September 4th, 2011: Used Cars (1980)

Cast and Crew:  John  Milius and Steven Spielberg (Producers); Joe Flaherty, David L. Lander, Michael McKean, Harry Northup, Alfonso Arau, Al Lewis, Dub Taylor, Wendy Jo Sperber, Dick Miller

What It’s About: Feuding brothers Roy L. and Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden in a dual role) run used car dealerships across the street from one another that could not be more different.  Roy’s is extremely successful and well-organized, while Luke’s is the stereotypical disheveled used car dealership.  Luke is basically honest while his salesmen, the neurotic and superstitious Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and aspiring (dishonest) politician Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell), are anything but.  When Luke dies of a heart attack, Rudy is in a bind: he needs $10,000 to bribe to the local political machine to begin his career, money Luke promised to lend him.  Rudy convinces Jeff and mechanic Jim (Frank McRae) to go along with his plan of hiding Luke’s death by burying him in his Edsel and saying he is on vacation.  The rivalry between the two lots grows into all out war, including pranks, outrageous pirate TV commercials, and eventually a race consisting of student drivers moving 250 junk cars to the lot to produce a “Mile of Cars” to stop the dealership from being closed for false advertizing.

Why Watch it Today?: The first Edsels were released for sale today in 1957.  The Edsel is one of the most legendary bad cars of all time, an ugly, poorly designed, over-hyped vehicle that permanently damaged Ford’s reputation and was the butt of jokes for years, including in today’s film.  Used Cars is an early effort from director Robert Zemeckis and his co-writer Bob Gale, who would go on to great success with Back to the Future.  Here they are in an earlier, rougher mode, with a cynical take on the American dream in which nearly every character is a liar or on the take (with the exception of Luke and his long-lost daughter played by Deborah Harmon), with a raunchy comedic sensibility.  Russell and especially Graham (who never seemed to get the break he deserved) shine in their roles, especially during their commercials.

Where to Get ItLibraries, Netflix (rental), or watch online at Amazon and iTunes.

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