Wednesday, September 02, 2020


From the Temple Vault: Our pal Mike MacCollum wrote the following review back in June 2016, but we never got around to running it that summer. I found an email to Mike a couple of months later in which I mention including it in a 30th anniversary issue of Temple of Schlock that I was planning for July 2017, but that didn't happen either. I guess I'd forgotten about it by the time I went on a hiatus in August 2018 that ended up lasting two years -- and now here we are in September 2020, with a review of a movie that still has no IMDb entry more than four years after the screening Mike attended. Enjoy!
Review by Mike MacCollum

I gripe a lot about all the movies that don't make it to theaters in Indianapolis – the art movies that don't play here, the horror and science fiction movies, the Chinese films, and (to name one title in particular) the 70mm version of THE HATEFUL EIGHT. I can understand why this happens, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

Still, even a complainer like me has to acknowledge the bright spots on the Indy-area theatrical scene, and one of the brighter lights, to my mind, is Shelbyville's Skyline Drive-In. It takes about 45-50 minutes to get there from where I live, and I don't get to go out there nearly as often as I would like, for various reasons, but I make the drive whenever I can.

In addition to weekend-long events like the Super Monster Movie Fest and the Pandemonium Picture Show, the Skyline also offers a (mostly) weekly feature called Drive-InSanity – drive-in movies from the past, shown on 35mm film, as a third (or sometimes fourth) movie, late Saturday night or (much more frequently) early Sunday morning. Last year [2015], the offerings included THE SAVAGE RIDERS and a kung fu movie called THE BAD AND THE BLOODY, which turned out to be DA XIAO TONG CHI/WIN THEM ALL (1973) . So far this season, CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS, BEYOND EVIL, THE WEIRD WORLD OF LSD, JAWS OF THE DRAGON and THE DARK (1979), among others, have been shown.

All of the above are likely fairly easy to see these days, in one way or another. But THE GREAT HITCH-HIKE RACE, the Drive-In Sanity title for the first week of June, is another matter altogether. Like THE SAVAGE RIDERS and THE BAD AND THE BLOODY from last year, this was a real obscurity – barely released back in the day, and apparently impossible to see, otherwise.

I was getting over a throat infection at the time, so driving out to Shelbyville and then driving back just before the sun came up might not have been a great idea.

Of course, I went anyway.

I slept through most of the latest X-MEN movie, but got up in time for the end credits.  After a brief break, it was time for THE GREAT HITCH-HIKE RACE.

So how was it? Well, don't expect to rediscover a lost classic, or much of a good movie of any kind. I did like a few aspects of the movie, and I will mention those in a while. But first....

If you're going to call a movie THE GREAT HITCH-HIKE RACE, you kind of make the potential viewer expect some sort of a competition, with something at stake. And yes, even though the potential destruction of a huge smokestack is a possibility here, there is no race of any kind- not two people (or groups of people) racing each other, not a race against time... and not a lot of excitement. The title may have been an attempt to put make audiences think of the much higher profile THE GREAT RACE from the previous decade- but even if you knew you shouldn't expect big stars, big slapstick set pieces, and a big budget from THE GREAT HITCH-HIKE RACE, you would be forgiven for expecting the movie to deliver... some sort of entertainment. And by and large, it does not.

The main problem is the script, which seems to have been written in haste, or at least without much effort. Most of the would-be laugh lines sound decades old, some of them possibly dating back to the heyday of vaudeville. (The scenes featuring the squabbling mother and stepfather of Chick are especially bad; almost all of their lines seem to be really old hat, and probably weren't very funny even when they were new.) On top of that, even if he had thought up more genuinely fresh and funny dialogue, director/writer Erven Jourdan apparently didn't seem to know how to film comedic scenes very effectively, if THE GREAT HITCH-HIKE RACE is a fair representation of his work. As it is, some of the lines in the script have comedic potential, but most of these bits still come across as unfunny, due to flat and unimaginative presentation.

The film is also a very meek and mild-mannered, rarely even living up to its PG rating. Yes, there are some shots of Laurie performing as a (fully clothed) go-go dancer, along with the scenes visualizing Chick's would-be seduction of Laurie (in which she wears a red, full-length body stocking). And while I do recall that Chick and Pete talk about smoking pot, I don't think it was a very long discussion, and I don't think anyone smokes marijuana on screen. Apart from those scenes, and a few brief bits of dialogue about whether or not any of the young men got lucky with the ladies, I think THE GREAT HITCH-HIKE RACE could have been rated G. It makes you wonder what sort of audience Jourdan was trying to attract when his movie has about as much bite as a segment of LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE.

And while the film does show that the young characters are concerned about pollution and the environment, other issues of the day barely rate a mention. As I recall, several women in the group with Hawk, Chick and Pete object when Hawk says that only men can go on the mission. But (again, as I recall) Hawk shuts them down pretty quickly, and apart from a possible fleeting comment or two from Laurie, and/or a friend of hers, that's about as close as the movie comes to saying much of anything about feminism or women's rights.

But if THE GREAT HITCH-HIKE RACE says very little about the role of women in society, it says nothing -- or at least nothing that stuck in my memory -- about racism or Vietnam. The latter omission makes it seem like the movie is taking place in an alternate universe, since the real-life counterparts of Hawk, Chick and Pete almost certainly would talk about the war at some point, especially if they were trying to come up with a target for a protest action. And while several black people appear in the film as extras in street scenes, I don't think that even one African-American actor has a speaking role in the film. There may have been one black person in the first few scenes, where Hawk and his friends discuss smog and pollution; if so, it wasn't something I was paying attention to at the time, but as the film went along I certainly did notice that there were not any (more) black performers with speaking parts, and that did seem odd.

In any event, while Jourdan may have been trying to maintain a light and comic tone by avoiding potentially divisive issues, it doesn't really work, especially since THE GREAT HITCH-HIKE RACE isn't very funny in the first place. Instead, this makes a film that is already far too mild seem even more tame and insubstantial.

As for the characters, most aren't on screen long enough to make much of an impression, but a few -- mainly Chick's mother and stepfather -- are annoying and unfunny for most or all of their time on screen (Again, the script should be blamed for this, rather than the actors). As for Hawk and the others in "his" group, at the very start of the film, they seem to be lively, yippie-ish anti-establishmentarians, coming up with the smokestack plan, pulling a prank on the local police, and screwing around with the media after a (fairly rapid, apparently) trial or hearing that resulted from their actions regarding the police. They certainly don't come across as perfect -- Hawk seems to have a problem with women, Hawk selfishly refuses to go on the mission, and some members of the group don't seem to be terribly bright (indeed, the prank itself is more daring than smart, since it quite possibly could have had some horrible unintended consequences) -- but at least it seems like the young people (and Jourdan himself) will continue to do things that might provoke at least some audience members, and it seems like the film might have some bite.

But once the (overlong) trek south gets underway, that pretty much goes out the window. Hawk, Chick, and Pete start to seem like fairly hapless losers, in many ways- Hawk confesses that he is a virgin, and admits that he doesn't know how to talk to women; Pete just sits in the cab of the pickup as it drives off, helplessly staring out the back window at Chick, rather than yelling and pounding on the rear window of the truck to let the driver know that he's trapped inside; Hawk gets fired from his entry level job; Chick dozes off after Laurie brings him back to her apartment, when she clearly has something beyond mere sleep on her mind; the plan to blow up the smokestack is shown to be totally counterproductive, since it just would lead to more pollution; and in one of the last scenes, Hawk (or possibly Chick; I've forgotten) does something unbelievably stupid. (No details here, since that would be a major spoiler; suffice it to say that I thought that the consequences would be pretty bad, and they were -- just not in the way that I expected.)

And yet, even with the generally ineffective attempts at comedy and the overall mildness, THE GREAT HITCH-HIKE RACE isn't without a few points in its favor. For one thing, I thought that it was interesting as a time capsule of sorts, buried (figuratively) and forgotten for years, at least in terms of the clothes, hair, cars, and settings. On the other hand, compared to THE SAVAGE RIDERS, the other time capsule movie I've seen at the Skyline, this one just didn't cut the mustard. "You just don't dig the situation" was the only line of dialogue that I bothered to write down, versus at least nine or ten lines from THE SAVAGE RIDERS, and each of the lines from RIDERS was much more colorful and memorable than that one rather generic line from THE GREAT HITCH-HIKE RACE.

Also, Tony Elam and Annie Latham manage to give good performances as Chick and Laurie, in spite of the script (too bad she has only two credits on the IMDb, while he has none, as far as I can see, since THE GREAT HITCH-HIKE RACE has no entry as of yet); I liked/really liked both of the Lemon Dips songs heard in the film, "Travelin' Man" and "Unpack Your Bags" (the latter was a bit too flower-powery for my taste, but it did work well as used in the film); Lydy Henley, as Chick's mother, effectively registers concern for her son near the end of the movie; and there were a few times when I actually smiled, or possibly even laughed (the sleepy drunk driver; the visualization of Chick's made-up account of his night with Laurie; and the way that the fate of Laurie's car is depicted).

I also should note that one of the other cars that stayed for THE GREAT HITCH-HIKE RACE was parked fairly close to mine, and someone in that car was laughing fairly frequently throughout the film, so maybe I was just feeling poorly that morning, and/or just didn't appreciate the movie. If and when this film becomes more widely available, I look forward to seeing others' opinions, along with finding out all of the details I missed (or just plain got wrong). And of course, I also look forward to whatever else the Skyline and Drive-InSanity will be bringing to central Indiana the rest of the season.

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