In 1973, a customized 1934 Ford three-window coup appeared on the cover of the November issue of Custom Rod. The car had been created by legendary customizer Pete Chapouris and it was called The California Kid. The cover caught the attention of television producer Howie Horowitz, who thought that maybe the car could become a star.
A year later, the car starred in it’s own made-for-TV movie. Naturally, that movie was called The California Kid.
The California Kid takes place in 1958 in the small town of Clarksberg. Clarksberg is known for being a town that does not tolerate speeders. Sheriff Roy Childress (Vic Morrow) lost his wife and daughter to a speeder and, ever since, he’s become a fanatic about making sure that people respect the speed limits. He’ll give a ticket to anyone who he sees going too fast. He’ll even impound your car. And if you don’t learn your lesson or if you try to outrun him, he’ll get behind your car, give it a push, and send both you and your vehicle plunging over the side of a mountain.
That’s what happens to Don McCord (Joe Estevez), a Marine who was just trying to get back to back to his base on time. After Don and his car go over the side of a cliff, the official ruling is that it was an accident. However, Don’s brother, Michael (Martin Sheen, real-life brother of Joe Estevez), doesn’t buy that. Determined to prove that his brother was murdered, Micheal rolls into town, behind the wheel of the California Kid.
The California Kid is a typical 70s car chase movie. There’s not much going on other than the sheriff chasing the Michael and the California Kid. Martin Sheen coasts through the movie, doing the James Dean impersonation that he perfected in the previous year’s Badlands and Vic Morrow plays his thousandth sadistic authority figure. The supporting cast is full of familiar names who don’t get to do much. Michelle Phillips plays the waitress who falls in love with Martin Sheen. (It’s always a waitress.) Stuart Margolin is Morrow’s deputy and keep an eye out for Nick Nolte, playing a mechanic. Interestingly, The California Kid was written by Richard Compton who, a year later, would direct Notle in his first starring role in the 1975 car chase film, Return to Macon County. Of course, the real star of the movie is the car and the California Kid earns its star billing. The movie might not be anything special but there’s no way you can watch it and not want to drive that car.
This is a made-for-TV movie so you won’t hear any profanity and the characters are all as simple can be. However, there are enough shots of cars going over cliffs to keep chase enthusiasts entertained.