Roger Corman's Cult Classics: The Ron Howard Action Pack: Eat My Dust / Grand Theft Auto Charles B. Griffith / Ron Howard

Roger Corman's Cult Classics: The Ron Howard Action Pack: Eat My Dust / Grand Theft Auto Charles B. Griffith / Ron Howard
One of the peculiarities of home video is how it can resurrect films so directly tied to their moment of production that they appear downright odd outside their original context. How strange to revisit a time when two low-budget car-crash comedies starring Ron Howard would not only be popular, but also become two of the most successful films in the history of Roger Corman's New World Pictures. Corman, always one to capitalize on whatever is popular at the moment, scored a coup when he convinced Ron Howard, then of Happy Days, to appear in an exploitation comedy on the condition that Howard could write a screenplay and maybe direct second unit for a future project. When Eat My Dust (1976) became a hit, Howard was allowed to direct Grand Theft Auto (1977) and thus began a career that would become a whole lot more respectably middlebrow in the years to come. The two films follow a similar template: Howard is a lower/middle-class boy who steals a car with a pretty girl ― in the latter, to elope in Las Vegas, and in the former, just for the hell of it. Both pander shamelessly to their target teenage demographic, with the free, noble young'uns giving the gargoyle-like authority figures their comeuppance, and both contain comedy that could be charitably described as cornpone. Of the two, Grand Theft Auto isn't only superior, but with its fast pace, extremely broad comedy, flurry of subplots (the most ludicrous involving the leading lady's wealthy young suitor, a polo champion who calls pedestrians "peasants") and very high quantity of destruction, also one of the most purely enjoyable films to come out of New World Pictures. It has some of the same anything-for-a-laugh spirit of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (its most obvious inspiration) and in Howard and Nancy Morgan it has central characters with enough chemistry to lend an emotional core. It ups the ante in every way from Eat My Dust, directed by old Corman warhorse Charles B. Griffith, which has lumpier pacing, less likeable characters and, it must be said, fewer cars destroyed in less creative ways. Both of these goofy programmers are relics of their period, but Grand Theft Auto has a gleeful stupidity that stands outside time. As usual with the "Roger Corman's Cult Classic" series, this two-disc set has enough good extras to be mistaken for a Criterion release, including everything from the films' previous DVD releases, along with a new interview with Howard and a new commentary on Grand Theft Auto, featuring Rance Howard, Allan Arkush and Joe Dante. Much of the same information gets repeated over the extras, but a 2002 Grand Theft commentary by Howard and Corman is worth a listen, not least for this exchange: "Look at this, Roger ― helicopters, airports, cars, bad guys, we're on the road," says Howard at one point. "Well, here we are, we have nothing to lose, it's good for us to say how great the picture is," says Corman. "Well, I didn't say it was good, but I did say we have a lot of stuff in it." (Shout! Factory)