How Herbie Saves The Day from Narcissism

I humbly reflected on my morning and questioned my manners. Had I spoken too much in that morning discussion at the adult class at church? Had I over posted live blogs on Face Book? Was I practicing what I had written in my last blog? My spirit convicted me. So I promised my daughter we would watch that DVD that we borrowed from the library later that evening (after I took a long winter’s nap).

As the time came to watch the DVD, the week ahead began to overwhelm me and tempted me to break my promise.  Movies take up so much time and we really need to keep working on organizing the attic.  Thankfully,  my daughter resisted the negotiated offer and insisted on the first deal.  So into our DVD player went Walt Disney Productions’ 1974 family comedy Herbie Rides Again.

What a delight the next 88 minutes became.  This story written by Gordon Buford and screen play by Bill Walsh offers more than foolish cheap laughs to distract you from your reality.  The “good guys” model four different inspirational ways to work together to fight the narcissist bully, Alonzo Hawk, acted by Keenan Wynon all in hilarious manner.  Each character, including Herbie, have a mind of their own and have something to inspire in each of us.

Ken Berry plays the part of Willoughby Whitfield.  He has recently finished law school and his overprotective mother sends him to visit his ever powerful uncle.  His timing fits perfectly into the greedy Mr. Hawk’s latest plot to get what he wants with no regard for the little old lady, Mrs. Steinmetz (acted by Helen Hayes). Willoughby, the naive young man, trusts his mother and the lies of family ties.  He quickly accepts the mission to convince Mrs. Steinmetz to persuade her to sign the papers and accept the payoff to abandon the historic firehouse where her belated husband led heroically during the San Francisco Fire.

Nicole, played by Stephanie Powers, a beautiful young single airline attendant wastes no time in defending Mrs. Steinmetz, who she calls Grandma,  from Mr. Hawk’s relentless attempts to knock down the historic firehouse by delivering a blow to Willoughby’s jaw.  But her violence accomplishes little except to instill fear into the recipient of her blow.

It wasn’t until Willoughby experienced a ride with Herbie that he came through to see the truth about his uncle.  He quickly resolved that even though it was his first professional assignment gained through beloved family ties that these were no excuse to follow through with such wickedness.  He wrote his first resignation letter and rehearsed how he would deliver it.   Willoughby, however  quickly surmised that confronting a narcissist will only hurt one further.  He also learned that not only did he need to cut ties with his uncle, but his mother as well in order to develop the hero inside and to live the adventurous life before him.

What endears me most about the film is Mrs. Steinmetz’s impeccable manners and unwavering courage to continue to fight for what is right.   As a elderly widow, she is the epitome of society’s label of insignificant, weak, and vulnerable.  Never once does she rely on Nicole or Willoughby to save her.  She has unwavering confidence in Herbie.  She models a faith that truly saves.

To add to this she has fun.  She never gives into self-pity or anxiety.  Instead she acts.

Mrs. Steinmetz earned the title of Grandma from Nicole because she treated her as the ideal one.  She took her in to live with her in the historic fire house when Nicole’s apartment was knocked down by Hawk.  She also ever so graciously corrects Nicole on her default method to defend her and self with violent force.

Grandma lives her belief that manners matter no matter what.   Her reply to the guards who were about to arrest them was that she wouldn’t put her hands up until they asked politely.  She always kept her composure and never gave way to panic, even in the end when Mr. Judson delivered the bad news that there was nothing else that could be done.

What I love about the film is there is a role model for each of us to emulate. There’s a young professional single woman, single man, a elderly widow, and widower.  The overcome the obstacles and never give into the bully.  They even devise a way to win the bully over.  But the sad reality  is they cannot reform the narcissist,  Hawk.

It would do us all well to maintain suspicion, guard, and doubt in regard to a narcissist’s positive change in behavior.  Unfortunately, the definition of such selfish abuser implies that they are only laying a trap again to catch their naive prey in repetitive cycle.  But that’s no excuse for us to stoop to their low level tactics and forget our manners.  Let’s inspire our children to be mindful of others and follow Mrs. Steinmetz’s lead.

Resources on dealing with narcissists and abusers:





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