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Wheels on Reels: Classic Car Movies

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As film fans we have an obsession with movies and cars. Thankfully, we often get to indulge both obsessions for the price of one movie ticket. And once in a while, a car featured in a movie sparks a trend or becomes intimately associated with an era and a star. Check out the hot movie cars that not only raced to profits at the box office but also became icons in their own right.

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The Movie: Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
The Car: 1978 Pontiac Trans Am SE
Bandit’s 1978 Pontiac Trans Am SE became an instant icon thanks to its muscle car profile, gold-on-black trimmings and signature T-top. No wonder Trans Am sales skyrocketed after Bandit, increasing a staggering 25,000 in 1979 to more than 93,000 Trans Am’s sold. Of course, in the movie, the Trans Am transformed Reynolds’ Stetson-wearing character, Bo “Bandit” Darville, into a modern-day desperado.

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The Movie: The Italian Job (2003)
The Car: 2001 Mini Cooper
In this big-budget remake of the 1968 original, the Mini Cooper, reintroduced to the U.S. market in 2001, is as much a star as Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron and Mos Def. In total, more than 32 Mini’s were used for the spectacular stunts. To help promote The Italian Job, Paramount Pictures sponsored a drive-in screening on their L.A. studio lots. More than 250 Mini owners came for the free movie and dinner: In-and-Out Burgers, a staple for car-happy Los Angelenos.

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The Movie: Mad Max Road Warrior (1982)
The Car: 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT
Mel Gibson’s black police Interceptor was a tricked-out 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT, a Ford model sold only in Australia. For that hard-hitting Outback look, filmmakers installed such touches as the chrome supercharger sticking out of the hood (purely cosmetic by the way) and rear and roof spoilers. While a replica Interceptor was destroyed in the climactic chase scene, the original can be found at the Cars of the Stars Museum in Cumbria, England.

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The Movie: American Graffiti (1973)
The Car: 1932 Ford Model T coupe hot rod
Hot rodding started in earnest after World War II. Returning GI’s had seen all sorts of jury-rigged vehicles in the war, and once home, they started modifying their own cars with monster engines, outsize wheels and more. By 1973, hot rodding’s peak in popularity had come and gone. But American Graffiti revived the art of the modified muscle car. And there is no more memorable hot rod from Graffiti than the screaming yellow 1932 Ford Model T coupe: a one-of-a-kind car built on the very model of mass production.

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The Movie: Bullit (1968)
The Car: 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback GT
In total, two Hunter Green ’68 Ford Mustang Fastback GT’s were used in the realer-than-life chase scenes over San Francisco’s hilly streets. These muscle machines made Steve McQueen the coolest police detective of the 60s. Where are these legendary cars today? Reliable sources say the Mustangs were scrapped after the movie wrapped. But there is a dedicated following of replica builders, keeping the spirit of Bullit, and tough-guy Steve McQueen, alive.

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The Movie: The Fast and the Furious (2001)
The Car: Tricked-out Mazda RX-7
Inspired by a “Vibe” magazine article on street racing, The Fast and the Furious brought to the big screen the urban phenomenon of modifying ordinary Honda’s, Mitsubishi’s and Acura’s into tricked-out thoroughbreds. In the film, the appropriately named Vin Diesel risks life, limb and his one-of-a-kind ride a tricked-out fire-engine red Mazda RX-7 in dangerous street races. Kids, don’t try this at home.

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The Movie: Days of Thunder (1990)
The Car: Chevrolet custom-built stock car
In 1948, when NASCAR first formed, drivers raced in off-the-shelf American cars in the “Strictly Stock Car” series. Of course, today’s stockcars are anything but stock. They are state-of-the-art land rockets. Take for example Tom Cruise’s bona fide Chevrolet from Days of Thunder. How real was this custom-built car? Real enough for NASCAR driver Greg Sacks, who did the stunt driving for Tom Cruise, to race it in a Darlington, NC NASCAR event.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife

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McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Tragedy?
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Features

Classic TV Revisited: The Royal

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The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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