The version of Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo reviewed here is currently only available as part of The Herbie Collection (Limited Edition) that also features the other Herbie movies: The Love Bug, Herbie Rides Again and Herbie Goes Bananas. An individual release of Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo is due in stores from 12th January 2004.
After the joy of The Love Bug and the disappointment of the dire Herbie Rides Again, it's something of a wonder that Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo manages to bring the series back to an even keel. It's not as good as The Love Bug, to be sure, but there is much to recommend about this film.
For starters, Dean Jones is back in the role of Jim Douglas. Sadly, the comedy sidekick Wheelie Applegate (Don Knotts) is not as amusing as the original Tennessee, and the Douglas character is not quite as rounded as in the original, but it bodes well. Also, the plot this time around seems to have had some actual thought put into it; it's multi-layered and consistently interesting. Wisely leaving the second film unexplained and unmentioned, the scriptwriting here is lean and tight. Simply, Herbie and his human team are in Monte Carlo for the Paris to Monte Carlo race and along the way encounter diamond robbers and Herbie falls in love. Diamond robberies have, of course, passed into the category of red siren warnings of films to be avoided if they use them as a plot device, but considering this was made in 1977, we can be far more forgiving.
Villains, of course, are part of the fun of these films, and Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo boasts a veritable rogues gallery of scoundrels for the audience to boo. Best of the bunch is the wonderful late Roy Kinnear as Quincey who is part of the bumbling pair of diamond robbers. The other, Max is played by Bernard Fox and perfectly cast they are. It's amazing that people that you wouldn't trust to go to the shops for you are charged with something as complex as cat burglary, but there you go. The villains here are bumbling clowns rather than clever and scheming, as in the first two films but it’s a minor point and the slapstick element does work quite well.
A large part of the reason why this film works so well, is that the writers have realised that part of what made the first film so interesting was the race scenes, and Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo is stuffed full of wonderfully shot racing segments; from the comical qualifying stages to the race itself, wherever you are in the film, you're never far away from a race and that's very good indeed. The direction is adequate, nothing to get excited about, but it's snappily edited and moves at a swift pace. The script is also good, full of amusing little quips and belly laughs for all.
These reviews have deliberately stayed away from mentioning racial issues, these films are very much products of their time and the essentialism of ethnic minorities that is occasionally represented in them should be seen in that way, but Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo is particularly interesting in this respect for one reason. By moving the series out of America, we see something of an inferiority complex on behalf of the Americans. Europeans are sometimes seen as threatening and powerful, as represented by the arrogant German drivers, but more often portrayed as comical and inept such as the bumbling, yet efficient, subordinate Detective Fontenoy who constantly undermines the robbers plans by accident rather than design. It's as though the idea of Europe, for the American audience, can only be represented through a mixture of poking fun at them and fear. Of course, the Americans with their little car and pluck are eventually accepted and rewarded at the films conclusion and the inferiority complex is negated.
Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo is a great family film. It never outstays it's welcome and is as fastly edited as the little car moves. Any child would lap this up and many an adult too. A world above the shoddy and inept Herbie Rides Again, you'd do as well to skip that one entirely and move onto the delights of this instead.
Not much to shout about as far as the picture quality is concerned; it's non-anamorphic again, rather shockingly, and there is an awful lot of damage and grain in the print, particularly on the long shots of sky and things like that. Colours are rather drab and washed out, and the dark scenes never look truly black. However, despite these negatives, the transfer has been fairly good and the picture is at least, quite sharp and detailed and there didn't seem to be any Edge Enhancement. It'll still look awful blown up on anything larger than 36"".
Sound is nothing to get excited about, either but there's nothing to complain about; it's loud, clear and mixed quite adequately.
No Extras, though. You do get a lot of subtitles to play with, though. Incidentally, a lot of the film features some French dialogue, which is not subtitled. It makes a nice change, as these days films seem to worry about the audience’s attention span and like to ensure everything is easily understood. For example, The Truth About Charlie felt the need to subtitle Bonjour for it's adult audience. No such worries here, if you don't understand the French, kids, tough luck.