Original Air Date: December 3rd, 1976
I have to admit, Smash-Up on Interstate 5 was a lot different than I was expecting. The title led me to believe it would be something in the vein of Death Car on the Freeway, which is essentially a serial killer movie where the villain uses a car as his weapon (sounds like Tarantino was inspired by it when he made Death Proof). But Smash-Up was completely different. It's like the Final Destination movies if they were dramas and told its story in reverse. Smash-Up starts with the devastating accident and then Robert Conrad begins a voice over narration about statistics and how they don't relate to human casualties. The movie then winds back 48 hours and we learn about several of the victims and how they came to be on the Interstate at that very life-changing moment.
The stories are captivating and most of them are tinged with sadness. Take the Huttons (Sian Barbara Allen & a very young Tommy Lee Jones). She's delivering their first child at the very same moment he's gun downed during a random car check. And then there's newly divorced Erica (a stunning Vera Miles) who is nearly raped by a biker gang (TV Movies were much tougher back then), only to be saved by Dale (David Groh in an excellent performance), a much younger man who becomes her suitor. There is also Lee (Scott Jacoby) who finds himself on the run with the childlike beauty Penny (Bonnie Ebsen, Buddy's daughter). My favorite story is the one about the Pearsons (Buddy Ebsen and Harriet Nelson). She is dying and he steals her away to a quiet beach house where she tries to kill herself to prevent prolonging her departure. The end of their story is nothing short of pure tragedy.
Maybe it's kind of weird to sit here writing something so serious about a movie titled Smash-Up on Interstate 5, but that was how I felt watching it. Well, not exactly serious, but very taken with the characters and interested in their outcome. I found myself rallying for several of the cast members' fate.
It's an interesting movie because it's layered with stories that all have a beginning, middle and end. Nothing gets dropped and every character provides some importance to that fateful day on the 5. Robert Conrad serves as a thread that connects most of the cast, although some have crossed paths through other means.
I looked this movie up on IMDb and everyone calls Smash-Up a disaster flick. Although I believe this is correct, I personally never felt for once this fell into that popular subgenre, even though things do end up pretty messy. I think for me Smash-Up captured that part of life that is about lost souls searching for each other and the randomness of finding love (and sadness) at the most inopportune times. The accident became almost an afterthought as far as I was concerned.
I know what you’re thinking. “But what about the money shot?” The smash-up in question is quite spectacular and even shocking to a degree. I keep forgetting that movies from this era pulled more punches and this one went right for the gut.