1974’s “Gone in 60 Seconds” is more than a movie; it’s an event. It is something to behold. It can be regarded in the same way that audiences watched in awe as Evel Knievel jumped his motorcycle over the Grand Canyon, or how many of us watched on YouTube as Felix Baumgartner plummeted from outer space.
Simply put, compared to the pivotal scene – a 40-minute car chase – the rest of “Gone in 60 Seconds” is inconsequential.
This original version of the film (not the remake, circa 2000) is now available on DVD and BluRay. It has many nice bonus features, including a mini-biography of H.B. “Toby” Halicki, the man, who, in true auteur style, willed his vision of a movie with the greatest car chase of all time to the screen. I’m not sure the chase is as memorable as the ones in ”The French Connection” or “Bullitt,” but those scenes were only small parts of their respective movies. The entire purpose of this film, on the other hand, is to provide a high-octane pursuit that includes more wrecks than an entire NASCAR season.
The plot is so quickly dealt with that you might miss it if you blink: an auto theft ring is hired to steal a large number of cars, and are, for the most part, successful – until the ringleader decides to go after just one more, a yellow Ford Mustang. Someone drops a dime on him, but the police must apprehend him first. He takes off in the Mustang and ,for 40 minutes, every cop in the Los Angeles and Long Beach area (“Blues Brothers” style) tries to chase him down.
“Gone in 60 Seconds” is low budget, and it shows: it features no-name actors and a propensity for voiceover. Due to an apparent lack of microphones during filming, the action was filmed first with dialogue spliced in later on, giving the whole project a documentary-like feel at times. The overall vibe almost recalls a “Blacksploitation” project. Altogether, these factors are the film’s key strength: its roughness is charming.
H.B. Halicki is no Ed Wood, trying too hard and producing something people love because it’s easy to laugh at. “Gone in 60 Seconds” displays a creative awareness, a working knowledge of its heavy cheese factor, and it’s easy to see why audiences supported it.
Still, were it not for this prolonged car chase that concludes the movie,” Gone in 60 Seconds” surely would have been a flop. I’m not certain what the budget was for the original, but the remake cost close to $100 million – that’s the best stunts, effects, and production value money can buy. The original had nothing near this amount to work with, but still delivers a scene that will thrill any car junkie. In this sense, the original work is an astounding achievement. Most independent productions are considered a success if they can pull off a small set piece; this film is almost entirely a set piece.
I was fortunate to be able to ask the widow of H.B. Halicki (tragically, he died in a filming accident during the production of “Gone in 60 Seconds 2” in 1989), Denice Halicki, who also co-produced the 2000 version, a few questions about the film’s past and future.
Q: Did you and Toby have any idea the movie would do so well or be a cult classic?
A: Toby knew cars like people know their names. He grew up in Dunkirk, New York, where his family owned Halicki’s Tow Truck and Junkyard business. He loved cars, even wrecked ones. At the age of 15, Toby left his home and came to California with his uncle. Soon, Toby was customizing cars, but he also loved movies. Toby wanted to make one of the greatest car chase movies ever and as true to life as he could. Toby and Eleanor [the name of the Ford Mustang featured in the big chase] captured the hearts of the fans around the world. I don’t think anyone could have ever have guessed the wonderful following “Gone in 60 Seconds” and Eleanor have around the world to this day.
Q: Did Toby care how the movie would be received, or was he simply making it because he wanted to?
A: Toby wanted everyone to fall in love with his action packed, hair raising 40-minute-chase scene and his star car character Eleanor. Toby poured his heart and soul into Gone in 60 Seconds and creating Eleanor his leading lady. Toby was a man with a vision, and no one was going to stop him or his leading lady Eleanor.
Q: The original “Gone in 60 Seconds” was low budget with big name cast. It had no spit and polish and not too much story, but it had charm, which is why it became so popular. Do you think the remake should have been as big and flash as it was?
A: I believe it is a great tribute and honor to Toby, the original “Gone in 60 Seconds”, and Eleanor for truly the best in Hollywood to have come together to do the big blockbuster remake in 2000. How can you not love Nicolas Cage, Angelina Jolie, Robert Duvall, Jerry Bruckheimer, Disney and so many more that joined me to bring a new generation “Gone in 60 Seconds” and Eleanor? Both have an amazing place in cinema history and in the hearts of fans around the world.
Q: Was there any reason it took so long to get the original on DVD/BluRay?
A: It was the right time. BluRay is so amazing, and it really makes the 1974 movie look and feel like Toby just shot it yesterday. The cars and Eleanor look like they came off the showroom floor.
Q: What’s next for you and for the “Gone in 60 Seconds” saga?
A: I always wanted to finish what Toby and I started with “Gone in 60 Seconds 2” (1989), which was not a sequel or a remake, and it was not based off the 1974 “Gone in 60 Seconds.” In 1989, Toby and I began filming “Gone in 60 Seconds 2.” This is about a professional international thief who specializes in high profile jobs, and the thief unwittingly becomes the central figure in a cross-continental-duel-to-the-death to locate a secret item and steal it … before it falls in the clutches of the most feared man alive. Maybe we will do this movie independently. … [There are] lots of exciting things to come.