Used Cars (1980)

After his directorial debut I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Robert Zemeckis would make this comedy which I seem to remember playing on HBO all the time — which is not a bad thing.

With the tagline “Like new, great looking and fully loaded with laughs,” this film is one of those great set up a concept and deliver sight gags and hijinks along the way movies. It was shot in a month at the Darner Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Mesa, Arizona, with star Kurt Russell producing some commercials for Darner’s inviting customers to come in and shop while the movie was being made.

Russell plays Rudy Russo, who dreams of being a Senator while working for the New Deal used car lot, which owned by the elderly Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden). The old man promises to give Rudy ten grand for the campaign if he keeps his business alive in the face of competition from his brother’s lot, Roy L. Fuchs Pre-owned Automobiles, which is right across the street. Roy is also played by Warden, who only agreed to the role if he could do both parts.

Roy then pays stunt driver Mickey (Michael Talbott, who was Switek on Miami Vice and has some great cameos in movies like Carrie and Manhunter) to drive his brother around in a highly dangerous manner, giving him a heart attack so the evil brother can collect the insurance money. Rudy catches on, steals his boss’s body and buries it in the back of the lot with help from the superstitious Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and Jim (Frank McRae, who was a team with John Candy in both 1941 and National Lampoon’s Vacation). They tell everyone that Luke is on vacation in Florida, including his estranged daughter Barbara Jane (Deborah Harmon), who Rudy quickly falls in love with.

The two lots go to war with exotic dancers and exploding cars being used to drive people into each car lot until the claim that New Deal has a mile of cars is challenged in court and our heroes have to line up an entire mile of cars or lose the lot.

So many of my favorite people are in this, including Joe Flaherty, David Lander, Michael McKean (yes, Lenny and Squiggy), Penthouse Pet of the Year 1979 Cheryl Rixon, Grandpa Al Lewis, Dub Taylor, Betty Thomas, Wendie Jo Sperber (who gets involved with a whole different kind of car mechanic scene in Moving Violations), Marc McClure and Dick Miller. It’s definitely worth a watch if you can track it down and is just as much fun as I remember it from watching it as a kid.

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