Herbie Rides Again


‘…a nice slice of nostalgia; good, clean, harmless fun…’

Perhaps not one for the ages, but a key film for this writer; back in 1974, Herbie Rides Again was the first film I ever saw at the cinema. These days, as I settle down to view the violent provocations of today’s art-film auteurs, my mind sometimes drifts back to where my love of cinema began. Like many kids, it started with Disney, but it also started with a sequel to a film I hadn’t actually seen; when you’re a nipper, that’s not a problem, because the car’s the star here. If Kenneth Branagh can dedicate a stretch of Belfast to his enjoyment of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, then Herbie deserves a mention in dispatches too.

Previously established in 1969’s The Love Bug, Herbie is a car with a mind of his own. Robert Stevenson’s film does indeed speak of a specific time and place; this is flower-power mid-70’s San Francisco, peopled with long-haired counter-cultural hippies, and Grandma (Helen Hayes) is rather out of place. She’s living in an old firehouse with Herbie, her neighbour Nicole (a well-turned out Stefanie Powers) and two other machines with personalities; a giant mechanical organ and a streetcar named No22. Grandma has a notion in her head that all things have spirits, a notion of animism also seen in films as diverse as Chunking Express or the Studio Ghibli films, but few have as much to say for themselves as Herbie, who is personable enough to rescue Grandma from all kinds of dangers along with a burst of safari music on the soundtrack.

Not all the nuances of Herbie Rides Again were clear to me in 1974. The central plot deals with a subject sure to thrill kiddies; property development. Indeed, the first ten minutes of Herbie Rides Again are nothing but men discussing property development, with not even a mention of the cute little car. Veteran Keenan Wynn chews the scenery in enjoyable style as corrupt magnate Alonzo Hawk, and it makes sense within the thematic rules here that he takes such glee in demolishing lovely old buildings; Grandma knows that everything has a soul, but it’s a lesson that such a rich man consumed by greed cannot fathom. Talking cars are not unknown in cinema, with the fleet of animated authomobiles in Leos Carax’s thematically similar Holy Motors springing to mind, but Herbie is clearly on a mission to educate us about the spiritual value of every imaginable thing.

Although the blue-screen work is awful, and some of the stunts less than special, what worked in Herbie Rides Again for me was that you can believe that Herbie is the central character; the romance and storyline are just a pretext for Herbie running rings around everyone, and some of the physical effects are ingenious. The 70’s and 80’s were an unhappy time for Disney, struggling to find a corporate identity in their work, but while perhaps not essential viewing for today’s kids, films like this are a nice slice of nostalgia; good, clean, harmless fun.


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  1. Nowt as queer as folks, never saw you as a Herbie fan… Remember this one too as one of the first I saw but cant remember if it was this or Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World. Anyway didn’t remember Stefanie Powers was in it so now you have me keen to see it just for her…

  2. Mrs B and I recently watched “The Absent Minded Professor” so good old Alonzo Hawk was fresh in my mind. Ahhh, there’s a villain for you.
    I have to say, the movies produced by Disney for kids in the 60’s and 70’s were what I think movies for kids should be. Fun, enjoyable and silly enough that to keep you smiling.
    It has been a long time since I’ve seen the herbie movies though. But he did ignite my love of the bug and when they were re-introduced in the 90’s, man, that was a revelatory experience for me. Someday I’ll own one 😀

  3. Loved Herbie, but who wouldn’t? My first movie mum took me to the pictures for was a Western, can’t remember what it was called but at the end the Indian chief died and the last scene is him riding a white horse up into a sunny sky, he had a really long headpiece thingy. Might have been Sitting Bull.

    • Agreed. This stands up well enough apart from the emphasis on San Francisco property development. And the blue-screen work. And the fashions….

  4. I really like this post – I haven’t seen the film, but (1) my parents still refer to every Bug they see out on the road as ‘Herbie’ and (2) Reminded me of my first film in the cinema – Splash with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. IMDB puts that film at 1984, which seems impossible to me because I would have been 3, but I remember it because my mother made it seem like such a high honor and thrill – I could be in the secret club if only I was quiet for the “whole time”. I was, and I’ve been in love with the movies ever since, as you are.

    • I guess in 1984, films screened for more than a couple of weeks, as they do now. I suspect you must have been at least 4 when you saw it, since memories of the earlier years seem to be a bit sketchy. Splash is a good one, I guess the adult jokes flew over your head! But I’m with your parents on this one, all VW’s ARE Herbies, and a film like this would encourage you to put a number on the side of your car. And yes, I was also quiet the whole time when I saw Herbie, although I turned around to watch where the projection beams were coming from…a shame that viewing The Bear traumatised you several years later!

  5. First film! I was told I had seen Bambi but don’t remember it (not on that occasion I mean). More likely it was Jason and the Argonauts/Siege of the Saxons because my mother’s cousin or second cousin John Cairney was in it. I gre up in a new town with no cinema so relied on annual jaunts to a roadshow – Sound of Music, Oliver! – and an equally annual outing when we went on holiday – Savage Sam rings a bell.

    • No, I’m totally down with the new Herbie; all franchises are improved by adding Lindsay Lohan, and Herbie Fully Loaded is just the way I like it.

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