Burn ‘Em Up, O’Connor (1939), a review:

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!

Burn Em Up O'Connor printscreen

Burn ‘Em Up, O’Connor tells the story of friends Jerry O’Connor (Dennis O’Keefe) and Buddy Buttle (Nat Pendleton) and their rise from the farm to the race track. Jerry is the racecar-obsessed one, willing to sleep through movies just to watch racing news reels and risk getting fired for racing the farm’s tractors. Buddy, while simple-minded, has incredible mechanical knowledge and problem-solving skills. He’s the da real MVP of this movie. Having acquired a Midget-class racecar, Jerry and a reluctant Buddy set out to race. To think that the chance would present itself when Jerry went after a girl, Jane Delano (Cecilia Parker).

After demonstrating his talents on track, Jerry and Buddy are hired by Jane’s father P.G. ‘Pinky’ Delano (Harry Carey), owner of the Delano Rockets racing team. Jerry and Buddy aren’t exactly received with warm welcomes not because of the way they are (in Jerry’s case it sorta is), but because the mood on the team is sour, and rightly so: the Delano Rockets have been labeled as jinxed, with a string of accidents that has even claimed a driver. As the race season progressed, more drivers lost their lives. Buddy notices a pattern, and starts to look for answers, despite the general consensus to not talk about it and move on.

Unable to figure things out, Jerry and Buddy take risky preventive measures: using others senses to get through the track. Buddy had a hunch that the driver’s drinks have been tampered with, and prohibits Jerry to drink any liquids until after the race. Meanwhile, to prove his theory, Buddy does drink the tampered drink, and finds that it messes with his sight and depth perception. Turns out the team doctor was behind the poisonings, done in revenge against Pinky, for the death of his son in a race some time ago. But Jerry’s not out of the woods yet, poison still got into his body (skin absorption). Now a poisoned Buddy and an anxious Jane have to get to the most dangerous part of the track to save Jerry’s skin from the only corner his other senses haven’t memorized. With their help, Jerry survives and wins.

I really liked this movie. The pace was just right; you’re not bored.  I liked the who-done-it angle to it; it was different. I found the midget racing scene to be better filmed than other movies portraying them. But it’s the road races that are the real car-jewel of the movie. Not to knock on Indianapolis Speedway, but the road races, with their scenery, and variety of twists and turns are a welcome breath of fresh air. Even the technical stuff is interesting (when they were talking about x-raying parts for structural weakness).

Of the movie’s that I’ve seen, this one does go a little deeper in exploring the superstitious side of racing, and I’m not talking about lucky charms, but the emotional toll on the drivers. Then there’s the fact that racecar drivers of the day accepted the extremely high risks of the sport, but when the team’s boss witnesses the death of almost all of his drivers almost one after another, who were well-attached to each other, that takes its toll on a man, no matter how hard-boiled he may seem. The thought of his name being ruined and the demise of his already demoralized team, while relegated on a distant plane when compared to the loss of human life, also bears on one’s thoughts.

Despite the lack of proper images and the fact that not even Wikipedia even has a couple of sentences as a synopsis, there are a couple of reviews out there, but they don’t view the movie in the same regard as I do. The final race was one of the most criticized. The use of the other senses to survive the race is plausible; then again I’m a fan of the Initial D franchise, so I’m seasoned in accepting crazy maneuvers with plausibility. One review criticized the relationship between Jerry and Jane, but their acceptance for each other felt far more natural than many other movies that I’ve seen. You might not enjoy the movie too much if you think too much about it, but you don’t need to turn off your brain entirely as well.

 

–Tigerstrypes

 

References:

Opening pic: Printscreen

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