(first posted 12/19/2012) Once upon a time, a person could watch a movie that contained actual car chases. Yes, there are still car chases in movies, but the computer-generated stunts simply don’t trigger any adrenaline. I’m talking actual stunts, chases and crashes where parts are flying and people are jarring their teeth.
So let’s take a look at a great chase movie that is perhaps more obscure than most: The Junkman, released in 1981.
This film is a mostly autobiographical account of the life of its writer, director, star and financier, H.B. “Toby” Halicki. Halicki plays Harlan Hollis, a self-made bazillionaire who started his rise to ultra-success by doing auto body work and owning an auto salvage yard, which he parlayed into successful investments in commercial real estate and other interests around the globe. In another parallel to Halicki’s life, the movie opens with a car chase that doubles as the final scene in Hollis’s newest movie.
Confused yet? Your best bet is to simply sit back and enjoy the action.
Actually, this film is Halicki’s second; his first was 1974’s Gone in 60 Seconds. If that title calls to mind the Nicolas Cage movie, there is a connection: While the Cage version did have the involvement of Halicki’s widow, it falls quite short of recapturing the original film’s charisma. Don’t waste your time on it. These two Gone in 60 Seconds movies illustrate that the original is often superior to subsequent versions.
So what about The Junkman?
Having just completed his latest film, mogul Harlan Hollis sets off for the James Dean Festival in Cholame, California on a Saturday morning. Cruising leisurely in his ’79 Cadillac Eldorado, he is having a so-far uneventful trip to the festival. What he doesn’t know is that lurking nearby are three assassins who’ve been hired to waste him.
First, there’s Magnum. Appropriately, he is driving a Dodge Magnum which, from some angles, itself almost appears to be sinister.
Then there’s Black Bird. In a stunning coincidence, she has a black Thunderbird.
Black Bird is far meaner than Magnum, and rather hot in a mature, bad-gal kind of way. Of course, being married to a raven-haired woman myself, I freely admit my bias. To sweeten your viewing excitement, she can drive better than Richard Petty.
There is a third assassin in a plane. Airplanes don’t excite me, so I’m skipping over most airplane action.
Shortly after Hollis starts his trip to the James Dean Festival, he meets up with a woman in a Corvette. Stopping to chat, Hollis invites her to his daughter’s 16th birthday party that evening. She knows that Hollis is a loaded and available widower, and says something about dessert after the party; even so, I get the impression she doesn’t intend to spend any time in the kitchen.
At the end of their conversation, an airplane flies overhead and there is an explosion on the ground. Hollis, thinking the plane dropped something, goes to extinguish the resultant fire. Then the pilot drops a grenade into the Corvette and the chase is on.
With a plane lobbing grenades towards the Cadillac while a Dodge Magnum and Ford Thunderbird pursue it on the ground, the chase delivers a full-throttle assault on your senses. You quickly forget that the acting and production values are not exactly comparable to those of such other chase movies of the period as Smokey and the Bandit.
If one pays close attention, it is obvious Halicki had quite a sharp sense of humor. In the first half of the movie (the trip to Cholame), there are two instances of a multiple vehicle crash prompting arguments among the drivers. Both times, a horse-drawn buggy slowly passes the havoc as its passengers literally smirk at the motorists and their mess.
In another instance, Black Bird is swooping in on Hollis when they both pass a Trans-Am, driven by a young English speaker who has painted “Eat My Dust” on its spoiler.
Later, they pass a Javelin, dubbed the Mexican Rose, that has “Comer mi polvo” painted on its tail.
The trip to Cholame contains the first of two chases in the movie, and arguably the better one–the stunts are riskier and there are simply more of them. Hollis / Halicki jumps the Eldorado twice: Once, in reverse, at the James Dean Festival, and again over an airplane, pictured here for you disbelievers.
Halicki’s choice of an Eldorado seems unorthodox. To me, the ’79 Eldorado is a very elegant-looking machine that seems out of place while being hammered so hard. Perhaps Halicki chose the Eldorado since a man of Hollis’s stature would drive nothing less;then again, perhaps he chose it because it looks great from any angle. Whatever his reasoning, the Eldo absolutely works in this film.
The Magnum and Thunderbird are the definitive vehicles for their respective characters. Maybe it’s the dark colors, or perhaps the personal-luxury element at work. In any case, they’re driven just as hard as the Eldorado.
The bad guys appear to have finally offed Hollis when his Eldorado smashes into a propane tank and goes through a house. Au contraire. Hollis, now widely assumed to be dead, gets a ride back to Los Angeles with a television news reporter who’s been stalking him. After he acquires a yellow Corvette from country-western singer Hoyt Axton, the chase continues.
Perhaps the highlight of the second chase (through Los Angeles) involves the old lady who has just purchased a brand new Chevrolet Citation. You see her say a prayer as she ever-so-cautiously drives off the dealer’s lot. Even the salesman is waving good-bye.
Let’s just say that despite her extreme caution, the old lady ends up having a bad day.
The DVD release I viewed had an introduction by Halicki’s widow. She claims over 150 cars were wrecked for this movie, and other sources claim a total of 250 cars, trucks, and planes. Either way, that’s a considerable amount of wreckage for a 96-minute film.
So what can one see meeting its fate on film?
Other than the pulse-quickening Dodge Magnum,
you will see about a dozen Citroëns bouncing over the countryside,
and a Chevrolet Citation living up to its fullest potential, courtesy of Hollis’s borrowed Corvette. This picture does give a new twist on the Citation as an “X-car”.
Halicki also purchased countless Mopar police cars for his movie. Why is it Mopar police cars never seem to remain intact in movies from this period?
Some of the police cars in the movie, such as this Monaco wagon, are rather rare even for the time. The movie also has a number of Dodge St. Regises; oddly, none of them got wrecked.
There are a number of Chrysler Cordobas, although it is tough to determine if they contain Corinthian leather.
There are so many cars, trucks and boats that it’s nearly impossible to take them all in. There are even a few Mercedes in the mix, one of which has a passenger named “Farrah”.
Cars weren’t Halicki’s only passion. It is obvious he adored women, and he was an avowed leg man. Whenever the movie isn’t showing a car chase, a woman is doing something, whether as a police dispatcher, news reporter or police officer. My 10-year-old offspring even noticed costume designer Halicki’s love of women when she commented, “That girl needs to wear a shirt with a collar. I can see all of the divide between her boo-boo’s.” I greatly admire Halicki’s ability to stuff so many things into a short span of time.
I’ll include a quote from the movie that viewers will either love or scoff at. Toward the end, as Hollis’s brother-in-law is driving his Lincoln Mark V, he tells this to a business associate whose Jensen had left him stranded: “Richard, I keep telling you to buy American. These foreign cars are like toys. You need to buy American.” Since Halicki owned cars from all over the world, it’s hard to ascertain if this was said in seriousness or in jest. You be the judge.
The DVD release I viewed also included a short production-highlights film by Halicki. This short is almost as entertaining as the movie itself. It provides a lot of insight into the magnitude of planning and coordination required to put this entire project together. Halicki did pretty much everything himself. You might also notice that the production people seen in the short also appeared in various roles in the film. In a website interview, Halicki’s widow revealed that if Halicki liked you, it was likely you’d be appearing in his movies. She said he’d placed neighbors, his banker and various others in assorted roles.
This movie was released in 1981, and viewing it now reminds you it was almost 32 years ago. The hair styles are painful, the eyeglasses huge, and almost every car a biggie. It is a shame Halicki was killed in 1989, at age 49, while filming Gone in 60 Seconds 2; his talent at producing an action-packed movie is immense.
The acting and production values are not the sharpest you’ll find; however, the action is formidable and to be highly recommended. I give The Junkman the green light.
Unless noted otherwise, all pictures are from www.imcdb.org
Ive seen those movies backinthe day though we were spared having to suffer driving those cars we did get the films only a hollywood movie has junk littered through it like that and the low speed stunts and artfully arranged crashes are funny. I prefer chase sequences like those in Ronin even the Blues bros was entertaining but this is tooo silly for adults.
“Don’t waste your time on it.”
I wouldn’t go that far regarding the remake.
Even the re-release of the original Gone in 60 isn’t as good as the first release since they cut the Soundtrack out. (Here’s the opening scene for Gone with the original track http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DNRlUIWaVs )
I was actually a bit bored by Junkman at first but I found it fun to catch the little links between Junkman and Gone. Like the Cadillac “Agency” that got destroyed in Gone and that Carriage reminds me a lot of Billy and his Cadillac.
As far as 80s movies go, there were worse.
The original version with the original soundtrack makes such a huge difference over the elevator/porno music placed in the rerelease I have. I haven’t been able to watch it ever since. I don’t know what the story is with that omission but it makes every graphical improvement for DVD moot.
Agreed – I grew up watching GI60S as a child, and so eagerly await a DVD release so I could retire my Beta player. Disappointment galore when the original soundtrack was nowhere to be heard 🙁
According to this guy Halicki was a real D-bag.
That was interesting!
Arrogant as Hell, crazy, loud, egotistical, obnoxious……but he did loan the struggling writer (who he’d just fired) rent money!
Gives a new meaning to the phrase “Director’s Cut”.
Wonder if the water tower stunt made it into the movie?!
Happy Motoring, Mark
So…was the Citation wrecked in one of the chase scenes, or was that just the typical X-Car experience? 😛
Hmmm…one of my favorite chase movies was “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry” from 1974, starring Vic Morrow (Combat!), Susan George and Peter Fonda.
“Vanishing Point” from 1971 was good at the time, too, but I think “Bullitt” from 1968 was the grandaddy of all of them for chase scenes.
I hate CGI, or at least most of it. Back in the day, to emphasize action and intensity, the film was speeded up slightly, most notably in Westerns when either the cavalry was chasing indians, or the indians were chasing a wagon or wagon train. Quick-cutting, as in James Bond 007 flicks is different. Now? It appears the laws of physics have been completely thrown out the window at abnormally high-speed!
I thought speeded-up scenes were silly when I was a kid, and CGI is worse.
Don’t forget “Duel” where the whole movie is a chase and the “French Connection” when Gene Hackman (most of the job was made by stuntman Bill Hickman) chase with a Pontiac LeMans sedan, an elevated train.
I once sketched the idea of a “crossover” titled “Duel at the Vanishing Point” then I posted on Deviantart http://fav.me/d4ej0mq Imagine Kowalski in his Dodge Challenger chased by that red old Peterbuilt truck. 😉
The Peterbuilt was red? I never saw the movie in color, as my TV was my trusty $100.00 1967 Zenith 12″ B&W portable!
Had that TV for 14 years…
I haven’t seen the movie since it originally aired, but the scene that cracked me up was Dennis Weaver desperately accelerating, and the speedo only read about 50 mph!
I assumed his car was green, as all Valiants were?
The Valiant used in “Duel” was red, carefully chosen by Steven Speilberg. http://www.imcdb.org/vehicle_2481-Plymouth-Valiant-1971.html
Lots of stock footage of “Duel” was reused in an episode of the live-action “Incredible Hulk” episode “Never Give a trucker an even break” with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. Here an exterpt of the episode, the borrowing of stock footage from Duel was obvious. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKqWCc5JI94
Speaking of reused footage from Duel, I’ve been watching old Columbo episodes regularly lately and the soundtracks I’ve heard in a few episodes seem to be straight up recycled from Duel as well.
Yes, Bullitt is the gold standard for chases. Vanishing Point was certainly interesting, but the remake, from 1997 I think, was horrible.
I just watched Two Lane Blacktop last weekend (for about the 50th time) on You Tube and, if nothing else, the film has a sense of authenticity without any dumb special effects. It’s a great time capsule for middle America from 1970/71.
The 1997 remake, what a farce…. I prefer that “fan-commercial” then one guy did with the new Dodge Challenger and some Vanishing Point stock footage.
Love this, but why isn’t the Challenger white? Why? WHY? WHY???
I think the Cadillac dealership where the old lady buys the Citation is still in business, it was Ron Moran Cadillac, I think its Penske Cadillac now, it used to belong to a friend of Haliki’s who let them use it in both movies.
If it’s Penske Cadillac on Hawthorne Blvd. in Torrance, CA, then I’m currently sitting a five-minute drive away…makes sense if it was shot in SoCal (and it looks that way).
(UPDATE: Yes, the current Penske Cadillac was once Ronald Moran Cadillac–same building.)
Yeah in lovely Torrance,Does it still look the same or has it been re-vamped, it was pretty new when “Gone” was made in 1974.
PS: Googled pics, its still sort of looks the same, the building has been slightly remodeled, but this is the same side lot the cop cars crashed into.
Heres a shot from the movie.
“they’ve taken out the whole front line!”
It looks a little more Penske-corporate, but otherwise more or less the same.
Another bit of automotive history in Torrance: Parnelli Jones used to have his base of operations on Earl Street, not too far from the Cadillac dealership (and it looks like he has a cameo in “Gone in 60 Seconds”). The organization I now work for has since bought the building, which they refer to as the “PJ Building”, and my first (cramped) office was there. What I assume was the main workshop space is now a medical-supply warehouse area.
Interesting, yes Parnelli makes a cameo in “Gone”. During the chase you also see a big building with the red letters DATSUN on the top, which must have been Datsuns US headquarters at the time, you also see an early Mazda deaership and a Buick-Opel dealership in the chase scenes.
Honda and Toyota (and Lexus and Scion) are still based in Torrance, along with a slew of other US divisions of Japanese companies (our organization has a clinic that caters specifically to Japanese expat executives). Nissan was in nearby Gardena, so that’s almost certainly the Datsun building in the movie, but has since decamped to lower-cost Tennessee, near its big assembly plant.
(This has been another installment of South Bay Talk. :P)
Ronald Moran Caddy, my fathers name, was so funny to my family at the time
“Harlan Hollis sets off for the James Dean Festival in Cholame, California”
Silly people. Everybody KNOWS that the REAL James Dean festival is in Fairmount, Indiana, where he went to high school. 🙂
I have never seen this one, and will have to check it out.
JP, I’ve been to your homeland once, when I was a junior in high school. Dad and I visited Indy (including lunch at White Castle), the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, and James Dean’s home in Fairmount. *salutes*
I’ve never seen or knew of The Junkman until now. I was 15 in 1981, so this type of film, which sounds like it’s so bad that it’s good, would have appealed to me then.
I remember watching Lone Wolf McQuade with Chuck Norris back then several times on HBO. Not really a car chase movie, but an action film of similar caliber full of cheesy special effects and bad acting. Again, so bad that it’s good.
Great review, Jason! I’ve never seen this one before but I do have the DVD version of Gone in 60 seconds. Spot on correct about Halicki’s great sense of humor; it reminded me of a bashed up beyond hope Eleanor Mustang, pulling into line at the local car wash to avoid detection from the rapidly closing police:
Attendant: “What happened to your car?”
Halicki: “You know, those parking lot attendants!”
Attendant: Do you want a spray wax with that?”
Halicki: “No, just a wash.”
Just a dead pan, matter of fact delivery and classic understated humor.
It looks like the same granny who is shown having her car split in two was the same gray haired granny who suffered the same fate with her brand new Plymouth Satellite in Gone in 60 Seconds. The amount of vehicles smashed is simply beyond belief and to think it was all real, no special effects make Halicki’s movies all the more incredible. There was a scene in Gone where Halicki hits a steel light pole at high speed; little did the public know that that stunt almost killed him according to his widow, Denise. I’ve never seen the remake and probably never will. There is simply no remake that can equal, let alone exceed what Halicki did.
Halicki almost got killed in this movie when the stunt plane actually clipped the Eldorado he was driving. It’s a wonder the pilot didn’t get killed.
He mentioned this incident in the short. He said the plane hit him in the morning, it required 96 stitches to close up his head, he had to purchase another Eldorado, and he was filming again that afternoon.
I saw this years ago, and could not identify either of the assassins’ cars. Plot was mainly to link & set up the stunt sequences…
“Gone” remake is dull, and ultra fake CGI “jump” of the 67 Stang.
I rented ‘Junkman’ in 1983 from a long gone independant Video Rental store, before Blockbuster took over. [and now BB is dying from internet].
Oooo, movie reviews! Right up my alley, so to speak.
Very interesting story about a movie I’ve never heard of. Good stuff.
I’m going to have to say thats a 1980 Eldorado. Not a Biarritz interestingly enough, though it does have the seldom seen 2 tone option and a sunroof. Haliki really drives the ever loving piss out of the Eldorado in the Junkman, some of the scenes show the big FWD E-cars were more competent than many think.
Plus it gives me a reason to post one of my favorite Eldorado ads for this generation.
Gotta love white with white leather and red carpet/dash. About ten years ago there was a 1990-92 Brougham in this color combo for sale out front of the nearby grocery store. It was really nice, though not perfect. Wish I’d had the means to grab it, but there was no way at the time. I’ve seen a more battle-scarred version recently and think it’s the same one.
Oh, now I want the Repo Man CC to happen.
I thought I was the only person to own a DVD of the Junkman! Mine’s the 2004 re-release of the 1982 original. Got it years ago as a 2-for-1 with the original Gone in 60 Seconds. My copy actually calls it “Gone In 60 Seconds 2: The Junkman”, and claims on the back cover to be the sequal to the original Gone. Definitely a ‘so bad it’s good’ movie; and one I love!
Wait – nobody has noticed the Binder in the first picture. The taillights look like a Travelall, but the rest of the car looks more like a Scout. Eric?
thank you for making me discover this movie : D !
Dang! It’s not on Netflix streaming yet!
One of the sad parts about Halicki’s death is his whole collection seen in the Junkman was sold off and the facility razed to pay for Denise Halicki’s legal battles over the estate. Such a shame, that place was clearly as good or better than any car and memorabilia museum I’ve seen, and that was his office!
Other bit of trivia I’ve learned in the last few years, Denise’s lawyer helping her? Robert Kardashian, yes THAT Robert Kardashian. They were engaged during the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which apparently split them up. I spotted them together on the 30 for 30 on it last summer, and immediately recognized her from the beginning of the Gone/Junkman DVDs I’ve watched a million times.
And now, because of a certain TV show, nearly everybody in the whole world knows who the Kardashians are. As a matter of fact, I’ve never watched it but still seem to know more about that family than I care to know.
Not sure if I ever saw The Junkman, but definitely remember Gone in 60 Seconds.
IIRC, I saw ‘Gone In 60 Seconds ‘ at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood .
I can’t recall where nor when I saw ‘ The Junkman ‘ ~ good times .
You are the only other person I know who has bought that DVD. I don’t remember where I bought it, (I think Fry’s In Concord California). I have both the original and the remastered versions as well as the original Gone in 60 seconds. It reminds me of my youth.
I am glad this reran today, as I had never seen this post before. I’ve wanted to see if since I watched “Gone…” for the first time on VHS around 1990. Great piece, Jason.
me, too. don’t know how i missed it.
i used to cringe when i see a classic car crashed in a film (like the citroen sm in the longest yard). it looked like at least 4 goddesses were killed making the junkman. i now realize that all these cars were sacrificed on the altar of automotive greatness and have achieved immortality.
The sad truth is :
NO ONE actually wants old Citroens .
I’ve been offered quite a few over the years, every one a rust free California car, one was simply abandoned out side a Long Beach, Ca. Junk Yard in the 1980’s , faded paint but not a scratch anywhere, I saved the original tool kit I found in the boot .
I helped a guy push a stalled DS to the side of the road last year. He looked at me and said “never buy a heritage car”
I said “too late, at least yours runs some of the time”
Sad but true .
Luckily, even my old Mercedes tank is reasonably easy to push .
For me a ‘Heritage’ vehicle is my daily driver .
UPDATE: Since this post originally ran, I have seen the movie, and while nothing will compare with the 1974 “Gone In 60 Seconds”, I did really enjoy this flick!
Just watched it on YT – God, it’s rubbish – loved every second
My dad owns a ’79 Magnum. He was surprised to see a car like his, given such a role! It may have not been an actual movie car (undoubtedly none exist, sadly), but it’s amazing that Halicki had chosen that specific car that is quite rare nowadays and really wasn’t a common car in ’82.
Little did she know, but the old lady may have been the luckiest Citation buyer ever – hopefully she decided she needed a more robust car and went back for a Caprice.
That leg stepping out of the clapped out Mopar B body increases the sex appeal of that frumpy car 1000%!
Just finished watching the movie. I will say that a lot of effort must have gone into coordinating the stunts. I sure hope that there weren’t many injuries that occurred during the filming. However the plot was so thin you didn’t need to hold it up to the light to see through it! Fun, I guess, but not my thing. I don’t really enjoy seeing cars being wrecked. In the scenes at the yard office there was an amazing variety of interesting cars in the background. In the remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds there were some cool cars in the background of the chop shop.
An interesting cameo was made by Tom Mc Mullen. Mc Mullen was a memeber of the LA Roadster club in the early 1960s. His flamed, blown,32 is an iconic hot rod. He was also active as a custom car and later motorcycle builder. In the late 1960s he started AEE Choppers, a company manufacturing and selling the parts needed to build a chopper. This led to the establishment of Street Chopper Magazine. This led to Street Rodder magazine and Truckin’ magazine. He built up a publishing group, TRM Publications, that was later bought out by Prime Media. Mc Mullen was killed while piloting his private plane. I believe his wife Rose, ran the company after his death. He was a pioneer in the custom vehicle movement and I’m glad to see he will be immortalized in a small part of this film.
Well, I’ll add to the chorus of Bravos! for this post. I missed it the first (and seemingly second) time around, but am glad to see it now. Sadly, The Junkman seems to be available nowhere streaming…and I can’t even find the DVD in my local library (which has an amazing DVD collection). Oh well, another thing to add to my never-ending search list.
I particularly like your many observations in the course of the review. Particularly,
and your daughter’s note of Halicki’s love of women.
Jason, we need more film reviews!
This movie is new to me. I drove through Cholame a week ago, past the James Dean memorial. Hwy 46 is being widened and freeway-ized over the years, and based on the construction flagging the new road may pass further away and/or create more difficult access to the memorial. The rather mediocre eatery and rarely open cider brewery adjacent to the memorial site seemed permanently closed.
There are some womderful roads in that area but you need to keep the tank full .
I do not recall the movie. In 1981 I was married to Mrs. M for a year and still had an Odeon movie pass from a previous employer. So we saw a lot of movies even before tying the knot.
Not likely I would have taken her to “Junkman.” I’ll have to try and find this one on You Tube. Love seeing the big glasses, polyester pants, caked on eye shadow and mustaches and the latest early 80’s cars.
I try not to traffic in stereotypes, but
I will say that I’d be surprised to hear that many women would have chosen to see this film on their own volition.
I want to be proven wrong, but I think that car chase movies are more or less a guy thing. Let’s just say that when I do find The Junkman on streaming, I’ll be watching this one by myself.
It turns out that the 1970’s wasn’t a good time, awful music and styles, a financial depression etc. .
I didn’t realize it because I was too busy having fun nearly 24/5 .
Sometimes watching old flicks is fun, others not so much .
It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a Dodge Magnum. It’s a car that looks like it’s up to no good.
Actor Christopher Stone plays the brother-in-law and was married to Dee Wallace, the mon in “E.T.” until he passed away in 1995.
Newest car in the film is an ’82 Firebird that is the 16 y/o daughters birthday present.