Self-driving cars have always been a fascination with us, for some reason. And now in this day and age, it’s become a reality.
Even Walt Disney got us into the self-driving car rage with a series of films based on a Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie. This franchise consisted of four theatrically released films and one theatrically released reboot was a great success! Today, we are reviewing the first film in the series, “The Love Bug”.
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
After the credits roll, we delve into the life of Jim Douglas, a racing driver. Jim, played by Dean Jones, has been having a string of bad luck with racing recently: crashing cars and not winning races.
He lives in a house which he shares with a friend named Tennessee Steinmetz, played by Buddy Hackett.
Tennessee tries to convince Jim that maybe racing is not for him and that Jim should try to find another calling. There’s this running joke (well, a running anecdote is a better way of putting it) in the film in which Tennessee often tells of the time that he tried to find his calling by visiting Tibet and hanging out with the swamis and monks there. Wow, Buddy Hackett amongst swamis and monks?! I feel so sorry for those swamis and monks.
Not surprisingly, Tennessee’s Tibetan story doesn’t persuade Jim to leave racing. One day while walking about town, Jim comes across an automobile dealership. He goes inside and is interested in purchasing a car. And of course, the owner of the dealership, Peter Thorndyke, is also eager for Jim to purchase a car.
Yep, Peter Thorndyke is played by good ol’ lovable David Tomlinson! I wonder if anybody’s ever seen a film starring him that WASN’T a Disney film.
But when Mr. Thorndyke discovers that Jim only has $75 to spend, his reaction is somewhat less than cordial.
As Jim turns to leave, a Volkswagen Beetle from the dealership bumps into him. Apparently, the car is an unwanted one that Mr. Thorndyke was supposed to have gotten rid of. Mr. Thorndyke detests the car and shows this by insulting it frequently and kicking its tires. And the great egalitarian Jim can’t tolerate this abuse and stands up to Mr. Thorndyke.
And that’s pretty much the end of that scene. The next day, Jim awakes to find the same Volkswagen Beetle parked outside his house.
He then takes the car back to Mr. Thorndyke’s dealership and accuses him of parking the car in front of his house as a sort of stunt to force Jim into buying the car. Mr. Thorndyke vehemently denies this claim and is uncertain himself as to how the car left the dealership. Nevertheless, Jim finds himself the owner of a brand new VW Beetle.
He drives the car home, when something unexpected happens: the car seems to drive itself.
It appears that the car has a mind of its own. It can drive by itself and override its driver’s commands. Oh my goodness, it must be possessed!
However, Jim cannot see the OBVIOUS truth that his car is alive and blames its erratic behavior (and automatic driving) to mechanical malfunctioning. He takes the car back the next day to Mr. Thorndyke and demands his money back. To prove to him that there’s nothing at all wrong with the car, Mr. Thorndyke’s secretary, Carole Bennett, played by Michelle Lee, offers to take the car on a test drive with Jim. On the drive, everything seems to be fine…that is, until Ms. Bennett allows Jim to drive. Then the car goes wild by driving itself, doing wheelies,
and driving all through the night to a drive-in restaurant without even needing a gas refill.
Ms. Bennett, of course, thinks that Jim is doing all this on purpose just to force her to spend time with him. But when Jim lets her take back the wheel, she realizes that there’s something funny going on.
After all that excitement, Jim decides to keep the car because of its great speed (although he still blames its erraticism on malfunctioning machinery). The next day, when Jim explains to Tennessee what’s been going on, Tennessee (quite oddly) seems to understand it perfectly.
And of course, Jim doesn’t believe him. I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t take philosophy and technology lessons from Buddy Hackett either.
Tennessee also gives the car a name: Herbie, named after his uncle because…I dunno, the shape of Herbie’s front looks like his uncle’s nose or some such explanation.
Jim finally decides to re-enter the racing field, but this time with Herbie as his racecar. And much to everyone’s surprise, the car is a winner indeed!
This upsets Mr. Thorndyke, of course, who (also a proficient racer) makes a bet with Jim that if he beats Jim in an upcoming race, then Herbie will go back to Mr. Thorndyke. Jim agrees to this wager and happily, Jim and Herbie win!
Actually, Jim and Herbie KEEP winning. Race after race ends with Jim and Herbie coming in first place and Mr. Thorndyke getting more and more infuriated. One day, Mr. Thorndyke goes over to Jim’s house when he’s not there and pretends to come with friendly intention. He even manages to engage in conversation over Irish coffee with Tennessee. I have no idea what Irish coffee is, but I’m guessing it’s alcoholic, because after a few drinks, Tennessee is wasted!
This gives Mr. Thorndyke an opportunity to cause some damage to Herbie without Tennessee seeing/knowing. Mr. Thorndyke actually takes his Irish coffee and inserts it into the inner workings of Herbie.
And as expected, Jim and Herbie lose the next race resulting in Mr. Thorndyke’s victory.
Although Tennessee realizes that they lost due to Mr. Thorndyke sabotaging the car, Jim feels that the car let him down and goes out and buys a new one. This upsets both Tennessee and Ms. Bennett (who has quit her job) who accuse Jim of abandoning Herbie.
Even Herbie feels dejected by Jim’s actions and
walks runs drives away from the house and eventually tries to commit suicide from a bridge.
By this time, Jim realizes that Herbie had a mind of his own after all and goes out in the town looking for him. Thankfully, he finds Herbie right before he commits
suicide auto-cide and saves him.
Jim apologizes to Herbie and they quickly mend their relationship. But everything’s not quite rosy as expected. During Herbie’s dejected rampage, he accidentally crashed into several buildings and caused damage, mainly to a store owned by a Mr. Wu, played by Benson Fong. Mr. Wu, who’s a racing enthusiast, decides to drop all charges as long as Jim gives him Herbie. Jim amends this deal by saying that Mr. Wu should let him race Herbie in the big upcoming El Dorado race. If they lose, the car becomes Mr. Wu’s. If not, Mr. Wu keeps the prize money, but sells the car back to Jim for a dollar. Mr. Wu agrees to this.
Finally, the day of the big El Dorado race arrives in which Jim, Tennessee, and Ms. Bennett ride in Herbie against other drivers including good old Mr. Thorndyke. The race is quite long and filled with hijinks including racing through some mines
and Mr. Thorndyke coming into contact with a bear,
but in the end, Herbie, wins…both first and third place!
The film ends with Jim becoming the sole owner of Herbie and marrying Ms. Bennett while Mr. Fu buys Mr. Thorndyke’s dealership and hires Mr. Thorndyke to work for him.
And that was “The Love Bug”, the film that spawned a popular franchise. What do I think of the film? I personally think it’s a bit dated. Not in terms of the ideals it encourages (I love old-fashioned ideals), but because the film was somewhat boring to watch.
The actors do okay to good jobs and the special effects were good for its time. The story had potential to be epic, but doesn’t live up to its potential. And finally, WHY IS IT CALLED “THE LOVE BUG”? I get that it’s a Bug (VW Beetle) and I guess it’s what brings Jim and Ms. Bennett together, so maybe the love refers to the love they quickly develop for each other? I dunno, I’d have preferred, “Herbie, the Wonder-Car” or “Herbie: The Possessed Automobile” or “Come See George Banks in Another Film”.
In the end, I can probably see why someone would watch this film, but it’s not one I hope to be seeing again anytime soon…unless I just watch the scenes with David Tomlinson only!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 20/35 = 57.14% (F) !
The next review will be posted on December 9th.