Turner Classic Movies likes to release a number of movies from their collection in batches to form a theme. War movies, Clint Eastwood movies, Dracula movies, etc. I just so happened to find out that they were gonna give car movies, so I recorded those whose reviews garnered my attention. Warning: spoilers ahead!
Speedway is the first and so far only silent racing film I’ve seen. Taking place in the late 1920s, it’s the story of Bill Whipple (William Haines), a pompous young man who puts on airs of being a great driver. He is an ace mechanic, though. His talents do get to shine… racing on the rival team, against Jim Macdonald (Ernest Torrence), Bill’s adoptive father who owns and drives his own car for a living. Only after bringing out the best of said rival team’s car does he get pushed aside, forced to sit at the sidelines to see that rather than being on a team as a mechanic where he is loved despite his faults, now he belonged to no one.
But he still had a chance to redeem himself. After finding out that Jim himself isn’t racing due to his heart condition, Bill suits up to aid the losing Macdonald team. After closing the gap, Bill fakes an injury near the final laps, which forces Jim to race himself. Jim wins the race… and a heart attack. But he survives, and manages his dream of winning the Indianapolis 500 after 17 tries.
It does sound like a great movie, doesn’t it? Well… it isn’t. The two paragraphs above were some of the better parts; the Wikipedia synopsis had four sentences. Four. The problem is that a good chunk of the movie is dedicated to letting us how just how annoying Bill is and can be. This isn’t a long movie (about 80+ minutes), yet his antics not only drags things out, it leaves you impatient as well. If I bought a ticket to see the movie back in ’29, I would’ve walked out of the theater in the middle of the movie and demanded for my money back.
There are some good points, though. The filmmakers mix studio projections and prop cars as well as towing the actors in their prop cars on site. Sound-wise, during the climactic final race, the background music gives way to roaring engine sounds, an effect that I enjoyed. The film acknowledges the help from the folks and racers from Indianapolis Speedway for the racing footage.
I’ve seen a number of late-‘20s/early’30s racing films. Some feature co-pilots, some, like this one, doesn’t. They’re actually riding mechanics, which do everything from being a rearview mirror, to fetching fuel, parts and/or tools back at the pits when the car breaks out. Depending on the year and the length of the race, race teams had to include riding mechanics. By the time this movie was filmed, riding mechanics were optional.
Unfortunately, reading about riding mechanics turned out to be more entertaining all-around than watching this movie. Here’s a hint: fast-forward the entire restaurant scene. You’re welcome.
For a more educative and cinema-centric review, go here, apocalypselaterfilm.com, for the scathing review. It does have some nice pictures.
DVD box art: eBay