Should I Watch..? 'Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo' (1977)
What's the big deal?
Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo is a family comedy film released in 1977 and is Disney's third entry in the Herbie series. The film concern the various misadventures of Herbie, a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle apparently with a life all of its own, as well as those responsible for him. In this film, original racing driver owner Dean Jones attempts a comeback in the Paris - Monte Carlo rally whilst running foul of a couple of incompetent jewel thieves along the way. As a result, the film features a large number of racing cars and sports cars from the era. Grossing around $29 million in the US, it failed to capture the same audience that the original film - The Love Bug - did back in 1968. It was, however, followed by another sequel in 1980 called Herbie Goes Bananas before the series was put onto big-screen hiatus until 2005.
What's it about?
Champion race car driver Jim Douglas reunites with Herbie to enter in the Trans-France race from Paris to Monte Carlo in order to attempt a comeback. Alongside his friend and mechanic Wheely Applegate, the pair head off to qualify and run into their main competitors. Bruno Von Stickle is a German driver in a Porsche 917, Frenchman Claude Gilbert is competing in a De Tomaso Pantera while the race's sole female entrant Diane Darcy drives a Lancia Scorpion. Herbie falls hopelessly for the Lancia and Jim falls for Diane but fails to convince her that Herbie is alive.
As the race progresses, Herbie unwittingly acquires some unexpected cargo. Jewel thieves Qunicey and Max have stolen a diamond known as the Étoile de Joie and under pressure from approaching policemen, hide the diamond inside Herbie's fuel tank. With the race under way, Herbie is pursued every inch of the way by the thieves who will stop at nothing to get their loot back...
What's to like?
Even without the warm hug of nostalgia that comes with every Herbie movie, the film is a winning mix of automotive hijinks and family-friendly comedy. Unlike the fairly wretched Herbie Rides Again which completely ignored everything from the first film, Jones' return as Douglas is a welcome sight as his charm and charisma just about manage to convince you to go with the flow. The racing scenes are interesting and exciting (although clearly filmed at the Laguna Seca circuit in California) while the mischievousness of Herbie is well thought-out with plenty of tricks to bemuse and amuse in equal measure.
The story might not be the strongest but it's perfectly pitched at a family audience with its mix of stereotypical Europeans, bumbling crooks and impressive stunt work. But most of all, Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo is a big bundle of harmless fun. It's clearly better suited to children than it is adults but most people will enjoy Herbie's cheeky knack for trouble-making, Knotts' eccentric routine as Douglas' mechanic mate or the notion of romance between two cars and their owners. As a side note, adult petrol-heads will enjoy the large number of 70's supercars on display - it's kinda like an old episode of Top Gear but without the near-the-knuckle humour or casual racism.
- As part of the promotional campaign for the film, Herbie left his wheel prints in cement in the forecourt of Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1977.
- The vehicle used as Herbie was a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle deluxe painted in Volkswagen L87 Pearl White. The interior was originally painted white to match but was changed because it kept reflecting the studio lights and cameras.
- The fuel tank the thieves stash the diamond in is fake - Herbie always had his fuel tanks under the bonnet, as shown in his debut appearance The Love Bug.
What's not to like?
They worked very hard at trying to recapture the magic of The Love Bug but it doesn't quite pay off. For starters, Knotts is a poor imitation of the sorely missed Buddy Hackett who was a great partner to Jones in the original. Herbie's jaunty theme music appears to be missing as well from the picture and there is no attempt at fleshing the characters out beyond what car they drive and what nationality they are (basically, anyone who isn't American is a baddie). The story also provides little in the way of drive meaning that although the racing scenes are by far the best in the film, there is a lot of time-wasting in between them. It feels, frankly, a bit boring.
On a personal note, I also felt that the movie itself existed in a weird alternate world and I'm not talking about the cars being alive. This is arguably an attempt at making a Sixties-type movie in the late Seventies which was a different time and place altogether. Vietnam was still fresh in people's minds and the famous Flower Power movement was seen as old-fashioned and passé. Herbie somehow symbolises that hippie culture and reviving it in the 1970's was the cinematic equivalent of thawing out Austin Powers in the 1990's. It didn't feel genuine to me, as though the whole movie was a cynical money-making enterprise. Exactly how much mileage is there in the concept of a car that thinks for itself and was there ever enough to get more than one movie out of it?
Should I watch it?
It doesn't quite snatch first place from The Love Bug but at least Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo doesn't skid off the tracks like the other two sequels. It's a harmless bit of fun for younger viewers and noisy nostalgia for their parents with a number of goofy tricks Herbie hides up his exhaust for everyone to enjoy. A shame that it feels disingenuous somehow but at least this wouldn't be as far as the series would fall, even without Lindsay Lohan's help...
Great For: young children, nostalgic adults, petrol-heads
Not So Great For: cynics, European viewers, cyclists
What else should I watch?
As the years rolled on, poor Herbie kept appearing in lesser and lesser sequels and reboots until the point where we became sick of the sight of him. His last appearance in 2005's Herbie: Fully Loaded alongside Miss Lohan was critically derided and a risky gamble for Disney that didn't really pay off. Both Herbie Rides Again and Herbie Goes Bananas did away with the racing element altogether and instead turned Herbie into a fighter for people's rights, like a four-wheeled Superman. Herbie couldn't even make it on TV with a short-lived show in the 80's and a TV-movie reboot opposite Bruce Campbell, of all people.
In truth, Disney should have left Herbie well alone after The Love Bug which got the recipe absolutely right. Jones with Buddy Hackett in the front, David Tomlinson as the baddie and Michelle Lee as the love interest - plus Herbie himself seemed to have excelled himself in the stunts, some of which are very impressive.
Bruno Von Stickle
Arthur Alsberg & Don Nelson *
Release Date (UK)
24th June, 1977
Action, Comedy, Family
© 2015 Benjamin Cox