Cars and movies -- they don't make either like they used to; or...
The Fast and the Furious (1954)
As Tammie glow’red, amazed and curious,
People who've seen the movie A Christmas Story (1983) or have read Jean Shepherd's source material can give you a good, anecdotal definition of the word academic, where the word has a distinctive theoretical or speculative meaning.
A child watches his father change a tire. Many years later, the adult recounting this childhood memory comments that his father's spares were tires only in the academic sense. They were round. They were once made of rubber.
As of this writing, a movie called The Fast and the Furious (2001) is about to hit theaters in a general release in the United States. Throughout the web, journalists refer to it as a remake of the 1954 film by the same title.
Ladies and gentlemen, we at B-Notes would be shirking our duties to the B movie community if we didn't tell you that this would be a "remake" in the academic sense. It's a movie. It has sports cars and trucks. Beyond those vague similarities, not even the word "retread" is sufficient.
We open with truck crash. The title immediately blazes across screen. White opening credits, plus Stravinsky or Prokofiev styled orchestral music (probably library music), continue over shots of two sports cars jockeying for position on a winding road. End of opening credits.
Go to daytime shots of a white Jaguar tooling along some winding roads. It stops at a small, quiet lunch counter diner. The driver, an attractive, upper-class looking blonde, (Dorothy Malone) gets out. A big, stocky truck driver (Bruno VeSota) is also in the diner's parking lot. He tries to chat her up, but he doesn't make much progress. (Frankly, this guy is to wooing what Timothy McVeigh was to the "live and let live" philosophy.) Into the diner they go.
The only other people inside the diner are a loud, brassy waitress (Iris Adrian) and a silent, dark haired man (John Ireland) in a leather jacket sitting at the end of the counter. The Jaguar driver takes a seat at the counter and asks for some pineapple juice. The waitress goes to be back room looking for some. The truck driver resumes chatting up the lady. (They don't make 'em as persistent as they used to.) She says she's on her way to a cross country race with a finish line in Mexico, and this race is called "the international." (They don't make 'em as generic as they used to, either.) She'll be driving in that. The quiet man at the end of the counter quickly sneaks a peek out the window.
The waitress returns. She loudly announces that she couldn't find any pineapple juice, and she openly scoffs when the lady asks for grapefruit juice instead. The conversation at the counter turns to the details of a truck driver called Webster who broke out of jail. He was in jail because he intentionally ran another truck off the road, killing the driver. Now he's wanted for murder. The trucker at the counter says that he and every other trucker on the highway looking for this guy. He won't get away.
The quiet man pays for his lunch and turns to leave. The waitress goes to look for pineapple juice again. The trucker notes the quiet man is on foot and offers to give him a lift. The quiet man introduces himself as Meyers and passes on the ride. The trucker introduces himself as Nielson and reiterates how he and the other truckers are looking for that Webster guy who killed that trucker. They could use some help. Meyers says he's not interested.
So the trucker pulls a revolver on Meyers and demands to see some ID. Meyers slooowly reaches inside his jacket with his right hand and pauses. Then he grabs Nielson's revolver with a quick left. It's a scuffle. The revolver doesn't go off, but Meyers does manage to deck Nielson. He grabs the pistol and tells the Jaguar lady they'll be traveling together -- to Mexico. He takes her keys. They get into her car and leave.
The waitress returns from the back room, announcing that she did find some pineapple juice after all. However, the only other occupant of the room is unimpressed by her service occupation feat, him quietly lying on the floor and all. She freaks and calls the cops to report a murder.
On the road, the Jaguar couple fall in behind a patrol car. Its siren comes on. The man in black hits the brakes on the Jaguar and cuts a sharp U-turn. The patrol car continues on. The lady, name of Connie, starts to try to signal the cruiser, but her new driver, who is of course called Webster, threatens her with the revolver. (OK, he can stunt drive and keep someone covered with a handgun at the same time. Kids, don't try this at home.) She then suggests getting some gas because they're coming into an area with few gas stations. He doesn't buy it, but she tells him to look at the gas gauge. He pulls into the next gas station.
The attendant (Robin Morse) asks Webster for the keys. He doesn't respond. So the attendant reminds him that the he can't pump the gas without the keys to the gas tank. Webster reluctantly hands over the keys. Connie excuses herself to the ladies' room. Webster watchers her enter. He asks the attendant to check the tires and oil. While doing this, the attendant tries to strike up a conversation about car racing and his own restored V-8. Webster unapologetically walks away.
Connie has been trying to sneak out of the ladies' room through the back window. She doesn't make it. Webster has walked around to the back. He looks up at her. She realizes she's been caught. Without protest, she crawls back inside the ladies' room and comes out through the door. They don't talk on the way back to the car.
The attendant sees them and resumes his spiel about his restored V-8. Connie sounds interested, but Webster is still giving the world the silent treatment. After they pay, they leave. While the attendant watches them go, he comments, "She does. But he don't seem like the Jag type."
Back at the diner, the police arrive. A detective (Larry Thor) tells the waitress they were lucky to be nearby when they got the call, but the waitress castigates them for taking so long. The detective notes that the man on the ground is still alive, but the waitress says she was right there when a stranger shot him. The detective observes (out loud) that this man has not been shot. In response, the waitress says she thinks the stranger was that Frank Webster murderer they've been looking for.
After a few more questions, the detective has heard enough to conclude that (a) whoever did this is now likely traveling with a woman, and (b) as a witness, the waitress is going to be as credible as the average TV tarot card reader. Finally, the waitress tells the detective that the guy and girl left in a jalopy, and that's based on what she heard Nielson call it. The detective tells a patrolman to call in a lookout for a young man and a young woman in an old car.
Night time on the road. Connie asks Webster for her car and freedom. He says his answer is the same as earlier: no. He explains that she and this car are going to be his passports out of the country. She puts on some brave banter by suggesting that she should probably be grateful that he hasn't murdered her yet. He tells her to stop tempting him.
He slows the car to the shoulder of the road. Connie tries to jump out, but Webster grabs her. After making sure she's back in her seat, he tells her not to try that again. (We're not entirely sure why he pulled over just then.) After Webster gets the car on the road again, Connie resumes her brave banter, telling her captor she not only hates him, she dislikes him, too.
But the cute chatter is interrupted by a police car dead ahead. Webster cuts a U-turn to avoid it. (That's twice he's done this to avoid a police car, and twice it hasn't grabbed the suspicious attentions of the occupants. The man lives some kind of charmed life.) Webster tells Connie to pull out a map. He slows the car to the shoulder again. After looking at the map, he decides they'll be going over the mountains to avoid the cops.
Up some curvy hills they go. Suddenly, a motorcycle cop is on their tail, running his siren. It's a chase. Finally, Connie ends the whole matter by pulling out the ignition key and tossing it out of the car and into the darkness. Webster pulls over.
The motorcycle patrolman tells Webster that his tail light is out. He also asks them to be careful how they drive through here. (COPS in Southern California is filmed exactly as it happens....)
Webster gets out of the car to fix tail light. Then drags Connie out to help look for the key. He asks her if she can see it. No, she says; she's not looking for it. He asks her if she has any matches. She pull some out of her skirt band, then throws them away. He tells her to stop doing stuff like that before he has to get rough.
They go back to the car. Webster leans forward under the instrument cluster to jump start car. Connie starts to get out. He grabs her ankle and asks if she'd like to cuff herself to wheel or shall he. He finishes hotwiring car, turning over the engine. She nonchalantly hands him the spare key. An obligatory "Why didn't you tell me?" "You didn't ask," follows. Off they go.
After driving for a while longer, they stop for the night. He
takes off his belt and ties her hand to his. She slaps him with her
free hand. For retaliation, he kisses her. She begs him to
leave her alone. He backs off and grants her as much space as
possible under the circumstances.
The next morning, two motorcycle patrol cops take a position on a crossroads and talk about how the person they were tracking might've been Webster.
Back at the Jaguar, Connie wakes up. She's tied by her hand to the steering wheel with the belt. Webster returns from freshening up and lets her loose to freshen up, too. (Movie has a lot of guts for its era by admitting that people have got to freshen up once in a while....) While she's away, he listens to some news on the radio. He finds a story about his vehicular homicide....
Elsewhere, the patrolmen decide to take a break. They pull way off the road. (Not to worry. The movie doesn't show us how they "freshen up.") Webster and Connie can see them from the ridge above. (Why they just happened to be out of their car looking down the ridge at this opportune moment, we don't know. We should also wonder why Connie didn't make a break for it while freshening up.) Webster decides to sneak past them. He and Connie get into the car. The Jaguar is already pointed downhill, so after Webster puts her into neutral, it doesn't take much of a start to get her rolling. They silently roll past the patrolmen, who are looking the other way. After another moment, Webster turns the engine over. (Kids, don't try this at home if you drive an automatic.)
After a while, Connie shouts bitterly, "I'm hungry!" Webster ignores her. Five seconds later, she shouts, "I'm still hungry!" They begin some more light captor/captive banter until they run into a roadblock. Several cars, mostly sports cars, are lined up waiting to pass a check point. (Cripes, it looks like the Tijuana border on a Monday morning.) Webster figures these cars are on their way to the race. All he has to do is blend in. He warns Connie to behave.
At the roadblock, Webster claims to be with others. When asked his name, he uses the name "Meyers" again. A little more simple questioning follows. They make it through the roadblock. However, the police let the entire group of cars go at once. They have a police escort -- right behind Webster and Connie. She's amused by how close the police are and badgers Webster on the flimsiness of his cover.
Many miles removed from all this, the highway detective is at a hospital visiting Nielson the trucker. Nielson finds enough lucidity during his concussion to repeat one syllable a few times: jag. Fortunately, the detective is not distracted by a flimsy television series produced by Bellisario; he quickly determines that they should be focusing their attention at "the international."
Webster pulls over after his unwanted motorcycle escort drops away. They're in the park that will be the base of operations for "the international." (Just as the race has no specific name, neither does the park. Hereafter, we'll be referring to it as "the park.") Connie wants food. Webster sternly tells her no. But then he softens up and asks for her help to register for the race. Now it's her turn to be stern. He figures she's going to be no help.
They go to the registration table. The race marshal (Marshall Bradford) is using a PA system to coordinate activities in "the park." The flags of many nations line the footpath behind him. (When they call this thing "the international," they ain't kidding. There's even a New Zealand flag behind the race marshal. We know from personal experience that's not a country you'd pick for champion race car drivers. Kick-ass yacht crews? Sure. Out for blood rugby teams? You betcha. Insane mountain climbers? Plenty of those. But anything having to do with driving? OK, aside from Chris Amon. Uh, we digress....)
The official tells them that Connie can't drive in this race because it's been determined too dangerous for women. (Connie takes this perfunctory sexism surprisingly well. Mrs. Apostic notes that no one will finish this race because all of the drivers will get lost and refuse to ask for directions.) Webster puts himself in for the race using his Meyers pseudonym. When the race marshal asks to see some ID, Webster produces his driver's license -- which matches his Meyers alias. (Aw, dammit! If he's been packing that all this time, why didn't he just flash it on Nielson earlier?)
The official tells him that there's a two mile qualifying run through "the park." It's also the first two miles of the regular race. After Webster presses it a little, the official allows for Connie to ride on the qualifying run.
On their way to the car, they pass by a guy who calls out to Connie. Webster doesn't react, and he tries to keep her from acknowledging. But the guy calls out again. She turns and introduces Webster, er, Meyers to her friend Faber (Bruce Carlisle). Then she openly expresses her displeasure to Faber about the surprise "no wimin" rule. Faber's disappointed he won't be able to see Connie drive in this. He starts asking her a few more questions, but Connie, under the gaze and covert grip of Webster, doesn't say much in return. Webster starts doing all the talking, and since he has no idea what he's talking about, it doesn't take Faber long to realize something weird is afoot. Faber invites them to join him for an antique car race that afternoon.
Webster and Connie get into the Jaguar and on the road for the qualifying run. She asks him about his Meyers alias. While he was in jail, he switched ID's with a drunk. Webster and Connie fall into some cutesy banter about Faber. While they talk about Connie's semi-beau, Webster opens her up -- the Jaguar that is. Connie reaches behind the seat and pulls out a couple of light pieces of racing headgear. She puts one on Webster and one on herself.
The Jaguar's wheels squeal on a tight turn. Connie tells Webster to drop into a lower gear ratio for sharp turns. After taking a few more high speed turns, Connie realizes that the man has some talent. She openly suggests that he didn't run that truck off the road by accident. But the distraction of driving is not enough for Webster to let down his guard; he continues his noncommittal attitude on his past.
Back at the race administration area, a detective arrives. He asks the race marshal a few questions. However, the race official is distracted by that Meyers-not-Webster fellow making his qualifying run. And to his horror, he realizes that, around the next turn, a truck will be in the Jaguar's path. He gets on the PA system to warn Meyers, but, too late. He's already around the corner.
Webster quickly pulls the car to the left of the truck and keeps her on the road. They're at the end of their qualifying run. Connie has been timing this and checks the final time on her stop watch. She excitedly gives Webster a big hug. He doesn't respond. She backs off when she realizes what she's doing.
The race marshal gets on the PA system and announces that Mr. Meyers
has completed the qualifying run in the second fastest time.
Therefore, he will be beginning the race in the second to last
position. That little bit of news deeply disappoints both Connie and
Webster. She sees it as yet another poorly conceived rule in this
another example of the Universe stacking the deck against him.
On their way out of "the park," they hit a police roadblock, but it's set up for checking cars coming into the park. Webster catches the attention of a driver passing the check point. The other driver says the police are looking for a guy and a gal and Jaguar. Webster decides staying in "the park" will probably be a good thing. They turn around and go the other way.
They stop at a gate. Connie says no one ever comes here; they should be safe. She even opens the gate for him. He drives through, and she latches gate behind him and gets back into car -- with no coercing from him. Off they go, stopping further down the road. This is her own special place, which she found on her own one year. He wants to know, if she's helping him, what's the catch? She says she wants to know the truth. What really happened to him?
He explains that he won't stand trial because he believes the jury will be stacked against him in advance. She tells him he should be more optimistic about the legal system. He tells her she may know a lot about Jaguars, but she doesn't know much about small town order.
His story: After he got out of the army, he bought a truck. Not two trucks, not a fleet of trucks. Just one. For a change in his life, he wanted to do something on his own. But after he'd been in business for a while, he was in competition with someone who owned a fleet. The competition got violent. One of the drivers tried to run him off the road, but that move backfired. And the driver's buddy started declaring that it was Webster who caused the fleet truck to go over the edge.
So why didn't he stand trial? He already knew the fix was on. The fleet truckers were out to lynch him. He'd never get to trial. And if he did go to trial? He'd been a loner, so character witnesses were out of the question.
Connie tells him that he'll never prove his innocence by running, and he'll be running forever. He, according to her, needs to have more faith in other people.
But the conversation is interrupted by a grounds keeper ("Snub" Pollard). He tells them they aren't supposed to be in this part of "the park." Cops patrol here at night looking for kids making out. He moves on, telling them they'll be OK if they're out of here soon.
Webster thinks that Connie has tried to betray him. She tries to convince him that she didn't know about the patrols. They leave this area of "the park." But this time, after Connie opens the gate for Webster, she doesn't come back to the car. She runs away. He chases and catches her, grabbing her by the arm. He threatens to break it if she tries something like that again.
On the road again. They pass Faber. She yells for him. Webster starts to freak, but catches himself and plays it cool. He pulls over. Faber catches up with them. After some light banter, they go to the antique car race they were talking about earlier.
Go to footage of an antique car race, which includes such fine specimens as a Stanley Steamer, a Model T, and a Maxwell. Faber asks Webster about his pit. Webster puts on his granite "doesn't care" attitude, which once again doesn't cover his ignorance of car racing. Finally, Webster leans over to Connie and whispers that she's made her point. She says to Faber that they'll be doing those fuel and oil checks in the morning. Faber asks Connie how she and "Meyers" met. She quickly changes the subject to the action in the race.
After the antique race, Faber suggests to Connie they should go get something to eat. Fortunately, Faber invites her driver along, too.
After food, they check out some of the cars on display in the park.
Faber stops at a convertible Rolls-Royce and starts a lecture on the
history and rarity of this model. Then he suddenly sidetracks to how
he's heard that the police are looking for a murderer in the park.
Connie asks Faber if he thinks the man they're looking for guilty.
Faber says it's certain.
Webster and Connie take the Jaguar to the pit crew area. Connie hooks them up. The car will be ready tomorrow.
They walk down the road. A sports car pulls over next to them. The driver, Sally (Jean Howell), shouts to her old friend Connie and offers to give them a ride to a party. The party is for all the girls who've found out they won't be able to drive in the race and have decided to break training. Connie suggests this would be pointless since most of them were never in training to begin with.
Sally asks where they're staying. They haven't got a place to stay, so Sally suggests they stay with them. It's going to be busy, though. Her father is a deputy and they're busy with a manhunt. They'll probably be in and out all night. Webster suddenly "remembers" that they have a place to stay; he drags Connie along. Sally asks "Meyers" if he'd at least like to come over for a drink, maybe join the manhunt. Nope, they have to be going. "Thought so," mumbles Sally quietly while she drives off.
Night falls. Webster and Connie are still walking on the road. She's tired and can't see the point of not stopping somewhere. He figures that "the park" has gotten dangerous for him, but he'll be harder to catch if he keeps moving. (This, of course, is a pretty stupid tactic, but let's let it go....) She starts some cutesy bickering with him. It's not winning him over. A car approaches. He pulls her into a roadside ditch. After the car passes, she admits she likes this moment relaxation. He abruptly makes her start walking again. (Damn, this guy has picked up a sadistic streak all of the sudden.)
They come to a shack. In they go. Webster tells her he had already planned on coming
here, back when he spotted it earlier; he just never got around to
mentioning it. Connie tries again to talk him into giving himself
up. He still won't do it, of course. But he drops his tough
guy, mad-at-the-world defenses. He kisses her. She doesn't
discourage. Quite the contrary....
Next morning. Connie wakes up in Webster's arms. She starts to get up. He's already awake and hugging her. Then he asks her to meet him in Mexico. She asks him one more time to give up. He can't. And after declaring that for the last time, he goes outside the shack and closes the door behind him. Connie is still inside. He braces the door shut. Connie can't get out. He tells her he'll let someone know she's in there -- preferably after he crosses the border.
Webster picks up the Jaguar at the pit. He drives over to the starting area and sees Faber, who is getting ready to go in a black Jaguar. The man in the black Jag tells the man in the black jack he doesn't belong here. And he'll prove it, too. Webster puts on a "we'll see" attitude.
Meanwhile, Connie has been calling for help. Naturally, no one has been answering her. She moves the desperation up a notch by putting some hay at the base of the door. Then she pulls some matches out of her skirt band. (How many packs does the lady keep in there?) She lights the hay and calls for help again. (Man, I've heard of Münchhausen syndrome, but this....)
The race starts. (And it's as exciting as you'd imagine for two minutes of cars going "Vrrm!" "Vrrm!" past a camera.)
Back at the shack, somebody outside sees the smoke. He runs to the door and pulls away the brace. Out comes Connie, her face smeared by the smoke. She asks the guy to take her to a phone immediately. (Whoa! They don't stop the fire....)
On the race path, Webster and Faber jam along with footage of other other sport cars. Suddenly, Webster runs off the road. He cuts onto a side road, runs on that for a while, and then cuts back to the main road again. Several cars pile it up. Webster, Faber, and two others avoid the mess and continue.
Connie gets to a phone and calls the police. She tells them which car Webster is in, and also tells them about how she believes he's innocent. After making that call, she goes to the crew pit where one of her friends has just fixed his roadster (which looks like some kind of super-charged Morgan). It's too late for him to get into the race. Connie asks to borrow it. And off she goes.
Webster cuts a move and passes Faber plus one other car. Faber passes the other car, which overheats and drops out of the race. Faber tries to pass Webster, first on the right then on the left. Webster won't yield a passing lane. (Déjà vu? Oh, heh. This is what we were seeing during the opening credits.)
Elsewhere, Connie is still jamming along on the road. (And if anyone has any complaints about a woman running the race course, we aren't shown this.)
The cops have put up a section of fence on the road for a roadblock. Webster's well ahead of the rest of the racers, which means he's the first one to see this thing. He jams on the accelerator and crashes through it. (Man, Connie's gonna be pissed....) Faber slows down to a stop at the remains of the roadblock. The police tell him that was Webster who just crashed their party. Faber tells them not to worry; he'll get him.
It doesn't take long for Faber to catch up with Webster. The rich guy tries to cut a lane on Webster's flank again, and it's as an ineffective move as it was earlier. (For the sake of irony, we suppose that Faber is trying to force Webster off the road, but the scene is not presented such that we can see that intention.) However, Faber cuts it a little too loose on one of the turns. He goes off the road and crashes downhill (in what appears to be a stop-motion miniature effect).
Webster stops and reverses back to where Faber left the road. After getting out of his car, he runs down the hill and pulls Faber out his smoking car. Not long after that, Connie arrives. (Cripes, what manner of short cut did she use to get here so quickly?) She gets down the hill to Webster and tells him that she called the police. In the distance, the sound of sirens get louder. Webster isn't running. He tells her that she was right about him. The End. No end credits.
The most fun in this movie is watching John Ireland's tough guy character spar with Dorothy Malone's unbreakable character. They play the battle of the sexes on a good action/adventure level. Ireland's Webster is physically on the offensive yet mentally on the defensive for who he is and what he will do to survive. This character presentation dovetails with Malone's Connie, who is physically on the defensive yet mentally on the offensive. Despite their adversarial relationship by circumstance, these complimentary presentation of traits are the foundation for a conflict that eventually matures into a surprising form of teamwork and cooperation.
We should also note that within a couple of years, the production group
that made this movie would later retell it again and again -- but with
"troubled teens." (Our use of quotes signifies that the
characters never really seemed troubled, plus any resemblance to a teen's
coincidental.) Those who have been exposed to the deluge of such
films may find that this story with adults is a
refreshing change of pace. And while we're on this point, let us
note that the "name only" remake of 2001 falls into that
"teen" set of character selection -- after the formula had lost its savor
following half a century of knee-jerk use.
Although this production used footage from an actual sports car race, we suspect that most of the footage in this movie is original. This is a nice change from many B movies at the time, which tended to contain about fifteen percent recycled material.
We also note that, despite the cars in this feature are about fifty years old, they still jam, and they were filmed such that you can get a feel for how much power they were putting out. Fans of now vintage sports cars will find a variety of models sharing time on screen.
Most shots integrating close-ups and medium-shots of the talent with background vehicles were done rear screen projection. Most of these scenes are surprisingly well done.
However, one original shot for this movie is particularly impressive. Note the scene in the plot description where Ireland's character decides to sneak by two motorcycle patrolmen. He looks down the hill, sees the patrolmen facing away from the road, gets in his car, puts it into neutral, pushes it to a roll, gets in, steers in downhill about a hundred feet, steers to the left, and rolls for about fifty feet behind the patrolmen -- all in one long, continuous shot! The camera, mounted on a vantage point uphill from all this, starts with a wide establishing shot, zooms in on Webster, follows him while he does his thing, and then zooms out slightly to show the result of his action. Creative, intricate shots like this are rare treats in B movies.
Toward the end of the story, characters begin showing unusual signs of proximity convenience. This is a weakness in story telling, used to wrap things up quickly. For example, Webster crashes through the roadblock. His Jaguar is not showing any signs of damage; he continues on his way as before.
Then Faber arrives at the roadblock. He stops, talks to the policemen, the starts up again. Assuming Faber and Webster are evenly matched -- and given the way the race had been going, that'd be a valid assumption, it's not likely Faber would catch up with Webster very soon. But, for the sake of quickly bringing the sequence to a climax, this happens.
Finally, Connie arrives very shortly after Faber's accident.
Recall that everyone has had a looooong head start on her, yet she shows
up about a minute after all this, even beating the police who were already
in the area. Once again, a character is granted proximity
convenience for the sake of wrapping this up quickly.
Watching a guy kidnap a woman is grim enough for any audience, maybe more so for modern audiences. As of this writing, carjacking is one of the ugliest crimes in recent news. In 1996, Californians were offered Proposition 195, which made murder during a carjacking and murder resulting from a carjacking kidnap special cases -- punishable by either death or life without parole.
So should Webster, who kidnaps and carjacks, still be worthy of our sympathies? Perhaps by the standards of the mid-1950's, one could make an argument for him. But such an argument wouldn't be based on reality; it'd be based on other movies. Webster's situation and actions resemble Humphrey Bogart's characters in The Petrified Forest (1936) and High Sierra (1941). We should note, though, that although Ireland is a good actor, he didn't have Bogart's screen charisma. And despite how good a team Ireland and Malone are for portraying this sort of situation, the basic ethical entertainment question is still there.
John Ireland (director, Webster) started out as a performance swimmer but later went into acting. He started landing bit parts on Broadway and, in the 1940's, moved into movies. He usually played in crime dramas and westerns. Since he didn't have traditionally classic features going for him, he rarely captured the top of the bill and usually played quiet, brooding characters, often playing bad guys. In 1950, he picked up a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work in All the King's Men (1949). From about the 1960's onward, he usually played bit parts.
Jerome Odlum (writer) was better known as a novelist. In particular, he wrote Each Dawn I Die and Dust Be My Destiny, both of which were made into respectable prison movies. He died of a heart attack not long after The Fast and the Furious was completed.
Jean Howell (writer, Sally) was also the wife of Larry Thor (Detective). Hmmm....
Three years after making The Fast and the Furious, Dorothy Malone (Connie) would be taking home the Oscar for Best Actress for her work in Written on the Wind (1956). She'd been getting mostly bit parts before, and she'd still get stuck with those bit parts afterwards -- until the mid 1960's. That's when she did her most memorable work, as Constance of Peyton Place (1964-1969).
Iris Adrian (Waitress) was a Ziegfeld girl who turned to comedy when she discovered and refined her talent of annoying people with the sound of her voice. It served her well for a fifty year career of bit parts in various movies.
Big, stocky Bruno VeSota (Nielson) appeared in various other B movies like Daddy-O (1959), Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), and The Wild World of Batwoman (1966). He also directed a better-than-it-sounds movie called The Brain Eaters (1958) and a worse-than-you'd-imagine comedy called Invasion of the Star Creatures (1962). He also played the disgustingly scary john picking up the "working girl" main character in the experimental Dementia (1955, a.k.a. Daughter of Horror), which he also co-produced.
"Snub" Pollard (Park Caretaker) was in a multitude of comedy shorts, beginning in the 1910's with Hal Roach.
Floyd Crosby (cinematographer) won the Academy Award for his work in Tabu (1931), and much later earned a Golden Globe for High Noon (1952). And then he went almost exclusively into B movies. Oh, yeah, and his son David was a rock star.
David Kramarsky (assistant to the producer) produced and directed The Beast with A Million Eyes (1955). We also note that Lou Place has an undefined bit part; he directed Beast and also the legendarily bad Daddy-O (1959).
Roger Corman (producer, original story, driver, and bit part as a roadblock policeman) needs no introduction here. (It's a good bet that if you've bothered to dig this far into an analysis of a movie like this, you already know his name.) This one was at the dawn of his production career. A story has it that while they were filming one of this movie's race scenes, Corman was one of the drivers. He forgot he was supposed to lose in the scene he drove. The man loved to drive those cars; he didn't seem very upset about reshooting the scene....
An associate of his called Samuel Z. Arkoff had a film distribution company called The American Releasing Corporation. Corman essentially loaned The Fast and the Furious to Arkoff in exchange for an advance to produce another feature. Arkoff and a salesman associate his named James H. Nicholson were about to take the B movie world by storm with American International Pictures. And the rest, as they say, is history.
But before we move on, let's note that Corman's story was about an independent who had chip on his shoulders regarding big business. Draw your own conclusions.
And There's the Green Flag - Fast cars have fascinated American audiences ever since mechanics figured out how you get these suckers to go faster than a good horse. Filmmakers picked up on this and realized there were two excuses you could use for making a car go really, really fast. One was the chase scene. The other was car racing (as opposed to chasing). And since automobile racing lived in a sporting world of its own, filmmakers had plenty of room for how they could tell stories about this new form of individualized heroism.
The following list of movies show how car racing, as popularly portrayed, changed over a half century. It begins in the silent era and ends when economics caused movie racing to give way to chasing....
The Roaring Road (1919) - Silent film star Wallace Reid played a race car driver in various films. In this outing, he's a car salesman who tries to win the hearts of both his company and his girl by representing his employers in a big race. Followed by Excuse My Dust (1920) and What's Your Hurry? (1920), both directed by Sam Wood -- later of A Night at the Opera (1935) fame.
The Crowd Roars (1932) - James Cagney gets behind the wheel in this story from the early days of the Indianapolis 500. Directed by Howard Hawks. Compare with Redline 7000 below.
Racing Youth (1932) - Woman inherits a car company, but one of the directors plans to discredit her by sabotaging her favored production line, which makes racing cars. Love interest (played by Frank Albertson) shows up to fix her cars and win the big race.
Straightaway (1934) - Cowboy star Tim McCoy must've wanted to try something with more than one horsepower, so here he is as a race car driver framed for murder. Will he defeat the bad guys and win the big race? Would anyone be surprised?
Red Hot Tires (1935, a.k.a. Racing Luck) - Yif! Crime and cars again. This time, the framed race car driver goes to prison. He escapes to South America, takes up his old sport again, and comes back to the US to fulfill a matter of honor -- on the racetrack. C.f. Road Racers below.
Speed to Spare (1937) - It's The Corsican Brothers on the blacktop. Two men, both race car drivers and sharing an unusual degree of synchronicity, don't know they're twin brothers. Unfortunately, one's a bit on the evil side....
Burn 'Em Up O'Connor (1939) - Near black comedy about a would-be driver and mechanic joining a racing team with a high mortality rate.
Blonde Comet (1941) - William "One Shot" Beaudine turned in this, the last PRC picture show. Rivalry develops between two race car drivers, but this time around, one of them is a woman. Might've been good had they stuck to this, but then the story veers of into yet another tale of race car sabotage.
Born to Speed (1947) - Welcome to midget auto racing. (Sorry, this has nothing to do with putting vertically challenged people behind the wheel.) Son of a race car driver loses his father in fiery crash. He gets some help rebuilding the car, which he plans to race.
To Please a Lady (1950) - Clark Gable as a midget race car driver. (We'd say "driver of midget race cars," but c'mon, the man was six-foot-one; nobody should be confused.) As seen in Gremlins (1984).
The Roar of the Crowd (1953) - Guy meets girl. Guy races cars. Girl wants him to quit. Guy agrees, but only after he's had a chance to drive in the Indy 500. Complications ensue. Surprisingly good one directed by William Beaudine in Cinecolor. Compare with The Green Helmet below.
Genevieve (1953) - Comedy about an English cross country antique car race and a friendly rivalry turned bitter.
The Racers (1955) - Bus driver (Kirk Douglas) wants to race in the Grand Prix someday. (Cripes, given the way most of them drive, you'd think that was common enough.) He trades his bus route for the racing circuit, but after he starts winning a few races, begins to lose his humanity.
Dragstrip Girl (1957) - Over aged teen girl splits her affections and encourages a rivalry between a garage mechanic and a drag racer. (C.f. Showtime's "academic" remake.)
Dragstrip Riot (1958) - Over aged teen boy gets into trouble when a motorcycle gang has a run-in with his drag racing gang. Both this and Dragstrip Girl above were AIP features.
Road Racers (1959) - Gee, another AIP feature. After being accused of causing a fatal accident, an American race car driver gets kicked out the profession, so he goes to Europe and starts over. After rising to the top, he returns to the US for a showdown.
The Green Helmet (1961) - Older race car driver begins to pass his prime but refuses to hang up his driving gloves, despite the pleadings of his new girlfriend plus those of his younger brother -- who isn't allowed to race until the older brother quits.
The Lively Set (1964) - Engineering student has an inventive insight for a new type of car engine, then drops out of school to build and race sports cars. (We'd question the logic of this move, too, were it not comparable to what that Gates guy did with computers....)
Bikini Beach (1964) - One of the Beach Party movies. Among the various subplots in this one, you'll find drag racing - with Don Rickles as a local garage owner called "Big Drag." Cf. Fireball 500 (1966), wherein Frankie Avalon and Fabian are stock car racers vying for Annette Funicello. They should've taken it back to the beach....
Red Line 7000 (1965) - On-going rivalry among a group of stock car racers. Disappointing when you realize it was directed by Howard Hawks.
The Great Race (1965) - Spoof of 1920's daring-do, with an intercontinental race between an excessively pure hero vs. an ineffectually evil villain. Not for all tastes. Cf. Monte Carlo or Bust (1969, a.k.a. Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies) and the Wacky Races cartoon series (1968-1970).
Grand Prix (1966) - Racing epic, and that's "epic" in the sense of several rambling plotlines. If you ever get a chance to see this in a real theater from a 70 mm print, do it! Awesome sound work plus spit screens.
The Love Bug (1969) - Disney spots Volkswagen some product placement when a living car takes an interest in a race car driver. Followed by three progressively cutesy sequels.
Winning (1969) - Race car driver starts losing his edge to another driver, then finds out this other driver has been wearing out the clutch on his wife, too. Includes a very young Richard "John Boy" Thomas as the distressed son of the first driver.
Pit Stop (1969, a.k.a. Winner) - Racing promoter comes up with a new gimmick: Figure-Eight Racing. The track has an intersection in the middle, making the event part race, part stunt driving, and part demolition derby. Surprisingly entertaining feature by B movie exploitation mogul Jack Hill.
Fireball Jungle (1969, a.k.a. Jungle Terror) - Gangsters try to gain a foothold in stock car racing in the South.
Le Mans (1971) - According to rumor, this was supposed to be Warner Bros. big budget answer to MGM's Grand Prix. We're not so sure it's the right answer. Shoot, we even have misgivings about the question. The plot? Oh, ok. Two race car drivers with some history between them jockey it out during the twenty-four hour endurance race.
Drive Hard, Drive Fast (1973) - This sat in the can for four years until it ran as a made for TV movie. Race car driver gets involved in a love triangle. Next thing you know, somebody with a machete is out to permanently bleed his fluids.
The Last American Hero (1973) - The story of stock car racer Junior Jackson, from his humble beginnings as a moonshine runner to his dissatisfaction with how big business influences the sport. (The sport of stock car racing, not moon running, dammit!)
It was about this time that the nature of the automobile changed. Concerns about pollution, safety, and fuel shortages would dictate safer, slower, smaller, less powerful cars. Up to this point, something resembling a muscle car was a birthright. Now it would be a glorified, excessive sign of aggressive individuality.
And how did this influence the car race movie? It declined under the rise of car chase and automotive dueling movies. But that would be another set of stories....
Working class fugitive carjacks a Jaguar and kidnaps its upper class female owner, then tries to sneak out of the country as part of a touring road race. Early effort by a team that was about to start calling itself American International and take the B movie world by storm. Not a great movie, but surprisingly entertaining and creative, yet no longer politically correct enough for most audiences today. Recommended for B movie enthusiasts and fans of vintage sports cars.
Originally published on 26 June 2001.