The Racers (1955)

Approved   |    |  Drama, Sport

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  • Kirk Douglas and Gilbert Roland in The Racers (1955)
  • Kirk Douglas and Gilbert Roland in The Racers (1955)
  • Kirk Douglas and Bella Darvi in The Racers (1955)
  • Kirk Douglas and Cesar Romero in The Racers (1955)
  • Lee J. Cobb in The Racers (1955)
  • Kirk Douglas and Bella Darvi in The Racers (1955)

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1 February 2011 | bbrown95-1
| Laughable script, excellent and rare '50s race footage
Yes, the plot and the dialogue are ludicrous. No, Bella Darvi (née Bayla Wegier) couldn't act, but the poor girl had had a very difficult life and a short and brutal movie career. Ironically, she died by her own hand, after several failed attempts, in, of all places, Monaco -- where, in the Racers, she meets our hero, Gino Borgesa (Douglas) when her poodle runs out in front of his sports car at Monaco, and he swerves to avoid the dog and crashes into the steps of the Casino. Great crowd control in those days. Yes, I said "Sports Car," for this movie, though released in 1955, has much glorious color real racing footage culled from the previous 2 or 3 seasons, and, in 1952, for the first and last time post WWII, the Monaco GP was run for sports cars (won that year by Vittorio Marzotto, the lesser known of the famed Marzotto brothers, in a Ferrari 225S).

Forget the idiotic dialogue -- the dying "Dell'Oro" (Gilbert Roland), to Douglas: "Gino, my crankcase is leaking!" as he clutches at his crushed chest; Douglas explaining to the lovely- but-crosseyed Darvi how race drivers consider it bad luck to wish a race driver "good luck": "'Into the lion's mouth!' we say, or "I spit in your crankcase!'" Forget all that and watch Fangio, Villoresi, Farina, Moss, Peter Collins, Robert Manzon and his doomed compatriot Pierre Levegh driving in real races: Spa, Nürburgring, the Mille Miglia. Check out how Maserati redecorated their cars to look like the mythical "Aquila," or whatever the hell they were, under the stern team management of Lee J. Cobb, whose turn as Maglio makes Kirk Douglas sound like a native-born Milanese.

In a sly move (or simple accident of fate) director Hathaway created a quite believable pairing that resembled WAY more than a little Juan Fangio and his constant female companion whom the contemporary press always referred to, chastely, as his "wife" (Fangio never married, and it wasn't until 4 years after Fangio's death that author Karl Ludvigsen, in his 1999 biography "Juan Manuel Fangio: Motor Racing's Grand Master" revealed the real identity of his companion (AND his hitherto unknown son). The drivers of the time certainly knew she wasn't his wife, but that was a different, in many ways more honourable time; no driver, mechanic, or pit hanger-on would have even dreamed of going to the yellow press to spread the story for money. Those men were professionals: what Fangio did off the track was his own business. Off-soapbox. The stalwart Katy Jurado was perfectly cast as "Maria Chávez," the wife of aging race driver "Carlos Chavez," played by Cesar Romero -- better known as "The Cisco Kid," and then for his defining role as The Joker in the Adam West/Burt Ward Camp-Fest "Batman" series of the '60s -- miles better than Nicholson, not nearly as dark as Heath Ledger.

Original -- though not very -- musical score by Alex North, who had done such fantastic work scoring "Spartacus" and the Burton/Taylor "Cleopatra."

The great American drivers John Fitch and Phil Hill did the stunt driving for this -- scraping the arch at Ravenna during the Mille Miglia at speed was pretty hairy stuff (done with a longish piece of wire and some fresh plaster). The overall Tecnical Adviser was the veteran racing warhorse, the Baron Emmanuel de Graffenried, AND this movie was also an early example of the title work of the incomparable Saul Bass, who made movie titling an art form in its own right with movies like "The Man With Golden Arm," "Exodus," "West SideStory," Spartacus, and the ingenious and ground-breaking title-credit sequence at the beginning of John Frankenheimer's "Grand Prix," still the greatest fictional racing movie ever made. McQueen's "Le Mans" COULD have been, but for McQueen's unbelievable and thoroughly unlikable ego and overweening insistence on his personal version of perfectionism, which, in the end, cost David Piper his leg and cost McQueen Solar Productions. When the budget went nuts and Solar Productions couldn't finance, or even FINISH the movie, let alone distribute it, CBS/Cinema Center stepped in, prolonged the sappy, wholly superfluous, and, of course, inevitable background "love story" (people ain't going' to the movies to see a bunch of goddam cars runnin' around a track, ya know!), and I believe CBS/Cinema Center were responsible for the movie-ruining 1970s-style "Carmina Burana"-meets-French-Jazz-a-la-Michel-LeGrand soundtrack. The CARS are the soundtrack, you meatheads! Off soapbox again.

Hans Ruesch, who wrote the novel and collaborated on the screenplay, had been a race driver himself, never achieving much, but even HE must have winced at "I spit in your crankcase." Skip over the Douglas-Darvi scenes and go right to the footage -- magnificent!

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