WHAT TO SEE ON TV
Stream On: At the races with ‘Grand Prix’ and ‘Le Mans’
By Peter Hummers on September 1, 2022
A reporter asked the great Argentine racing driver Juan Manuel Fangio why, given that many drivers die in their cars, he was not scared every time he got into his car. Fangio replied, “Well, don’t most people die in bed? Aren’t you afraid to go to bed?
Here are my two (current) favorite car racing movies.
/Amazon /first video /Transmission /Trailer /1966 /NR
“Just racing a Formula One car is an achievement.” (Sebastian Vettel)
Formula One is at the technological pinnacle of all motor sports. It is the richest, most intense, most difficult, most political and most international racing championship in the world. Most of the best drivers in the world are there or aspire to be there, and the same goes for the best designers, engineers, engine builders, etc.
The cars are single-seat, open-cockpit, open-wheel cars, with an engine located behind the driver, designed for a low center of gravity. The highest speed achieved as of 2022 is 231 mph; this is rare, as the tracks they race on are full of curves, but the power is there.
In 1966, the year of Big prize, cars weren’t as safe as they are now (relatively safe; drivers still occasionally lose their lives in crashes), but average speeds were still in the 150 mph range. So, forget car chase movies; Big prizeand below, Le Mans, are the best things after being on the track. The drama writes itself.
Big prize contains a fictional plot, but the focus is on racing, intentionally or not. It opens at the start of the most famous of Formula One venues, the Monaco Grand Prix, held annually since 1929 on the closed public streets of Monaco, the only remaining F1 venue not run on purpose-built tracks. .
“United States Grand Prix driver Pete Aron (James Garner, gun time) is sacked by his Jordan-BRM racing team after a crash in Monaco injuring his British teammate, Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford). As Stoddard struggles to recover, Aron begins driving for the Japanese team Yamura and becomes romantically involved with Stoddard’s estranged wife (Jessica Walter, arrested development) (IMDb.com).
Director John Frankenheimer seemed to have two modes for this film: for racing action, full engagement, artistic shots, split screens, all the arts of 1960s movie-making. These scenes are irresistible; the rest of the movie, not so much. I confess I’m a bit impatient for the upcoming racing scenes, despite the talented actors, but it could just be me.
That said, I’m always happy to see Big prize; It is in my personal collection.
/eBay /first video /Transmission /Trailer /1971 /G
“This is a professional blood sport.” (Michael Delaney)
behind the scenes at Le Mans it was almost as dramatic as the action in front of the camera. Steve McQueen, who had turned down the lead role in Big prize (McQueen and Big prize James Garner enjoyed car racing in real life) and director John Sturges (Shootout at the OK Corral) planned a movie in 1966 to be called “Day of the Champion”. Difficulties getting it into production shelved it until 1970, when McQueen’s own production company teamed up with Cinema Center Films to film it as “Le Mans.” When Cinema Center discovered that the filming progress was too slow and also wanted to replace McQueen with Robert Redford, Sturges resigned, saying that he was “too old and too rich” to support it.
Lee H. Katzin, television director (Mission Impossible et al.), McQueen relinquished creative control, and the resulting film is still considered one of the best car racing movies ever made.
Le Mans was filmed on location during the 1970 “24 Hours of Le Mans” and incorporated footage from that race; McQueen intended to race in a Porsche with British racing driver Jackie Stewart, but his entry was not accepted, so footage of McQueen as “Michael Delaney” was filmed and spliced together. “12 Hours of Sebring,” with three movie cameras mounted to capture POV race action; it was driven by Porsche drivers Herbert Linge and Jonathan Williams.
Additional footage of cars racing and crashing was filmed to promote the plot on the track after the race concluded.
The story is told cinematically, with minimal dialogue; much of it comes from the race announcer, in English, French, German and Italian. The Plot: “Michael Delaney (Steve McQueen) is a Porsche driver haunted by the memory of a crash at the previous year’s race in which a competing driver was killed. Delaney also finds himself increasingly in love with the man’s widow (Elga Anderson)” (TheMovieDB.org). A simple Grand Prix-like story, but brilliantly told and enhanced by captivating racing action captured by fantastic camera work.
I have no reservations about this film; is another prize in my personal collection.
(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This does not add anything to Amazon’s prices.)
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