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The Last American Hero

One of Jeff Bridges earliest films, 1973's THE LAST AMERICAN HERO is a race movie classic with a great pedigree.

Author Tom Wolfe (The Right Stuff, Bonfire of the Vanities) wrote magazine articles on a southern hero of the track circuit, Junior Johnson. Those articles were the basis of the screenplay by William Roberts (The Magnificent Seven, The Devils Brigade).

It's a good tale. Junior lives deep in the woods, the son of an infamous moonshiner. Junior and his brother Wayne (a VERY young Gary Busey) watch their father head in and out of jail.

Junior gains his driving chops running from the cops (where he literally invented the bootleg turn move) and parlays those skills into local racing, where he shows a natural talent, with more passion than patience.

Bridges is already terrific in his early twenties, making you believe Junior's naive wonder at the new world of racing that he quickly rises through.

Valerie Perrine filmed her biggest role to date here, one year before her breakout as Lenny Bruce's wife in 'Lenny". She's great as Marge, a beautiful racing groupie who teaches Junior plenty off the track.

Ned Beatty and Ed Lauter, 70's film stalwarts are both fun as track and team owners and William Smith, who you'll recognize from every hit TV show in the seventies if you are of a certain age, shines as track legend Kyle Kingman.

The real Junior Jackson served as advisor for the film and that authenticity plays well, never settling for over playing southern stereotypes.

The writing is strong, the acting is terrific and the races are shot very well, with plenty of thrills long before special effects made the action shots a little too perfect.

Jim Croce's "I Got A Name" was written for the film, weaving nicely throughout and reminding you of the era in all the right ways.

Much better than you'd think, with Bridges already showing hints of real stardom, THE LAST AMERICAN HERO gets a B at the checkered flag.

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