The Van (1977 film)

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The Van
The Van 1977 poster.jpg
Directed by Sam Grossman
Produced by Paul Lewis
Marilyn Jacobs Tenser (executive producer)
Written by Celia Susan Cotelo
Robert J. Rosenthal
Starring Stuart Getz
Deborah White
Danny DeVito
Harry Moses
Marcie Barkin
Bill Adler
Stephen Oliver
Connie Lisa Marie
Music by Steve Eaton
Sammy Johns
Michael Lloyd
Distributed by Crown International Pictures
Release date
April 7, 1977
Running time
92 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4.5 million[1] or $19 million[2]

The Van is a low-budget teenage comedy film directed by Sam Grossman, primarily released to drive-in theaters in 1977.[3] The titular van was customized by George Barris, along with several other vans appearing in the film.[4] It was released at the height of the vansploitation genre,[5] and was followed by the 1978 film Malibu Beach, in which Stephen Oliver reprised his role as bully Dugan Hicks.


The film tells the story of the high-school graduate Bobby, who buys a customized 1977 Dodge D300 Tradesman van (including a waterbed), with his college savings, in order to use it to pick up women. Bobby's desperate quest to have sex leads him into a number of disappointing experiences. His ultimate goal is to win over Sally, the blonde bombshell girlfriend of his arch nemesis Dugan. Dugan is a burly, tough, and heavily tattooed neighborhood bully who seems determined to have the fastest van in town.


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 over-sized 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.

The overriding message of The Van seems to be: “Yes, vans are awesome, but eventually you have to get over that and grow the hell up.”

— Jason Coffman, article about the Vansploitation genre.[5]


The films shows stereotypical teenagers whose social lives revolve around getting high, drag racing and girls. The movie 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.


  • Bobby Hampton - the movie's protagonist, Bobby is a recent high-school graduate who buys a customized van, to try and win the girl of his dreams; it is not uncommon to see him and his best friend, Jack, drag-racing and spending time at the pub.
  • Andy - Bobby's boss, played by Danny DeVito, after getting stuck inside of a car in the front seat, Bobby helps him by stabbing him with a pin forcing Andy to wriggle free from the car and to safety. Gets into trouble after making a bet (and losing) with gangsters. He runs a gambling racket from within his car wash.
  • Jack Crandall - Bobby Hampton's best friend, Jack is the more sensible one between the two and prefers to settle for Sue, a girl from his high school and Tina's best friend, other than chasing girls all the time; Jack is attacked by Bobby's co-workers after Bobby pulls a prank on them by spiking their beer.
  • Tina - Bobby's girlfriend, opting to live a sensible life, getting good grades and have sensible sex, Tina eventually falls for Bobby after realizing how hard Bobby 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, known by his close friend as Dougy, 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). Dugan is put in his place after being beaten in a drag race by Bobby.
  • 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 (on one occasion a basketballer, played by professional wrestler Rock Riddle, simply says, "Hi" to Sally and is punished for it by Dugan, after Dugan pours beer down the basketballer's pants). Sally has sex with Bobby on one occasion to prove how unhappy she is with the way Dugan treats people and tells Bobby he is bigger than Dugan.

Soundtrack music[edit]

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 both the opening title theme song and the musical bed for the scene where Jack and Sue have sex in the back of Bobby’s van, 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.


  1. ^ Richard Nowell, Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle Continuum, 2011 p 256
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ See IMDb links.
  4. ^ Barris, George (1996). Barris TV and Movie Cars. MBI Publishing Company. p. 75. 
  5. ^ a b "Jason Coffman: A brief guide to vansploitation cinema, page 1". 

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