NEW WORLD PICTURES MONTH: Grand Theft Auto (1977)

Using the name that came in second for Eat My Dust and working on the script with his father Rance, this was the first movie that Ron Howard directed. It takes what worked in that aforementioned New World Pictures movie and makes it even more charming.

Paula Powers (Nancy Morgan) wants to marry Sam Freeman (Howard) but as far as her parents — Bigby (Barry Cahill) and Priscilla Powers (Elizabeth Rogers, who was the substitute communications officer for Uhara on Star Trek) — are interested, she should be with the wealthy Collins Hedgeworth (Paul Linke, Motel Hell) instead of a poor kid who is studying the environment. She responds by stealing their Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and racing out to Las Vegas.

Bigby is running for political office, so he sends Ned Slinke (Rance Howard) after the couple to stop this whole foolish enterprise, while Collins heads out after his would-be fiancee, but not before he steals a car, which sends the police — and his mother, played by Howard’s Happy Days castmate Marion Ross — after him.

He also calls KTNQ’s DJ Curly Q, who is the “Real Deal” Don Steele, a fixture in so many Corman movies like The Student TeachersDeath Race 2000 and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School as well as Corman alumni films like Gremlins and Eating Raoul. Speaking of high speed and cars, one of the promotions Steele was involved in ended in tragedy. When he was at KHJ in the summer of 1970, the station had a “Super Summer Spectacular” with Steele driving around Los Angeles in a red sports car. They would broadcast clues about his location and. give $25 to anyone who found him. During this contest, two teenagers attempting to track Steele by car at speeds of roughly 80 miles per hour rammed another car into a highway divider, causing the death of Ronald Weirum. Weirum’s family sued and won, saying that the promotion caused recklessness. Steele would also often yell. “Tina Delgado is alive! Alive!” on the air and would never reveal why. I’ve heard two stories: one that she was a girl whose obituary was incorrectly written and he was always trying to make up for it. Or it was the scary version, where she was a teenager listening to Steele on the air and not paying attention, which led to her walking right into a train. His guilt led to him saying her name on every broadcast to pay tribute. You can also hear him in the Cheap Trick song “On the Radio” (“Heaven Tonight”) and when his career was down in the 80s, Ernie Anderson — the one-time Ghoulardi and the father of Paul Thomas Anderson — got him the agent he needed to return to stardom, to the point that he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I digress, but man, whenever Don Steele shows up in a movie, I love it.

By this point, our leads are being chased — for a $25,000 reward given by Collins’ mother for the safe return of her beloved boy — by all manner of weirdos like mechanics Ace (Ron’s brother Clint) and Sparky (Pete Isacksen); a preacher (Hoke Howell, who had been on The Andy Griffith Show with Howard); a demolition derby and even an organized crime family led by Garry Marshall (Howard was calling in all his Happy Days people) that has Leo Rossi — Bud from Halloween 2! — amongst its members.

I love how the radio station takes the couple as bad guys, then good guys, then bad, then by the end Don Steele is chasing them from their wedding on the way to their honeymoon, promising coverage of their lovemaking before crashing into a house. A total New World all-star film, this also has Allan Arkush as a clown and Paul Bartel as a groom.

Shot without permits in 15 days, Howard impressed the crew with how fast he was able to understand directing a movie. Then again, he’d been on films sets for a decade. Corman told him, “Do a really good job on this one, kid, and you’ll never have to work for me again.”

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