The Love Bug (1968) is the first in a series of comedy films made by Walt Disney Productions that starred an anthropormorphic pearl-white, fabric-sunroofed 1963 Volkswagen racing Beetle named Herrbie. It was based on the 1961 book Car, Boy, Girl by Gordon Buford.
The movie follows the adventures of Herbie, Herbie's driver Jim Douglas (Dean Jones), and Jim's love interest, Carole Bennett (Michele Lee). It also features Buddy Hackett as Jim's enlightened, kind-hearted friend, Tennessee Steinmetz, a character who creates "art" from used car parts. English actor David Tomlinson portrays the villainous Peter Thorndyke, owner of an auto showroom and a SCCA national champion who sells Herbie to Jim and eventually becomes Jim's racing rival.
Jim Douglas is a down-on-his luck racing driver, reduced to competing in Demolition Derby races against drivers half his age. Jim lives in an old fire hlouse overlooking San Fransisco Bay with his friend and mechanic, Tennessee Steinmetz, a jolly Brooklynite who constantly extols the virtues of spiritual enlightment, having spent time amongst Bhuddist Monks in Tibet, and builds 'art' from car parts. After yet another race ends in a crash (and Tennessee turns his Edsel into a sculpture), Jim finds himself without a car and heads into town in search of some cheap wheels. He is enticed into an upmarket European car showroom after setting eyes on an attractive sales assistant, Carole. Jim witnesses the dealership's British owner, Peter Thorndyke, being unnecessarily abusive towards a white Volkswagen Beetle that rolls into the showroom, and defends the car's honour, much to Thorndyke's displeasure. The following morning Jim is shocked to find that the Beetle is parked outside his house and that Thorndyke is pressing charges for grand theft. A heated argument between Jim and Thorndyke is settled when Carole persuades Thorndyke to drop the charges if Jim buys the car on a system of monthly payments.
The El Dorado runs through the Sierra Nevada mountains from Yosemite Valley and back. Before the start of the race, Thorndyke persuades Mr. Wu to make a wager with him on its outcome. Thorndyke (with his assistant Havershaw acting as co-driver) pulls every trick in the book to ensure he and his Thorndyke Special are leading at end of the first leg of the race. As a result of Thorndyke's shenanigans, Jim (with Carole and Tennessee as co-drivers) limps home last with Herbie missing two wheels and falling to pieces. Despite Tennessee's best efforts, it looks as if Herbie will be unable to start the return leg of the race the following morning. Thorndyke then arrives and claims that this makes him the new owner of the car. Wu regretfully tells Jim of the wager and that in accordance with its terms this is true. Thorndyke, thinking he is Herbie's new owner, gloats to Jim about what he's going to do to Herbie and kicks Herbies front fender, but Herbie then unexpectedly lurches into life and chases Thorndyke from the scene, showing he is more than willing to race on. Thanks to some ingenious shortcuts, Jim is able to make up for lost time in the second leg and is neck and neck with Thorndyke as the approach the finish line. In the ensuing dogfight, Herbie's hastily welded-together body splits in two. The back half of the car (carrying Tennessee and the engine) crosses the line just ahead of Thorndyke, while the front (carrying Jim and Carole) rolls over the line just behind, meaning Herbie takes both first and third place.
In accordance with the terms of the wager, Mr. Wu takes over Thorndyke's car dealership (hiring Tennessee as his assistant), while Thorndyke and Havershaw are relegated to lowly mechanics. Meanwhile, a fully repaired Herbie chauffeurs the newlywed Jim and Carole away on their honeymoon.
|The Love Bug|
|Directed by||Robert Stevenson|
|Produced by||Bill Walsh|
|Written by||Bill Walsh
|Music by||George Burns|
|Editing by||Cotton Warburton|
|Studio||Walt Disney Productions|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Distributions|
|Release date(s)||December 24, 1968|
|Running time||108 minutes|