Used Cars come to Blu-ray

Sunday, 11 August 2019 11:02

Eureka Entertainment has released “Used Cars”, for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK. John Milius and Steven Spielberg originally had the idea of making a comedy about second-hand car salesmen. They pitched it to Spielberg’s protégé at Universal, Robert Zemeckis, and his writing partner Bob Gale (“Back to the Future” trilogy, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”). The duo had just written the script for “1941” for Spielberg, and they were all enamoured with pop-culture.

The film takes a swipe at the salesmen whose persuasive pitches transformed rattling wrecks into prized items, something they most certainly are not. Kurt Russell (“Escape from New York”, “Big Trouble in Little China”) is Rudy Russo, the top salesmen at the ‘New Deal’ used car lot run by Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden). Caught up in a family feud between Luke and his brother Roy (also played by Warden) who runs the flashier rival ‘Auto Emporium’ across the street, Rudy must put his grifting skills into overdrive as the battle for sales supremacy escalates into all-out war!

Rudy also wants to stand for the Arizona state senate, and will go to any lengths to raise the finance needed. We therefore have two warring clans trading cheap shots for customers who they hold in total contempt. We see mileage clocks being dialled back, and they take part in some bizarre forms of guerrilla marketing, even interrupting a Presidential address across all the local TV channels to push their deals. Following Luke Fuchs’ murder, Rudy has to keep the ‘New Deal’ from takeover by Roy L any way they can.

Rudy’s scams have lost him the love of Luke Fuchs’ daughter, Barbara (Deborah Harmon), and she must save her father’s lot by proving to the local judge (Al Lewis, Grandpa in The Munsters) that she has a literal mile of cars available for sale, as per a claim made in some of their advertising.

Rudy’s burly sidekick, Jeff (Gerritt Graham - Beef in “Phantom of the Paradise”), believes in omens, something that means he lives in spaced-out terror. Most of the time he looks in shock, and the ladies he has at his side are nothing more than trophies. Luke’s shell-shocked mechanic, Jim, whose standards of honesty are set by how things are done at Luke’s lot, is played by Frank McRae.

Toby, Luke’s dog (played by a pooch called Peanuts) is the source of plenty of laughs. Whenever Toby is part of the antics on the lot, he’s a show stealer.

David L Lander and Michael McKean play Frankie and Eddie, electronic wizards who help Rudy and Jeff cut into a Presidential address with their commercials, and cause raised eyebrows as they speak in doubletalk jargon.

Cheryl Rixon, Penthouse Pet of the Year 1979, makes an appearance in Russo’s first illegal broadcast, her dress ripped off when it gets caught on a bonnet ornament, to the amazement of the Phoenix telly viewers. It’s a signal that “Used Cars” is very much into fraternity humour, following in the wake of 1978’s “Animal House”.

Universal rejected the initial script, but Columbia president Frank Price, who had sold used cars in Beverly Hills, went for it. With a budget of $8m for the project, this was substantial for a comedy of the time. Some see that the message is American democracy, in the view of Zemeckis and Gale, is a price-slashing race to the bottom

Zemeckis and Gale took some unusual angles to promote the movie. They reportedly mailed critics oil-covered car parts, like petrol caps and dipsticks, accompanied by the message: ‘Hey, check out “Used Cars”, and enjoy this free gift!’

This had mixed results. Kael, in The New Yorker, praised it as a “classic screwball comedy”, but Roger Ebert felt it grated: “The great comedies (like Buster Keaton’s “The General”) almost always have very simple story structures, upon which complex gags can be elaborated. “Used Cars” makes the fatal error of achieving the reverse effect: Simple gags are generated out of bafflingly complex situations.” Others, like The Washington Post’s Gary Arnold, balked at the cynicism, labelling the film “inexcusably gratuitous and snide”.

The screwball collides with the satire. “It was a much better script than it was a movie,” Zemeckis later admitted, “The script was a lot simpler and less noisy. I began to loot the Saturday Night Live class. I began to loot (improvisational Chicago troupe) Second City. Before you knew it, I had cast more characters than the screenplay had room for, so the film began to spill over.”  In their film commentary, the writers talk about learning how reaction shots from the viewers of the rogue TV broadcast improved the laugh rates: “It validates the humour as truth. And we only ever laugh at truth.”

Columbia bungled the “Used Cars” release after it tested well at a Dallas screening, bringing it forward to a July opening - the week after “Airplane!” But there was no serious marketing campaign, and it was shot down by the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker offering, making just $11.5m domestically.

Later, Kurt Russell, repeating the story of a viewer who went to see both “Used Cars” and “Airplane!” on the same day, made an observation: “There were twice as many laughs in “Airplane!”, but the laughs in “Used Cars” were twice as good.” To my eyes, I am not sure how true that is, but then again “Airplane!” is one of my favourite films.

In his first major starring role, Russell really ramps up the physicality in his performance. Russell began his career when he was just 11 years old, making uncredited appearances on TV shows such as Dennis the Menace and The Dick Powell Show. Film roles quickly followed, although the parts were fleeting at first, and still mostly uncredited (including a brief appearance alongside Elvis Presley in “It Happened at the World’s Fair” (1963)).

At the age of fourteen he signed a ten year contract with Walt Disney Studios. The young actor soon became a popular addition to the studio, and apparently with the founder Walt Disney – so impressed was he by the young actor, rumours go that his final words on his deathbed were “Kurt Russell”. This is something Russell confirmed in 2007 on The Jimmy Kimmel Live! TV show.

Over the next decade, Russell appeared in a dozen motion pictures, including “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” (1969), “The Barefoot Executive” (1971), “Superdad” (1973) and “The Strongest Man in the World” (1975). This was on top of numerous episodes of the Disneyland anthology TV series between 1967 and 1972.

At first Zemeckis was unconvinced by Russell, believing him to be the wrong actor for the leading role. In the director’s mind Russell was this Disney player, a child actor with a wholesome clean-cut image. It wasn’t until Zemeckis sat down with his fellow scriptwriter Gale to watch the 1979 made-for-television biographical film “Elvis”, directed by horror stalwart John Carpenter, that they finally began to realise that the actor was more than just how Disney had packaged him.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES

  • 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
  • Uncompressed LPCM (original mono presentation) and DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio options
  • Optional English SDH subtitles
  • Audio Commentary with director Robert Zemeckis, producer/co-writer Bob Gale, and star Kurt Russell
  • Isolated Score Track (Patrick Williams score)
  • Isolated Score Track (Unused Ernest Gold score)
  • “Would You Buy a Used Car from These Men?” – Getting Used Cars made with producer Bob Gale (27 mins)
  • Radio Interview with Kurt Russell
  • Out-takes and Gag Reel
  • Kurt Russell Chrysler Commercial
  • Radio Spots
  • Stills Galleries
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Limited Edition Collector’s booklet featuring new essays by author Scott Harrison and film-writer Phil Hoad (First print run only – 28 pages)

The booklet is full of background information, trivia, and a full Kurt Russell biography – some of its content I have cribbed mercilessly for this review from it, as it’s brimming over with detail and production nuggets. In other words, get in fast to ensure you get your copy before they’re gone.

A lot is made of the fact that Zemekis and Gale would go on to the likes of “Back to the Future”, although I think this puts an unobtainable expectation on “Used Cars”. The humour of “Used Cars” is far darker, even morbid, and it suffers from everyone being an anti-hero. There’s really no-one the audience will be cheering for, and with its nudity and language, rightly making it ‘R’ rated, it’s a film where you’ll probably be squeaking in your chair while you watch in mixed company. This is a shame, as the slapstick within it will appeal to all ages, but the cruel and vulgar within the story means it’s not suitable for the whole family.

Overall, this release will intrigue fans of Zemekis and Gale, and is perfect for a late night screening at parties. It has pace and plenty of set pieces to keep your eyes dancing around the screen, and it has an anarchic streak which might appeal to those who love The Young Ones.

“Used Cars” was filmed in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For widescreen systems screening this disc, the display mode should be toggled (via the corresponding button on the remote or on-screen setup menu) until the frame appears with its original dimensions intact, letterboxed (with black bars bordering the top and bottom of the frame). Any “motion smoothing” settings (such as ‘PureMotion’ / ‘MotionFlow’, etc) should be switched OFF so the film can be viewed as intended. Please calibrate your display settings in order to experience the film optimally (many factory default settings are neither suitable nor desirable).

“Used Cars” (Eureka Classics) Blu-ray edition is out now from Eureka! It has a ‘15’ certificate, a running time of 113 minutes approx., and a RRP of £17.99 or get it for less at www.culttvstore.com  

 

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis

Produced by Bob Gale

Executive Producers John Milius and Steven Spielberg

Music by Patrick Williams

Director of Photography Donald M Morgan

Film Editing by Michael Kahn

 

Kurt Russell as Rudy Russo

Jack Warden as Roy L Fuchs and Luke Fuchs

Gerrit Graham as Jeff

Frank McRae as Jim the Mechanic

Deborah Harmon as Barbara Fuchs

Joe Flaherty as Sam Slaton

David L. Lander as Freddie Paris

Michael McKean as Eddie Winslow

Michael Talbott as Mickey

Harry Northup as Carmine

Alfonso Arau as Manuel

Al Lewis as Judge Harrison

Woodrow Parfrey as Mr Ghertner

Andrew Duncan as Charlie

Dub Taylor as Tucker

 

Last modified on Sunday, 11 August 2019 11:09

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