The granddaddy of all Racing Movies, 1966's GRAND PRIX still holds its spot as one of the all-time best of the genre. Dropping you into the driver's seat on an immersive widescreen, the film soars anytime it's on the track.
James Garner stars as American driver Pete Aron, whose less than perfect car causes a serious accident with his teammate Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford of "Nixon"). Tensions escalate and Pete is fired from his team, drifting into an uncomfortable fit as a TV commentator.
Stoddard's wife Pat (Jessica Walter) leaves him in his hospital bed and immediately starts trying to climb into Pete's.
Yves Montand (Z, Wages of Fear) is French World Champion driver Jean-Pierre Sarti, growing a bit tired of the track as he's distracted by American reporter Louise, played by Eva Marie Saint (North by Northwest, On the Waterfront).
Toshiro Mifune (Tora Tora Tora, Seven Samurai) is Japanese team owner Yamura, who thinks Pete is a better driver than a commentator. Mifune commands attention, as does Antonio Sabato as Italian star driver Nino Barlini and the stunning Francoise Hardy (8 Women) as Barlini's girlfriend Lisa.
Throw in Adolfo Celi (Largo in "Thunderball" for all you OO7 fans) as the manager of the Ferrari racing team and you've got a hell of a cast.
It plays a bit less soap-operish than it sounds, thanks to first class production values and the sure hand of director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, Black Sunday).
Every time you think the film is going to get bogged down in off-track, personal details, Frankenheimer drops you right back into another race. Several sequences put you behind the wheel for an entire lap of European tracks. The scenery is incredible, the speed is astonishing and the roar of the tires & the competition surrounds you. In Cinerama and Super Panavision 70, this must have been incredible to watch.
It's hard to believe that James Garner did ALL his own driving. I couldn't figure out how they had Garner in that car at top speed, knowing that CGI didn't exist in the 1960's. That's really him at those speeds! Phenomenal.
Of the 32 professional racing drivers who took part in the filming, five died in racing accidents within two years and another five in the following ten years,
The story does a nice job of setting up all the story plot lines to converge at the final race of the season, on the massive curved track that brings the film's greatest visual thrills. With Sarti, Aron, Stoddard and Barlini all within reach of the World Championship, the final 30 minutes has serious life and death stakes for our drivers.
Visual consultant Saul Bass, who created the titles for Hitchcock's "Psycho" and Steve McQueen's "Bullitt" has a huge impact here, devising the first major use of multiple split-screens in American film. You could argue that they went to the well too many times with Stoddard's pain killer memory sequence, but that's a minor complaint when you look at the overall excitement Bass creates.
Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago) delivers a decent if sparse music score, thankfully letting the roar of the engines serve as the best accompaniment to the action.
It's often quoted that real-life race car drivers site GRAND PRIX as the ultimate racing film. For me, it sits along Steve McQueen/John Sturges' 1971 film "Le Mans" and Ron Howard's little seen 2013 racing film "Rush" as the best of the big screen's racing movies.
GRAND PRIX speeds to an A-.