Herbie Rides Again is the second in a series of movies made by Walt Disney Productions starring Herbie the Love Bug, a white Volkswagen racing Beetle with a mind of its own. The movie starred Helen Hayes as Grandma Steinmetz, Stefanie Powers as Nicole Harris, Ken Berry as Willoughby Whitfield, and Keenan Wynn (reprising his villainous role as Alonzo Hawk).
Newest and most ambitious of Alonzo Hawk's projects is an indoor shopping center called Hawk Plaza, which, Hawk states, would put the Golden Gate Bridge and Empire State Building to shame. The only obstacle is an archaic firehouse inhabited by Grandma Steinmetz (widow of its last master, Fire Captain Steinmetz, and therefore its legal owner), her granddaughter, flight attendant Nicole Harris, and their sentient machines. There are three such machines of the household: Herbie the Love Bug, an orchestration that chooses its own songs, and a retired tram known simply as "old Number 22". Being that their mistress is the aunt of mechanic Tennessee Steinmetz (Buddy Hackett from The Love Bug), these have come to depend on her. Herbie's former owner Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) is mentioned to have gone to Europe trying his luck racing with foreign cars, while Tennessee has gone to visit his ailing philosophy teacher.
Alonzo Hawk has made numerous attempts at evicting Mrs. Steinmetz from her firehouse, intending to imprison her in an assisted-living facility of his own making. Each time around, his unreliable lawyers fail miserably. The arrival, therefore, of Alonzo's lawyer nephew, Willoughby Whitfield (Ken Berry), is music to his Uncle Alonzo's ears. Feeding Willoughby a version of the situation that makes Alonzo out to be the injured party, Hawk sends his nephew to do the dirty work.
Willoughby, who has been nurtured all his childhood by his mother Frieda on highly falsified stories of his Uncle Alonzo, is ready and willing, at first, to fulfill that uncle's wishes. Meeting Mrs. Steinmetz and coming to grips with her passionate granddaughter Nicole Harris – who has sworn revenge on Alonzo Hawk for destroying her former neighborhood – soon changes his views. In the course of the day, Nicole tells Willoughby with a well-aimed fist, a story of how she lost her home, and a hefty wallop with a boiled lobster (in that order) that Alonzo Hawk is a ne'er-do-well who is only rich because of pulling the rug from underneath people's feet.
The next day, Willoughby decides that he can't do his Uncle's dirty deeds and decides to leave for home. Willoughby goes to Mrs. Steinmetz's home and tells her that he's leaving for home and to not worry about the firehouse. Next, Willoughby goes to Uncle Alonzo's office to tell him he's leaving. However, Hawk's secretary informs him that Willoughby checked out of the motel. Hawk is outraged and threatens bodily harm to his nephew. After overhearing his uncle's threats, Willoughby heads to the lobby and decides to tell Uncle Alonzo over the phone, that he's going back to Missouri. Hawk again flips out and his voice ends up shattering the glass of the phone booth that Willoughby was in.
Herbie takes Mrs. Steinmetz to market; they are chased by Hawk's servants. The latter have been sent, in black sedans, to corner and capture Herbie so as to make Mrs. Steinmetz sad. Leaving Mrs. Steinmetz oblivious to what is happening, Herbie pulls off a daring escape by racing up a car park and vaulting over two parked Volkswagen Beetles. Herbie later rides up the suspension cable on the Golden Gate Bridge, before Mrs. Steinmetz scolds him and tells him to return home.
Somewhat the worse for wear, Willoughby decides to go home – in disguise. However, an argument with his mother on a payphone at the airport over the nature of his disguise (a trenchcoat, a hat, and a false beard and moustache) reveals him to Nicole. She convinces Willoughby to stay, much to the delight of her grandmother, who wants her Nicole to marry Willoughby. Herbie is more than willing to oblige. Being fully automatic, Herbie arranges courtship by driving them off to romantic places and forcing them to stay there, talking.
On their return from one such trip, a visit to the beach, they find that every item of furniture from the Steinmetz firehouse, from Number 22 to the carpet, has been stolen by Alonzo Hawk's messengers. Mrs. Steinmetz, Willoughby, Nicole, and Herbie track the theft to a warehouse. All together break and enter; Herbie smashing the doors open when none of the humans could pick the lock. The security guards are not willing to allow the people take anything from their territory "without Mr. Hawk's OK"; Herbie, however, pushes loads of furniture onto the guards, trapping them. Herbie and company immediately gather their furniture and head home.
On the way, Mrs. Steinmetz rides in Number 22 while Nicole and Willoughby follow in Herbie. Piled into Number 22 is all the furniture, as well as a drunken man named Judson (John McIntire), who thinks that he is on the public street-car line. Mr. Hawk is in hot pursuit, but Herbie distracts him long enough for Mrs. Steinmetz and Judson to get away. When Number 22 careers out of control, Willoughby and Herbie effect a daring rescue.
Out of ideas, Alonzo Hawk recruits an independent demolition agent named Loostgarten (Chuck McCann), a former Hawk employee who is eager to please. Willoughby has a plan of his own: disguising his voice to sound like that of Alonzo, he makes a telephone call to Loostgarten, telling him not to demolish the firehouse that night; instead directing him to a certain house which is supposedly condemned. Loostgarten arrives at midnight, but is uneasy, so he calls Mr. Hawk for confirmation.
Alonzo has been having nightmares, mostly about Herbie. The sequence thereof started with counting sheep; absent-mindedly, he wound up counting Volkswagen Beetles instead. The Beetles developed enormous, shark-like teeth, and began chasing Alonzo; immediately thereafter, he was tied to a totem pole with Beetles wearing Native American headdresses, with throwing-axes in their antennae, doing a war dance – balanced on their rear wheels – around him. Two thrown axes remove all of Alonzo's hair, though when he wakes it is untouched. Finally, in the style of the 1933 film King Kong, Alonzo found himself a giant figure on top of a skyscraper, surrounded by small flying Volkswagen Beetles with wings, which shot him off the skyscraper by squirting oil at him. When the nightmare is interrupted by Loostgarten's telephone call to confirm that the house in question is slated for demolition, Alonzo replies "Of course it is, you idiot! I know it like I know my own address!" Ironically, it is his own address; when he has recognized this, as if on cue, a huge demolition ball crashes through his bedroom wall.
Loostgarten is interrupted in his destruction of the house by an indignant Alonzo, who falls from the broken wall and chases his former ally, doubtlessly intending to beat him. In the morning, Hawk calls for a truce with Mrs Steinmetz. Pleased at such a resolution, Willoughby and Nicole go out for dinner, as a means of opening their hearts. At home, Mrs. Steinmetz invites Mr. Judson to sit and talk about their common interests. Alonzo Hawk then violates the truce, sending an army of earthmovers to crush the firehouse and its inhabitants. The only means of defence is a long-unused high-pressure fire-extinguishing hose, which Mr. Judson uses with some accuracy, knocking two earthmovers' drivers out of their seats. Herbie fires himself up and drives off to get help, scattering Hawk's men in the process.
Mrs. Steinmetz and Mr. Judson lose their only means of defending the firehouse when the old hose suddenly bursts. Here, Herbie's tendency to life manifests itself in several other Volkswagen Beetles, who come from various places in the city (the roadside, a lock-up garage, car dealers, a drive-in movie theater – even an extremely dented and beat-up Beetle from the scrapyard). Together, Herbie and the Beetle battalion drive Alonzo Hawk's scheme to ruin. Alonzo runs away; Willoughby, who is riding the "Love Bug" along with Nicole, stops Herbie from harming Alonzo by warning the Beetle that he "won't be invited to the wedding" – a statement which puzzles Nicole, who knows nothing of any wedding. Alonzo is nearly knocked down by a police car. The policemen do not believe Alonzo's tale of an army of Beetles chasing him, of which they see no evidence, and promptly arrest him.
Within a few days, the aforementioned wedding takes place at the firehouse, with Mrs. Steinmetz as matron of honor and Mr. Judson as best man. Nicole Harris has now become Mrs. Whitfield; she and Willoughby contentedly leave the firehouse in Herbie, through an arch formed by the other Volkswagen Beetles, for their first year as a married couple.
* Billed in opening credits, but not closing credits; not credited with specific role on-screen. The following parts can now be identified: Iggie Wolfington (Lawyer #3); Norman Grabowski (Security guard #2); John Myhers (Announcer – San Francisco's Office of the President); Robert S. Carson (Lawyer #4); Fritz Feld (Maitre d'); John Zaremba (Lawyer #5); and Alan Carney (Announcer – Chicken Tournament).
It might seem a little improbable for one of Britain's most respected film writers, but the first movie Mark Cousins saw was Herbie Rides Again. Seeing the screwball comedy at the old ABC cinema (now Jury's Inn) on Belfast's Great Victoria Street in the mid-1970s was, he admits, a defining moment in his life.
Apr 26, 2010; CINEMA was my esCAPE route Andrew Johnston talks to Northern Ireland filmmaker Mark Cousins about growing up here during the...