Meet you on the Boulevard.
--Complete lyrics, "Theme from Van Nuys Blvd."
Van Nuys Boulevard, Los Angeles runs about ten miles south-north from the Santa Monica Mountains to Lake View Terrace. It passes through the epicentre of multiple LA neighbourhoods and became a natural cruise route, a place for young people to participate in the ubiquitous cruise culture that developed in the post-war era.
I didn't grow up in LA, but I have recollections from the late 1960s of the odd summer night when my parents would load us kids in the car and take us down the local strip. We'd look at cars and teenagers and wave at other families we knew.
By the early 70s the cruising culture was already dying. The OPEC Embargo and the Energy Crisis finally killed it. Sure, teens still drive around. But by the time I hit my teens, we had destinations, and we were definitely watching the gas gauge. As for the cars, they had pretty much reverted to methods of transportation rather than statements of style.
"Hip" and "coffee table book" rarely coexist in a sentence, but Van Nuys Blvd 1972 by Rick McCloskey manages. Search the title online and you'll see why. One year before the oil embargo, he captured the twilight of the Van Nuys cruising era: cars, kids, and the look of a lost summer.
Cruising died hard on Van Nuys. In the summer of 1979, the custom van culture was rolling on and Crown International Pictures1, purveyors of low-budget exploitation films and distributors of dubbed Sonny Chiba flicks and lesser-known kaiju, decided to do a hard-R comedy about the adventures of late-70s cruisers.
It's monumentally stupid.
We start with an anachronistic-seeming news report on Van Nuys cruisers and the attempts by some cop named Zass (Dana Gladstone) to put a stop to shenanigans on his boulevard. Somewhere out in East Nowheresville, U.S.A., Bobby (Bill Adler) watches with so much interest that he ignores the advances of his naked girlfriend. There's nothing for him in this town, and no local competition for his awesome 70s van. He decides to head west and check out Van Nuys for himself, because that's where the real action is.
The shots of Van Nuys at night blend real and staged that try to recapture the '72 book, seven years later. The filmmakers liked it so much they repeat the same sequence for the closing credits. These highlights, however, get interrupted by the movie. Bobby arrives and finds himself in a third-rate American Graffiti, with various colourful characters having wacky adventures on the Boulevard, including Archie Andrews lookalike Greg (Dennis Bowen)2, besties Camille and Moon (Melissa Prophet3 and Cynthia Wood4), and underdressed carhop Wanda (Tara Strohmeier5). We're in a late-70s alternate reality plucked from the imagination of writer/director William Sachs and 13-year-old boys everywhere. Apparently, if some guy drives around Van Nuys or even sits on the curb looking forlorn, he will meet a conspicuously attractive gal who absolutely must have sex with him.
Our heroes run afoul of corrupt cop Zass and find themselves in an all-gender holding cell where they bond. Central to the group is aging rodder (David Hayward), who drives a '32 Ford Roadster and has a long-standing feud with Zass.
None of which really matters, however. Our new band of friends spends the next couple of days in extended filler scenes of the kind that work only if you care about the characters, which you probably won't. And so we get a visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain (Disney would have blown the budget) that feels like a paid promotion for their newer coasters, a performance by the Kansas City Glitters Girls (the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders were washing their hair), a night at a disco that channels Saturday Night Fever (and recalls Tony Manero only in the desperation to succeed against the odds). We also get a few sketch-comedy bits that are moderately amusing. As for corrupt and annoying Officer Zass, Wanda momentarily leaves the main plot and wanders into him, so he can sexually harass her and she can deliver a karmic (and pretty nasty) comeuppance. Editing is terrible: it's often impossible to determine when events happen relative to each other, and day and night switch like swingers at a late-70s key party.
So should you see this movie? Good question. I have an affinity for obscure and often subpar films, especially from this era, and this one tried my patience. It's a good idea for a 70s exploitation movie, ruined largely by being a 70s exploitation movie.
Bonus Seventies Movie Check-list: Van Nuys Blvd.
1. Crown released its oeuvre between 1959-1994. An attempted comeback in 2004 saw the release of Malibu Spring Break. The film mostly failed. Crown International's fare frequently turns up now on low-budget compilations and less-prestigious streaming services.
2. Ha! One of his few other roles was playing Archie Andrews in a failed live-action TV pilot from 1976.
3. One-time Miss California and later an agent who represented, among others, Joe Pesci. In between she appeared in a handful of movies, including Goodfellas.
4. Playboy Playmate of the year, 1974.
5. A mainstay of period B-movies. Her carhop outfit in this film would offend Hooters waitresses.