(thanks, Jon Clark!)
Henry Hathaway’s 1955 potboiler The Racers isn’t exactly the best Kirk Douglas vehicle out there, but the actor gives it his usual all in this zippy yet easily forgotten melodrama that features some excellent real life races in gorgeous European locations race fans will approve of highly. Unfortunately, mixed in with these lovely tracks are some of the worst laughably out of place front, rear, and side screen projected driving scenes outside of a slapstick comedy. In fact, these projection sequences are so obvious that they give the otherwise slickly made movie more of an odd comic tone today than they probably did back in theaters in 1955. Then again, I can’t imagine anyone being fooled back then either.
Granted, it’s more than obvious that the otherwise wise filmmakers didn’t want Douglas whipping around in uncontrollable circles in an open cockpit roadster or flying off a track because of a stray poodle to crash through some hay bales and a stone fence (the first hilarious wreck in the film). On the other hand, given the character he plays is a bit of a jerk as he steps on a few toes on his way to the top of the auto racing heap, I guess a little less fake looking fakery may have made this more memorable a time killer…
Douglas plays Gino Borgesa, a handsome hotshot driver who, before the big race in Monte Carlo spies a pretty gal named Nicole (Bella Darvi) who chats him up a bit (flirt, flirt!) before heading off to catch the action. Her cute poodle ends up scampering onto the track, causing Gino to crash, but he escapes before his car catches fire and kind of explodes. if you’re catching this flick for the first time, get used to the film zapping between actual races and eye-popping obvious staged effects insert shots (of which there are many). Anyway, Gino and Bella’s romance gets off to a shaky start (hey, what’s a gal to do after her dog nearly kills a man but to hook up, right?) because he’s a “work first” guy and he means it more than a hundred percent.
(thanks, Yannick Vallet!)
How driven is Gino? Well, he ruins the final race of a retiring former champion (Caesar Romero) by “stealing” the win from under him and later, almost loses a leg in a terrible crash, but doesn’t get it amputated (well, that’s Nicole’s influence combined with Gino’s “at all costs” nature), leaving him with a limp and possibly lesser reflexes. But you know how we men are, right ladies. Nothing stops us when we see something we want. Unless we stop ourselves by pushing so hard we push everything away including that big goal. You may not see all this in The Racers thanks to some not so hot writing and acting, but it’s there. The main distraction outside of the well shot real race portions are the performances that have the cast over-emoting or in the case of the stunning Bella Darvi, looking better than they can emote.
The main issue with the film for me was parts of the story and the romance angle seemed needless because the wide variety of cars on display is what’s really the focus (or should have been). But 20th Century Fox most likely wanted to spin up the love story and Douglas’ work here, so you get to gape at a few minutes of too much talking between races and then some goofy car action clearly shot in a studio somewhere on the Fox lot. Still, outside of the obvious effects work, there’s a gorgeous travelogue and plenty of race history to ogle. Toss in a bombastic Alex North score and a great, dirt simple Saul Bass title sequence and you get just under 90 minutes that won’t strain your brain at all. It’s no Grand Prix or Le Mans, but if you’re feeling the need for speed and like your cars of the vintage European variety, this one may keep you at least mildly entertained.