Friday, 14 May 2021
Van Nuys Blvd. (1979)
This is a movie about cruising night on Van Nuys Boulevard. Every Wednesday night during the 60s and 70s kids and car nuts would do the cruising thing - just driving around, picking up girls (or in the case of the girls, picking up guys), getting a burger at a drive-in restaurant, maybe having a few drinks and doing a bit of partying and just generally hanging out. It’s clearly a movie with a strong American Graffiti influence. It’s less ambitious and a whole Iot cheaper but it has much of the same sense of innocence, but with lots of nudity. In some ways you might see it as a precursor to 80s teen sex movies but it lacks the crassness of that genre. This is very much a good-natured feelgood movie.
There’s not much in the way of plot but that works in the movie’s favour. It’s about cruising, which is by its very nature rather aimless.
Bobby (Bill Adler) lives in a small town and even though he has a hot and wiling girlfriend he’s bored. He wants to go to the big city. He wants to go to LA. Not in search of fame and fortune. He just wants to cruise on Van Nuys Boulevard. One day he decides he’s had enough and he just jumps in his van and heads for Los Angeles.
He makes some friends there. The first friend he makes is Wanda, a waitress at a drive-in restaurant. All he asks for is a burger, fries and a triple shake but he gets a lot more than that when she joins him in the back of his van.
He also meets Moon (Cynthia Wood), who challenges him to a drag race. He meets Greg (Dennis Bowen), who’s just a memorable car fight (he and the other guy don’t beat each other to a pulp, they beat each other’s cars to a pulp). He meets Moon’s friend Camille (Melissa Prophet). And Chooch (David Hayward). Chooch is really a bit too old to be still cruising but he’s never really grown up. His life revolves around his hot rod.
We’re also introduced to the villain of the piece, Officer Al Zass (Dana Gladstone), a humourless cop who gets his jollies from hassling the kids. He’s basically a comic villain.
Bobby, Moon, Greg, Camille, Wanda and Chooch hang out. They cruise. They go to an amusement park. They pair off and there’s lots of sex. And eventually they all learn a bit more about life. Officer Al Zass gets his comeuppance. That’s absolutely all there is to the plot but their innocent antics provide a reasonable amount of amusement.
The acting is, surprisingly, generally pretty good. What matters is that all the characters are likeable (apart from Officer Zass who is merely petty rather than evil). It’s hard to pick a standout performance - all the cast members are effective in what are pretty undemanding rôles. It might be worth noting that Cynthia Wood was (as Cyndi Wood) Playboy's Playmate of the Year in 1974.
William Sachs proves himself to be competent as both writer and director. He didn’t have the time or the budget to do anything fancy but he gets the mood right, he gets the pacing right and he achieves the mix of comedy, romance and titillation that Crown International wanted and that drive-in audiences wanted.
Despite all the nudity this movie does not have a sleazy feel. And, happily, the humour avoids crassness.
Apart from being enjoyable in its own right Van Nuys Blvd. is a fascinating slice of Americana, and provides a glimpse of an innocent and now vanished America. It’s amazing how much fun people used to have before they had cellphones and social media. There’s some effective use of LA locations, including Van Nuys Boulevard itself.
Van Nuys Blvd. was quite successful at the box office.
This movie is included in Mill Creek's Drive-In Cult Classics 32 Movie Collection. If you don’t have this set then buy it immediately. It’s superb value for money and while it includes a few clunkers it includes some genuinely wonderful drive-in movies such as The Babysitter (1969), Malibu High (1979) and some fascinating oddities such as Pick-Up (1975) and Blue Money (1972).
Van Nuys Blvd. gets a very good anamorphic transfer and an audio commentary by the director.
Van Nuys Blvd. is no masterpiece but it’s an intriguing time capsule and it’s amusing. It’s probably a better film today than it was in 1979 since it now benefits from very substantial nostalgia appeal and for this reason it is highly recommended.