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Review: Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)

121 Min. / Directed by H.B. Halicki

As long as there have been automobiles existed there have been people hanging about who wanted to perform odd stunts with them. There’s also been many who’ve made their livelihood by repairing and selling these mechanical beasts. H.B. Halicki was one such man, but he went the next step and decided put his obsessions with cars on film. His bizarre experiments in automotive cinema eventually became one of the most exciting chase films ever: the original Gone in Sixty Seconds.

There really is no plot beyond a standard setup: an expert a ring of car thieves headed up by Madrian Pace (Halicki) makes a deal with some shady south american fellows to steal 48 cars in limited amount of time. What follows is an all-out assault on the innocent car owners of America by Pace and his merry band of thieves. The centerpiece of the film eventually turns out to be a 69 Coupe affecionately named “Elionor” which causes Pace great problems and eventually leads to the film’s 30-minute car chase finale, the centerpiece of the film which climaxes in an incredible stunt where Halicki catapoults his vechicle in slow-motion over a pile of wrecked cars. Numerous voice-overs have obviously been inserted throughout to patch up the numerous plotholes which were caused by Halicki’s improvised manner of shooting but it never seems to take away from the outrageous stunts and high-speed tomfoolery. Despite any Halicki’s problems with character and plot, nothing matters in the film other than the varied and oft-exotic specimins of automotive-perferction. Halicki seems hell bent on taunting the viewer, throwing as many . I’ve heard of movies being “pornography” for car fanatics but in this case it’s more like heavy bondage material; cars are chopped, burned and smashed into a million pieces. Halicki himself gets to bang himself up when he smashes Elionor smack into a lightpole, an accident which delayed filming even further and almost cost him his life.

After years of being reserved to a solid yet very old VHS from Media Treasures, Halicki’s widow in conjunction with Venture released Gone in Sixty Seconds in a Special Edition DVD. The remastered 1.85:1 anamorphically-enhanced image is razor sharp and colorful but the new 5.1 remixes are an abomination; along with new sound effects and some re-done dubbing (the ethnic voice of the rich guy who gives Halicki his assignment has been toned down) every single classic song from the original film has been replaced with the synthesizer-based “smooth jazz”-type score which seems really jarring when compared to the original soundtrack which lent a bit of much-needed humor to the film.

The commentary by cinematographer Vacek (one of the many brave cameraman who worked with Halicki on this film) manages to dredge up a few nice anecdotes about the film’s low-budget and Halicki’s willfull disregard of cinematic technique and traffic laws in pursuit of his unique vision. You get the feeling that these guys were always trying to catch up to Halicki’s frantic method of guerilla filmmaking. The disc is also stuff with a series of interesting featurettes: Round out the disc are some production notes, the original theatrical trailer for and the trailer for Halicki’s Junkman (featuring parts of the original soundtrack; this one’s be re-released by Ventura with yet another “improved” score).

Gone in Sixty Seconds is a fine film for those interested in fast cars and the lunatics who drive them but even though this disc has some excellent special features and video quality the audio tampering really is a turn-off to the completist who actually wants to hear the original country and rock-based songs which accompanied the otheatrical release. One might want to see get this DVD and then track down the original tape to find out what’s missing.

2020 Update: The film has subsequently been re-released on Blu-Ray with the altered soundtrack. The screenshots in this review are from the new Blu-Ray.

Here’s the film with original soundtrack:

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