The Car (1977)

Director: Elliot Silverstein

Starring: James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, Elizabeth Thompson, Roony Cox, R.G. Armstrong

Written: Dennis Shryack, Michael Butler and Lane Slate

Running Time: 96 mins

Original UK Cert: AA

Original US Release: 13 May 1977

The Car is one of the many 70’s B-movie that came from major studios and tried to cash in on the success of a previous hit. Here we have the mix of Steven Spielberg’s truck-chasing thriller, Duel, and Steven Spielberg’s shark-chasing thriller, Jaws, both films made by Universal Pictures, as is this. Sounds like a perfect mix, except this film is slightly misguided by its subplots and an ending so bizarre it’s hard  to describe.

A small town in Utah, and a mysterious black car arrives, killing off two young cyclists. Wade Parent, a local sheriff, and his Captain, Everett, are not sure if the crime was intentional or a hit-and-run, until other people are being purposefully run down by this same vehicle. It also becomes apparent that the car is driverless. Could it be possessed by the devil?

I know what you are thinking. This sounds very similar to the Stephen King novel and later John Carpenter film, Christine. You would be right. This, however, came first and so you do wonder if King had enjoyed this hokum and used it for the basis of his story. What he didn’t take are any of the subplots that litter the film and as soon as they are mentioned, they are forgotten.

There’s Everett’s involvement with a woman who he was infatuated with, but is married to a wife beater and she refuses to press charges against him, so there’s nothing he can do. Then there’s the sheriff who has been off the wagon for two years but with the events of the murderous car, immediately turns back to the bottle. Not forgetting Wade’s new love, local teacher, Lauren, who is having trouble with Wade’s children not liking her.

These would be perfectly fine if they are followed through but they are never followed through (mainly because characters are killed off by The Car). The dialogue is also incredibly dodgy in places too. So the cast have to deliver lines like:  “Are you gonna stand there philosophizing, or are you gonna buy me a drink? You’re not smart enough to do both.” What does surprise is that this is from the writing team of Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, the men responsible for scripts for The Gauntlet, Pale Rider and Turner and Hooch.

What about the antics of The Car itself, I hear you cry? If you were to take away the bad dialogue and strange side stories, there is a sense of menace whenever the 1971 Lincoln Continental Mark III black coupe appears on screen. It also does what 70’s cinema does so well. No one is safe and so main characters are sacrificially bumped off, leaving you watching and saying “Did they really so that?” If made now, this would not happen and all the leads would be intact by the end with a very happy ending. The ending here, as I mentioned, is somewhat odd to say the least and describing it here would do it an injustice. Needless to say, it’s a mass of fire and noise that leaves you massively confused.

The performances are, as you would expect for this type of nonsense, hardly Oscar winning. James Brolin, who was a huge name in the mid 70’s, looks like a Burt Reynolds clone but lacks his charm and screen persona. John Marley delivers every line like he’s performing Shakespeare and Kathleen Lloyd, as Wade’s girlfriend, is so unremarkable you can understand why she never really made it big.

The Car doesn’t set out to be remarkable or memorable. It sets its cards out at the beginning as a film that Universal hoped would make enough money for them to move onto other, bigger projects. A little dull in places, plenty of odd moments but when the car does its magic, it works.


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