The LBL Valentine's Day Special Presents Heartbeeps

Hello and welcome to the LBL Valentine’s Day Special. Today I want to talk about one of my favorite films of all time. Back when I was a wee Bugg, I caught this one at the dollar theaters several times. I mean I went like four or five times to see this film. It really left an impression on me, and for many years, I searched for the film without being able to find it. I finally found the title, and to my surprise, it starred none other than that man of many faces, Andy Kaufman. I've long been a fan of Andy’s. , both when I was a kid watching Taxi and as an adult when I discovered some of his more shall we say surreal work. This film shows yet another side of Andy in a role that many people probably would not think of him in. I want to say up front that this movie is a sentimental favorite of mine, so take my views on it with a grain of salt. This is the tale of how two robots and how they fell in love, had a baby, and an epic adventure. So sit back and enjoy my Valentine to a film called….

Heartbeeps (1981) starring Andy Kaufman, Bernadette Peters, Randy Quaid, Kenneth McMillian, Christopher Guest. Directed by Alan Arkush

When Val (Kaufman), a robot programmed to deal in stocks and bonds (with a specialization in lumber commodities), drops a trash bin on his foot, he is sent back to the factory for reconditioning. He is stored in a bay with Aqua (Peters), a party hostess robot. They begin to talk to each other and find they are very “mechanically compatible on many levels”. As they admire the view of the mountains in the distance, Val proposes they take a road trip to further his understanding of nature and beauty. Aqua agrees, and together with a comedian robot, Catskills, they escape into the woods. 

The two warehouse workers (Quaid and McMillian) in charge of the robots must get them back or pay for the missing units; they pursue them, but they are not the only ones on their trail There is also a malfunctioning police robot, the Deluxe Crimebuster 07001 (voice of Ron Gans who did the voice of Drag Strip in the Transformers cartoon), which has overheard about the escape and breaks free to enforce the law. As the trio travel though the woods, they build a helper robot, Philco, to help them cart along supplies. As they travel, Val and Aqua begin to have a deeper understanding of love and human emotion. When they must travel to the factory to make modifications for Phil, will their batteries hold out or will the pair be separated forever?

Film Facts

--Director Alan Arkush was the writer/director behind Rock and Roll High School. He also directed the cult film Deathsport.

--Bernadette Peters made this film between the Steve Martin/Christopher Walken musical Pennies from Heaven in 1980 and Annie in 1981.

--Due to poor response for this film, Andy Kaufman’s film The Tony Clifton Story was scrapped. 

--Kathleen Freeman, Sister Mary Stigmata from The Blues Brothers, appears in a small role as a helicopter pilot.

--Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead provided the voice of baby robot Philco.

The Bug Speaks

I know, from many years of looking for this film (it is now readily available on DVD), Heartbeeps has been widely panned. Perhaps it's because it’s a sentimental favorite, but I always enjoy this film. It has the perfect blend of humor, drama, and genre cheese that appeals to me; it’s not just that though. On this day of all days, I have to give up my sensitive side and say that it’s the love story that really gets to me. The relationship that builds between the two robots has such a great dramatic arc. At the risk of sounding corny, they do in fact learn about what love is in a very tender way. The escaped robots and their robot “child” Philco really become a family. I especially like Catskills as the jokey, indulgent grandfather type character. Usually this type of sap doesn’t work for me, but when laced into a narrative like this, it hits all the right notes.

Kaufman and Peters do an excellent job acting even from under the thick layers pf prosthetics they wear. (The special effects were provided by none other than that master of movie magic Stan Winston.) The two actors are what really make the film work. The line delivery had to be just so or it would have come off terribly bad (and some think it did). Jack Carter who was the voice of Catskills has great timing as he delivers jokes written by none other than the king of the one-liners, Henny Youngman. The strangest piece of casting has to be Jerry Garcia providing the voice of Philco. I have looked around very hard to find out how he was connected with this movie with no luck. I would also love to know what he actually recorded as Phil (who looks a bit like Wall*E) because he speaks in a series of whistles and sounds.  

The story itself is quite sweet, and it’s the perfect kind of film to sit down and watch with your valentine. My valentine is of course my beautiful and talented wife, Ms Directed, and I would have fallen for her even if we were both robots, camels, or phonebooks (hey, phonebooks have feelings too!). This film brings all the warmth into my heart that being with someone you love can bring. So I’m not going to rate this film because there is no way I could give it any kind of honest rating, but I will say this. It is an extremely well paced and very sweet movie, and unlike most of the fare that on the LBL, it is perfectly suitable for all ages. Therefore, if you like Kaufman, 80’s films, or sweet robots romancing, then check it out.

That’ll do it for today, and don’t worry, it’ll be back to the nasty business of horror, exploitation, and kicking ass next time we speak. Until then, take some time to spend with the one you love, and from me to all my loyal readers out there.....


  1. Happy Valentine's Day to my little Bugg! This was a fun movie.

  2. Aww shucks thanks Ma, and Happy Valentine's Day to you too.

  3. I like this film a lot, but the trailer is a stinker.

    No wonder the film failed.

    I would have preferred it without the Crimebuster plot.

    Score by John Williams is really unusual.

  4. re: Jerry Garcia's connection to Heartbeeps...

    Allan Arkush started his career as a stage manager at the Fillmore Ballroom (where, of course the Dead played regularly). So Garcia is an old pal. BTW Arkush's criminally underrated Get Crazy is a comedy inspired by those days and a must-see. Howard Kaylan of the Turtles plays a character based on Garcia (and Lou Reed plays a character based on Bob Dylan!)

  5. Thanks so much for the information. I always wanted to know that. I'll have to look out for Get Crazy that sounds like my kinda film. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you dropppin' the science.


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