At least as far as the majority of the American public is concerned, Erich Maria Remarque is one of those authors who only wrote one book. It’s not true, of course, but his seminal All Quiet on the Western Front eclipsed his other work in the same way that Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest eclipsed everything else they wrote. In some cases this all-encompassing book isn’t even the best work by the given author, and there’s certainly a case to be made for that notion as far as Remarque is concerned. Heaven Has No Favorites, his 1961 novel, was serialized before publication but joined the rest of his works in achieving only minor notoriety. But it’s a hell of a book, heartbreaking and beautifully written even with the knowledge that it’s been translated from German.
And it would be nice to say that Bobby Deerfield yanked Heaven out of obscurity, but it really didn’t. Alvin Sargent (who would eventually win an Oscar for his screenplay for Ordinary People) penned the adaptation of Remarque’s novel, and the treatment soon piqued the interest of Sydney Pollack. By this point Pollack was well-established in Hollywood, having the Robert Redford-starrers Jeremiah Johnson and Three Days of the Condor under his belt, and so the next stop in the life of the script was in front of the on-fire Al Pacino. Pacino was drawn to the role of American F1 driver Bobby Deerfield, saying he identified with his journey more than any role he’d taken to date.
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It’s easy to see how Ron Howard made Grand Theft Auto. He was 23 years old in 1977 and already had a few years of Happy Days under his belt, not to mention enough TV credits to satisfy the entire career of most actors. He had connections, and those connections included his family of actors as well. Grand Theft Auto, frankly, is nothing phenomenally special, at least not in terms of script or directing. The hasty editing and funky bow chicka wow wow soundtrack do, at times, make the thing seem like it’s about to throw the hyuk hyuk Days of Happy out the window and become a low-budget adult film. But it’s Howard’s first film! He was 23! We can give him a break on quality here, for sure, and in fact I’m surprised most debut features from eventually-famous directors don’t look more like Grand Theft Auto.
Howard plays Sam Freeman, nice young lad from a modest family woefully in love with the beautiful Paula Powers. Paula’s played by Nancy Morgan, and she’s a great reminder that every desirable teenage girl in the ’70s had alliterative given and surnames. Paula’s also rich, and so her proposed engagement to Sam is not received well by her parents. They call him a fortune hunter and kick him out of the house before locking the door and blasting Kanye’s “Gold Digger”. Love, however, is not so easily swayed. Paula steals her father’s Rolls Royce and picks up Sam, and they hit the road to Vegas to get married and inspire an inexplicable epidemic of carjacking in their wake.
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