Gone In 60 Seconds

Gone In 60 Seconds (1974)
Cast: H.B. Halicki, Marion Busia, Jerry Daugirda, James McIntyre
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Interviews, Photo Gallery, Trailers

Let’s get this straight right off the bat; the version of ’Gone in 60 Seconds’ being reviewed here is the original 1974 classic, not the recent Nic Cage remake. And believe you me, if the newer version is the only one you’ve ever seen then you haven’t really experienced ’Gone in 60 Seconds.’

While running his own auto salvage business in southern California, H.B. ’Toby’ Halicki decided to make a movie about car thieves. Being the do-it-yourselfer that he was, he wrote, produced, directed, starred in, and stunt drove for the over-the-top automotive love-fest that he christened ’Gone in 60 Seconds.’ Over the course of the movie, 93 different cars are destroyed — that’s an average of almost one automobile per minute for you statisticians out there. The film was a smash hit on the drive-in circuit and the enduring affection that fans held for it encouraged Toby to make a sequel in 1989. Sadly, H.B. Halicki was killed in a freak accident while setting up for a scene in the new film. With his death, production on the movie was understandably halted. While the sequel never saw the light of day, a whole new generation can now experience the original ’Gone in 60 Seconds’ with this new special edition DVD release.

While the film ostensibly has some kind of plot (something about a car thief named Maindrian Pace and his crack team of scoundrels having to steal 48 luxury and sports cars to be shipped overseas), the real stars are the cars. Halicki obviously understood this as well since Eleanor gets top billing in the film’s credits. And just who is Eleanor? Why, she’s the beautiful yellow 1973 Mach 1 Ford Mustang that blasts her way through the film’s climactic, 40 minute non-stop car chase. Even after bouncing off a couple of dozen police cars, telephone poles, and sundry other obstacles, her 351cc engine never stops humming — now that’s dedication for you.

So, how does a low-budget, one-man show from 1974 hold up on DVD? Well, to sum it up, I was quite impressed by the treatment ’Gone in 60 Seconds’ has received. A true labor of love by Toby’s widow, Denise Halicki, the DVD is a fitting tribute to the movie, the car, and the man that made it all possible.

The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in a non-anamorphic widescreen letterboxed format. Purists out there may decry the lack of anamorphic enhancement but given the age of the film, its very low budget, and the fact that the DVD is being released through a small independent distributor, you really can’t complain. And, after you get a look at the picture, you won’t want to complain. The video quality is nothing short of amazing given the circumstances. Sharpness is rock-solid with even the finest details coming through clearly on screen. Heck, even the garish patterns on everyone’s vintage clothing come through crystal clear with no artifacting or shimmering evident on those extra-wide lapels. Colors, while very stable as well, do display that unique 70s feel that is evident in many movies from that time period. There is also a fair amount of grain evident and nighttime scenes suffer from the lack of decent black levels.

All of these issues are due to the quality of the film stock that was used and can’t really be counted against the DVD itself. Those are the only nitpicks I have with what is otherwise a beautifully remastered video transfer.

As for audio, imagine my surprise when I popped this disc in and learned that it features not only a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix, but also a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and, get this, even a DTS 5.1 option. At a time when some major studios are hesitantly experimenting with DTS tracks for only their premier releases, here we have a little independent that has whipped up a DTS mix for what many would consider to be nothing more than a throwaway movie.

That’s all well and good but how does it sound? Well, the 2.0 mix sounds much like I would have expected with clear dialogue and sound but very little range. The 5.1 track adds some nice directionality and provides the soundtrack with a much fuller lower end. With a fair number of DVDs offering both Dolby Digital and DTS tracks struck from the same master, it’s getting harder to tell the two apart. But that is not the case here. The DTS track for ’Gone in 60 Seconds’ blows the Dolby Digital 5.1 track away. Not only does this mix offer greater range and better directionality, it also enhances even the subtlest of sound effects. In one scene a hammer is dropped on the chop-shop floor. In the Dolby Digital mix it hits with a thud while in the DTS mix the sharp ringing of metal on concrete reverberates across the front soundstage and fades slowly into the background. While I don’t care to get caught up in the audio format wars, in this case the choice is clear. While the Dolby Digital track is fine, if you have DTS capability then this is really a no-brainer.

Now on to the bonus features. I was very pleasantly surprised at the amount of interesting extras that were crammed onto this disc. The film itself opens with a brief introduction by Denise Halicki — accompanied by none other than Eleanor herself (looking a little the worse for wear). The DVD also features a running commentary by the editor and cinematographer that reveals a whole host of information on what went into making this film. Also included are three deleted scenes — one of which highlights Eleanor yet again. Next up are a number of short interviews with a varied cast of characters including Lee Iacocca, Parnelli Jones , J.C. Agajanian, Jr., and Bobby Ore. Finally, there are 24 exhaustive photo galleries, three theatrical trailers, an international poster gallery, and even some DVD-ROM content to boot.

’Gone in 60 Seconds’ is a prime example of independent filmmaking run amok. The result of one man’s dream, this low budget masterpiece would never get made today. None of the police, firemen, and even pedestrians in the film are actors; they’re all real people who, for better or worse, found themselves playing a part in Toby Halicki’s movie. When you see innocent bystanders running for their lives that’s really what they’re doing. Try getting that idea past a studio lawyer these days.

This special edition DVD release really does the movie proud by presenting the film with beautifully remastered video and audio and offering a whole slew of supplemental features that reveal much about the film and the man who made it. Car enthusiasts will want to pick this one up without hesitation while fans of 70s films, and independent cinema in general, should certainly give it a look. While the latest remake will probably outsell the original by a factor of ten thousand to one, the 1974 version of ’Gone in 60 Seconds’ is clearly the one to watch.

As an aside, Toby Halicki purposely set out to make a movie that had no violence (other than car crashes, of course), no nudity, and no foul language. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s suitable for the entire family, ’Gone in 60 Seconds’ is one action-packed film that contains no objectionable material whatsoever.