Why I Love: Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo Chris Faers July 11, 2017 Editor's Choice, Features, Why I Love 1996 When first speaking to the editor about these Why I Love features, I was told the general idea was to not only to go into why you’re passionate about a particular film, and what makes it good, but to bring attention to some of the lesser-known, underappreciated or misunderstood movie gems out there. That last bit in particular is something I have always attempted to stick to when choosing what to cover from my endless list of potentials. I mean, what’s the point in me writing about what makes The Godfather so great? Millions of writers better than me have already gone over every single frame of celluloid from it, so what can I really add that hasn’t already been said? So, in saying that: Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. Anyone who grew up in the era of VHS tapes and rental stores has the memory of THAT video… you know, the tape you would go back to endlessly and could’ve bought 30-times-over with the money your parents spent renting it every time you visited Blockbuster? Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo was THAT tape – until I came across a copy at a boot sale. For the sake of the uninitiated, cinemas’ most unlikely racing car – a Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie, who just happens to have a soul – comes out of retirement in an attempt to win the Trans France Race, which goes all the from Paris to Monte Carlo. However, like many films of this ilk, the story is never quite that simple as Herbie, his driver, Jim Douglas (Dean Jones), and his mechanic, Wheely Applegate (Don Knotts), get embroiled in various subplots full of danger, romance and overcoming the odds. Along with the like of The Mighty Ducks trilogy, The Rookie (the baseball one with Dennis Quaid, not that Clint Eastwood/Charlie Sheen buddy-cop-flick) and dozens of others, there’s little point discussing the plot in depth, given the fact it’s a basically a Disney sports film – a company and genre which both guarantee happy, feel-good endings individually, let alone when you combine the two. Chock full of all the clichés you would expect from a family film: a clumsy yet loveable sidekick, the token love interest, a nemesis driver with a villainous streak and an Eastern European accent, implausible situations, an unnecessary subplot involving a giant diamond worth $6,000,000 – which inevitably ends up being hidden inside Herbie – and bumbling Jasper-and-Horace-type-crooks that can and would only ever get work from a movie mastermind. Despite these family-film-nit-picks, HGTMC does have a lot going for it. Yes, I know there’s an argument I’m looking though rose-tinted glasses, but just hear me out. The cast is a lot of fun and are generally playing up to the material, with Jones as the solid, straight, likeable everyman. Vastly underrated as an actor, who knows what Jones could’ve achieved, had he not kept working so consistently for Disney? In fact, Jones is almost the parallel universe equivalent of Kurt Russell, showing how Russell’s career could’ve panned out post-Disney child star had he not taken on the role of Elvis Presley and had the fortune to meet a certain John Carpenter. While the likes of Knotts and Roy Kinnear basically play themselves to good effect, it’s relative unknown Xavier Saint-Macary who is the comedic standout as Detective Fontenoy. Saint-Macary’s screen time is limited, but he makes the most of what he’s given as his overzealous nature mixed with his simplistic innocence is an absolute joy; a French precursor to Borat in look and character. The action is suitably over-the-top yet child friendly, the style and tone is more better than you might expect – although it is helped by the glamorous, picturesque settings – and the race footage is well orchestrated and shot; better than higher profile, although poor, racing films such as Le Mans, Driven and many, many others. Although partly contrived, the various subplots do work and don’t detract from what admittedly is a by-the-numbers central plot. The stolen diamond storyline is enjoyably preposterous and, despite some gooey moments, the romantic subplots are harmless enough. Diane Darcy (Julie Sommars) is a strong character until the final act where this resourceful, independent woman falls victim to Hollywood-writer-syndrome and needs rescuing by our hero after some self-inflicted danger and finally succumbing to his charms, despite vehemently rejecting his advances up to this point. Now, being in my early thirties, I would love to say I rigged up and old VCR, dusted of my copy from the loft and popped it on for the first time in 20-plus-years solely for the purpose of this piece. However, I have to admit HGTMC is something I’ll pull out to watch at least every couple of years. A few days ago I had one of those nostalgic trips back to my pre-teens, which then led me to going online out of curiosity. Not only was I reminded this year marks the 40th anniversary of it’s theatrical release, but on 11th July 1977, the acting Mayor of Los Angeles proclaimed it ‘Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo Day’ outside the world famous, Mann’s Chinese Theatre. Now, I know exactly what you’re thinking: other than a handful of die-hard-Herbie-heads and I, who really cares? That question right there was the genesis of this piece. Two of my most beloved films are celebrating their 40th and 30th birthday this year, Star Wars and Withnail & I respectively, but despite my undying love for both, I knew they would have their moment in the limelight when the time came and I know both will have many more. Despite my evident love for it, I don’t expect a single one of you to watch HGTMC over the coming days, or even at all; this is simply a sad individual’s love letter to his youth and the grateful 8-year-old in me wanting to give a big part of my childhood its moment. But if anything, I hope this will encourage you to track down THAT film from your past? The one you’ve seen an endless amount of times, but perhaps not since you were eating school dinners and the only thing you had to worry about was catching cooties from the opposite sex. Happy Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo Day!