The versatile HB “Toby” Halicki not only wrote, directed and starred in this grandaddy of the car-chase movie, he also supplied the vehicles – 93 of which ended up demolished.
Maindrian Pace (Halicki) is an insurance investigator who moonlights as a master car thief with his team, consisting of Atlee (George Cole), Stanley (James McIntyre), and his brother Corlis (played by Toby’s real-life brother Ronald).
One day, he receives an offer from a South American drug lord asking him to steal 48 cars by the end of the week. He accepts, considering it will be a piece of cake.
One car, however – a yellow 1973 Ford Mustang nicknamed “Eleanor” – becomes a headache for the team. One mishap involves a nighttime car chase with Maindrian and the angry owner of Eleanor #1 and another has him steal another one, only to find out he has to send it back since it’s not insured.
The 1973 Mustang driven by Halicki immediately earned its place alongside the Mustang in Bullitt (1968), the Challenger in Vanishing Point (1971) and the DB5 in Goldfinger (1964) in the movie petrolhead hall of fame.
Maindrian’s boss and rival Eugene Chase (Jerry Daguirda) double-crosses him by exposing the car theft ring as a way to get revenge on him for burning a Cadillac containing $1 million worth of heroin.
Two detectives (Butch Stockton and Phil Woods) are waiting for Maindrian at the International Towers, where he’s stealing another Eleanor. When they spot him, the chase is on!
Influencing a range of films from The Cannonball Run (1981) to Death Race 2000 (1975), Halicki’s film culminates in the now-classic 40-minute chase sequence through five different cities.
The writer-director-producer-star suffered 10 compressed vertebrae during the film’s final set-piece – a jump clearing almost 130ft – but it wasn’t the first (or the last) of his injuries sustained during production, all of which were left in the finished film.
Slamming into a lamppost at 100mph after missing a mark, the first thing Halicki was reported to have said after regaining consciousness was “Did we get coverage?”
The film was enough of a cult hit to warrant a sequel in 1989, during the filming of which Halicki was tragically killed by a collapsing water tower while performing a stunt.
The movie was given the big-budget remake treatment with Nicolas Cage and Angelina Jolie in 2000.
H B “Toby” Halicki
H B “Toby” Halicki