Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Opie Makes a Movie!

Ron Howard’s directorial debut might have a more interesting story offscreen than the one onscreen – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Ronnie plays Sam, a honest hardworking young fellow in love with Paula (Nancy Morgan – John Ritter’s then wife). Sam and Paula want to get married, but Paula’s rich pop Bigby (Barry Cahill - Coffy) will have none of it, pressuring Paula to marry Collins Hollingsworth (Paul Linke - C.H.I.P.s), whose social standing and riches will be beneficial to Bigby’s gubernatorial run in the coming months. After a quick opening scene establishing this and giving Bigby a chance to yell at Sam, Paula impetuously steals Daddy’s prized Rolls Royce, and she and Sam take off for Las Vegas and a quickie wedding.

Unfortunately, Collins gets wind of this, and he takes off in pursuit, and Bigby sics a hired security team led by Rance Howard (Ron’s Papa) on the couple, and the chase begins. They are joined by Collins’s mother (Marion Ross – the only Happy Days cast member Howard put in the movie – I wonder why?) trying to rescue her son from his impulsive pursuit. Eventually Collins’s mom and Bigby each offer $25,000 to stop the kids. At that point several yahoos put the pedal to the metal, including Hoke Howell (Kingdom of the Spiders), Ken Lerner (Gas Pump Girls), Leo Rossi (Hit List), and the tag team of Pete Isaaksen (CPO Sharkey) and Clint Howard (Ron's bro). Ron's TV boss - Garry Marshall - pops up for a cameo, and you also get the so-right-for-radio-and-so-wrong-for-movies face of super radio personality "The Real" Don Steele, Car stunts and slapstick abound as the motley crew race to Sin City.

Ron Howard was in the midst of a very successful run as the star of the popular Happy Days TV series when Uberproducer Roger Corman approached him to star in a PG-rated car crash comedy called Eat My Dust!. As Ron tells it - he asked if he could direct. Roger said no to that for Eat My Dust! but did say he would allow Ron to direct a second car chase movie. (Corman's brilliance on display: get two movies with a name star instead of one). It’s a very simple story, scripted by Ron and his father Rance, strategically engineered to allow Ron to star but allow his scenes to be quickly block shot so he could be done in front of the camera after only a couple of days and then concentrate on the rest of the movie for the remainder of the schedule.

So how is the movie? Well, as a straight up movie - it's not that great. But as an exercise in nostalgia and as a historical record marking the beginning of a very successful and profitable directing career - it's gold. The stunt work is impeccable and it's nice seeing all the familiar faces.

One of my very favorite quotes about making movies came from this production - when Roger Corman told Ron Howard: "Do a good job directing this movie for me and you'll never have to work for me again." Ha!

The car stunts got featured in other, later, Roger Corman flicks, of course, But mainly, this is the movie that launched the directing career of the man who brought us Night Shift and Splash. (Okay, and A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13.) So it gets a definite recommendation as long as you know what to expect. I guess that poster up there sums it up - 43 cars get wrecked. In between, a lot of familiar faces mug through some strenuous slapstick. And sometimes that's all you need.

Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

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