Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Love Bug (1969)

The Love Bug  (Dir: Robert Stevenson, 1969). 

Released three years after the death of the its founder, Walt Disney Productions’ The Love Bug continued the tradition of fantasy comedies established by the studio a decade earlier with The Shaggy Dog (Charles Barton, 1959). It introduced Herbie, the anthropomorphic VW Beetle, to cinema audiences and would prove a massive hit for Disney, spawning a franchise which would include four theatrical sequels, a TV series and a made for TV movie. 

The movie stars Dean Jones as washed up racing driver Jim Douglas whose fortunes are reversed thanks to the lovable VW Bug. He is pitted against arch rival David Thorndyke, who uses every dirty trick in the book to defeat Douglas in a cross-country race, the stakes of which are ownership of Herbie. 

Disney regular Jones and love interest Michelle Lee make for attractive leads and prove themselves adept at light comedy. Less subtle, but just as effective are Buddy Hackett as a kooky new age mechanic and Joe Flynn as Thorndyke’s long suffering assistant. Best of all is the magnificent David Tomlinson as the comically villainous Thorndyke. 

Ultimately the star is, of course, the car; brought to life through a combination of impressive stunt work and pre-CGI effects that hold up fine 50 years after release. Herbie has an endearing puppy dog charm and more personality than most humans! 

Bill Walsh and Don Da Gradi’s screenplay mixes slapstick humour with some genuinely witty dialogue while Robert Stevenson, arguably the greatest director on the Disney roster, brings his flair for whimsical fantasy to what might be his best work after Mary Poppins (1964). The Love Bug was to become the highest grossing movie of 1969 and one of the highest earners of all time. It’s easy to see why. With its winning mix of racetrack thrills and good natured laughs, it is a deftly performed, expertly crafted gem. 

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