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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

AIP Roars Out Of The Gate

The Fast and The Furious (1955) Puts Corman, Jim, and Sam On The Road

Where it all began for American-International, then trading as American Releasing Corporation. Exhibitors needed cheap, exploitable product, and here came Jim and Sam to supply it, with ready assist of hungry Roger Corman, himself embarking upon a (still going) career at pocket-change filmmaking. The Fast and The Furious used names, albeit got for a price John Ireland and Dorothy Malone, to fill second hardtop tiers and maybe headline drive-in bills where speed was king. Much of Furious was shot on actual race ground, a weekend gather serving as free backdrop to drama hastily enacted. Someone's surely hunted down when and where the event took place, maybe an AIP researcher? I wish they'd do a book, although Mark McGee's serves nicely for a meantime. Jim/Sam (as in Nicholson-Arkoff) drove fast and furious across country to seek bookings for their quickie, and a distributing titan was born. Fascinating how business was then done over desks and drinks on a strictly grassroots basis. J&S knew showmen personally the country over, both well aware that personal contacts made money flow freest. The Fast and The Furious may not be much of a movie, but it's got curiosity/historical interest to beat better-known others, and looks almost semi-doc for closeness to reality, this not unlike Mack Sennett rushing off with cameras whenever races were staged nearby, his cameras grabbing production value for a happy nothing spent. Corman was in that sense Mack's genius successor.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

It played drive-ins in the south into the 1970s.

11:49 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer appreciates "The Fast and The Furious":

For a cheap picture with not much of a story, "Fast and Furious" is surprisingly entertaining, partly because of some charismatic performances by the leads and a lot because of the cars. John Ireland, always the square peg when the studios were still trying to fill round holes, could be had for a price at that time. He could walk through a role and make it interesting, though, which is a good thing, since he isn't doing much more than that here, even though he's in a race car. Dorothy Malone, however, is incandescent. She was pretty busy playing support in big pictures and leads in cheapies, but the next year she would be in Douglas Sirk's "Written on the Wind," and the movie-going public would see her in a whole new way. How anyone could have overlooked an actress this hot and this good is still a puzzlement, however. But she, too, could be had.

I understand the filming took 10 days, and those days were probably centered around the Pebble Beach Road Races, a Sports Car Club of America event held on April 17, 1955. Some of the shots of the cars going through the woods, are identical to pictures published of the event in the June, 1955 issue of Road&Track. Phil Hill not only won the Concurs d'Elegance with his mother's Pierce-Arrow, but later that afternoon won the Del Monte Troph in his "screaming" Monza Ferrari. Hill became World Driving Champion six years later, the only American-born driver ever to win the honor. The race footage is easy to distinguish from the stuff made for the film, as the drivers Corman hired, with their own cars, are obviously not going "balls to the wall." Certainly not for what he was paying them. But the cars: Jaguar XK120s, Austin-Healeys, Allards, and Nash-Healeys are all marvelous to watch, all from a time when gentlemen would still drive to the course, have their race, and then picnic afterwards before driving home in the same cars they raced.

Dorothy Malone opens the picture driving up in a Jaguar XK120. I thought her technique was a little tentative, but she might have been thinking of her first scene with Bruno ve Sota, playing an obnoxious jerk. That couldn't have helped but have been distracting. Four minutes later, however John Ireland is forced to take his gun away and visciously dispose of him, and we are, as they say, off to the races. Dorothy is shown later in a running shot, driving an Allard, and doing pretty well. She was just terrific.

3:51 PM  
Blogger rumplestiltskin rumpy said...

The AFI film catalog entry identifies the racetrack event as the "Jaguar Open Sports Car Race" in Monterey CA.

4:47 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer has more on "The Fast and The Furious" ....

I think the AFI is wrong.

While there are a lot of Jaguars in the race footage, there are a lot of other makes as well, so it was obviously taken at an open competition of some kind.

A Wikipedia article mentions that the filming was at Pebble Beach. Some of the shots are of a course identical to the one appearing in pictures of the 1955 race that were published in Road&Track.

However, I understand that "The Fast and the Furious" was released on February 15, 1955, so the filming couldn't have taken place at the 1955 race, which was held on April 17th.

Looking at the fixtures for the Sports Car Club of America held in 1954, there are two meetings at Pebble Beach, one the Pebble Beach Sports Car Road Race and Concours D'Elegance, held on April 11th, and the SCCA National Sports Car Championship held on November 4th. If the producers had already made a deal with American Releasing Corporation for the release of their film, then the short lead time might have allowed filming at the November 4th race. However, I also understand that they didn't tie in with ARC until later, making the April 11th date more likely.

By the way, one of the entrants at Pebble Beach on April 11th was "J. von Neumann of North Hollywood," driving a Porsche 550. John von Neumann came in second that day in the Pebble Beach Cup Race. The following year, he was riding with James Dean in Dean's own Porsche on the trip that ended with Dean's death in a traffic accident.

9:39 AM  

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