injured. Jack notes Bobby even won the race.
Bobby leaves in Tina's convertible. Tina asks if he really was with Sally, and Bobby replies that Sally said he is "bigger than Dugan," but Tina just laughs.
- Bobby Hampton - the movie's protagonist. Bobby is a recent high-school graduate who spends his college money to buy a customized van to try and win the girl of his dreams.
- Jack Crandall - Bobby Hampton's best friend, Jack is the more sensible one between the two and is interested in Sue, a girl from his high school (and Tina's best friend).
- Tina - The high school valedictorian, and Sue's best friend, she tries to live a sensible life, getting good grades and preparing for college. She is not interested in Bobby or his van, but eventually falls for Bobby after realizing how hard he is actually trying to get her.
- Sue - As Tina's best friend, she is a lot wilder than Tina, expressing sexual freedom and partying; Sue tries to convince Tina to go out with Bobby after she starts to date Bobby's best friend, Jack.
- Dugan Hicks - the movie's antagonist. Dugan is likely to be seen in the pub picking fights with people, lifting weights, or drag racing (often in an unfair manner). Dugan dislikes Bobby because Bobby tries to sleep with Sally (Dugan's girlfriend).
- Sally - Being Dugan Hicks' girlfriend, she is shown as being very sexually provocative, no-one dares to even talk to Sally in fear of Dugan's wrath. Sally has sex with Bobby on one occasion to prove how unhappy she is with the way Dugan treats people.
- Andy - Bobby's boss, played by Danny DeVito, who has a side-business as a bookie. Gets into trouble after making a bet (and losing) with gangsters.
Production on The Van began on November 8, 1976, with locations in Moorpark, Whittier, Stanton, and Malibu, California. Legendary car customizer George Barris was commissioned to build two Dodge D300 extended-length Tradesman vans, with one being the primary picture car, and a backup that was used for all stunt driving scenes. An additional van, the antagonists "Van Killer," was built by Barris as well, while the vans in the "van show" sequence were all various local Southern California customs.
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The music heard on the film's soundtrack is mainly material originally recorded for the small GRC Records label in Atlanta, several years previously by Sammy Johns, most prominently his 1975 hit single "Chevy Van". The hit serves as the opening title theme song, despite the glaring discrepancy of Bobby's van being a Dodge rather than a Chevrolet. Five of the Johns' recordings that appear ("Chevy Van", "Early Morning Love", "Jenny", "Rag Doll" and "Hang My Head and Moan") were originally recorded in 1973, for the GRC album Sammy Johns and appear in their 1975 remix versions from the second edition of that album. Five more songs ("Country Lady", "You're So Sweet", "Peas in a Pod", "Bless My Soul" and "Hey, Mr. Dreamer"), apparently dating from recording sessions for a follow-up GRC album, were used for both the film and soundtrack album. This follows a pattern Crown International had established in 1976, when the studio used Cotton, Lloyd & Christian, a 1975 album issued by 20th Century Records, as the source for all of the music in The Pom Pom Girls. In fact, the soundtrack album for The Van credits group member Michael Lloyd with "Musical Supervision" and the LP was released by Warner/Curb Records, in which Lloyd was an executive and producing chart hits by Shaun Cassidy and Debby Boone that same year.
The film shows stereotypical teenagers whose social lives revolve around getting high, drag racing and girls. The film features music from Sammy Johns (most notably the song Chevy Van), and is representative of its time. It exemplifies the free sex of an era before herpes and AIDS awareness, and celebrates the cultural tropes of the time, such as the heavily accessorized van that provides the film's title and the van's obligatory 8-track player. The film is an early example of a relatively new type of teen comedy, which featured sexual situations, nudity and substance abuse, very different from the Beach Party films of the early 1960s, with their no-nudity, drug-free plots. The Van was one of a set of four Crown International Pictures releases (the others being The Pom Pom Girls, Malibu Beach and Van Nuys Blvd.) that helped herald a form that would be exemplified by 1980 with The Hollywood Knights and later with the Porky's series.
The film is referenced in every single episode of the Grindbin Podcast, a podcast dedicated to the discussion of exploitation films. The Van was the subject of the very first episode. This led to a running gag where at the end of every subsequent episode, the hosts would imagine absurd scenarios wherein Bobby and Andy (DeVito's character) would cross over to the universe of whatever film they were discussing.
- Richard Nowell, Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle Continuum, 2011 p 256
- A Woman's Place Is in... Exploitation Films?: A Trend-Setter in the Youth Market Women in Exploitation Films Gross, Linda. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 Feb 1978: p34.
- See IMDb links.
- "Jason Coffman: A brief guide to vansploitation cinema, page 1".
- Barris, George (1996). Barris TV and Movie Cars. MBI Publishing Company. p. 75.
- "AFI Catalogue of Feature Films: THE FIRST 100 YEARS 1893–1993".