Grand Theft Auto (1977)
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Ron Howard and Rance Howard
Starring: Ron Howard, Nancy Morgan and Marion Ross

The Plot: Paula Powers (Nancy Morgan) is a beautiful young woman from a very accomplished family. When she brings home Sam Freeman (Ron Howard) and tells her family that the young couple will be married shortly, they do not react in the most sympathetic of manner. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as we see her family orders her to break it off with Sam and instead marry the very rich Collins Hedgeworth. Paula breaks away from her family and steals her father’s Rolls Royce and both she and Sam are then out on the run to Las Vegas in order for the two of them to be married. Unfortunately, Paula’s parents are just rich and psychotic enough to give chase all the way to Las Vegas and now the two are going to have to really jet down the highway in order to beat their pursuers. Making matters worse, Paula’s parents call up Collins Hedgeworth who offers a $25,000 reward in order to bring “his girl” back. Now everyone between Los Angeles and Las Vegas are looking for this couple. Along for the chase we have Collins, his parents, Paula’s parents, a street preacher, a gas station attendant, two mechanics and a radio announcer who simply wants the scoop! Prepare for auto-insanity!

The Review
Ron Howard has lead one of the most intriguing lives in the Hollywood system, there’s no question about that. Beginning his career as a child-actor on the Andy Griffith Show, followed by his star-making turn on the television program Happy Days. What provided his legendary career span though would obviously be his turn as a director which would see him continue working for several decades longer, and also see him win an Oscar sometime later on. However, it was during his stint with New World Pictures, where he would work with Roger Corman, that would see him cut his teeth as a director and start this new life behind the camera. This Ron Howard Action Pack from Shout! Factory, which features both Grand Theft Auto and Eat My Dust, delivers both the films that would start this new career of his, and through the special features on the double disc set, as well as the stories behind this transition.

Ron Howard may not seem like the go-to guy to star in an action packed film dealing with car chases, but the seventies were certainly a very different time and era. People were more willing to experiment during these times and although we still shades of such things today (with Michael Cera starring in titles such as Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World), few smaller framed actors would be thrown in such roles during modern times. As we saw in Eat My Dust, Howard was the sort of actor who could make anything work. With Grand Theft Auto, Howard is back a year later and has grown his hair out in the same manner that he continually threatened throughout the previously mentioned film. His general look is far more hipster-like and his character is certainly far different than the one he portrayed in the previous film. His hip’ness is felt seeping through the camera as he asks Nancy Morgan to pull over so the two can “fool around”. Although he still has fears of his own inadequacy at times, the character seems much more down to earth.

The broad comedy of Eat My Dust (and later on, Smokey Bites the Dust) certainly makes a triumphant return here.This can be a good thing or this can be a bad thing when it comes to slapstick comedy, so the audience usually has a fifty-fifty shot of gathering up a movie that is worth some value and although the comedy in Grand Theft Auto isn’t always on pitch its most assuredly in the better half. There are still some really strong and broadly drawn characters that walk beyond the line of “satirical” and are simply “stereotypical”. Characters such as the maniacal street preacher and every last one of the “rich” family members who are continually speaking with their bottom jaw puckered as far outward as is conceivably possible, they are the worst examples of this low-brow sensibility. The comedy remains over the top but it is also just witty enough that we can have faith in the filmmakers to take us into something interesting.

Ron Howard, who made his directorial debut here, shows a veteran skill despite being a novice at the time. Knowing that he would be doing so much behind the scenes, it was a smart idea for the director to have such a gigantic ensemble cast. An ensemble cast that would feature numerous Roger Corman regulars as well as Howard’s own father Rance Howard and his brother Clint, who both feature prominently in the movie. Howard establishes this large ensemble role so that he doesn’t have to direct himself throughout much of the picture, and he himself is only featured throughout the movie in tiny bits and pieces. His role doesn’t seem as large as many of the character bits throughout, but when he is onscreen sharing time with Nancy Morgan he does make the most of it. The small moments between Howard and Morgan make tue heart of the movie and ultimately give us reason to root for these two lovebirds.

Featuring more action than in any Roger Corman produced car chase movie I have seen yet, I give total credit to Howard for crafting such an exciting feature on his very first production. Exploding bridges, exploding cars and an innumerable amount of wrecked automobiles, Howard certainly didn’t pick a very “easy” movie for his first time in the director’s seat. The young director even handles tension exceedingly well as he stages a game of “chicken” between a Rolls Royce and a helicopter in a sequence that looks to put an end to our characters. This scene in particular has always been the single image that defines Grand Theft Auto and is one that will likely remain in the public conscious longer than anything else in the production.

The Conclusion
This isn’t a perfect movie, not by any stretch of the imagination. That broad comedy can and potentially will drive the audience batty. The time spent away from the leads in Ron Howard and Nancy Morgan could very well prove to be an issue as well. However, I have to give credit where credit is due, amongst the number of action-comedies that feature such huge ensemble casts, Grand Theft Auto remains one of the most entertaining. Give it a look and check out the Ron Howard Action Pack, since you really can’t beat the deal!