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The Racers (1955)

From 20th Century Fox comes this Henry Hathaway directed tale of life on the fast lanes. It seems every decade casts a major star in a plot centered around car racing. This time out we have Kirk Douglas cast in a role not too distant from his Midge Kelly role in Champion and Jonathan Shields in The Bad and the Beautiful. Having said that don’t get that idea that this film can compare to those two classics.

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Kirk is a hungry up and comer in the racing game who is about to land a spot in the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. Things don’t work out in the trial run but fellow racers Cesar Romero, Gilbert Roland and money man Lee J. Cobb take notice of his skills behind the wheel. So does Bella Darvi who figures to becomes Kirk’s romantic interest in between races.

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As was customary with many Douglas roles during the fifties his ego is on the rise and nothing will stop him on his drive to the top of the rankings. Not friends, fellow racers or lovers. It’s win at all costs where Kirk is concerned. We do get some tight races and car wrecks along the way. All done with back screen projections and our trio of goggled racers trying to fight each other to the finish line.

This is pretty much a formula picture that doesn’t offer anything new and proved nothing more than a payday for Mr. Douglas. There is some location footage for the racing car enthusiasts but I am under the impression the actual cast never stepped foot overseas.

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Looking for the positives we do get another chance to see Gilbert Roland play his friendly “Amigo” character. It’s practically impossible not to like Gilbert Roland on screen from about 1948 onwards. He had actually appeared with Douglas in the excellent Bad and the Beautiful in 1952. Gilbert had an incredibly long career appearing in films from the twenties in to the decade of the eighties.

Both Lee J. Cobb and Cesar Romero are well known figures in classic films and television. Cobb just might be the actor that perfected the menacing bully who raises his voice to intimidate those around him. Romero gets a leading lady of his own here in the form of Katy Jurado.

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According to Kirk Douglas’ autobiography, Darryl F. Zanuck cast his mistress Darvi in this film with hopes of furthering her career. It didn’t work out that way as Bella became another lost soul in the world of film making passing away at the age of 42 by her own hand.

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While this is largely a forgotten film in both Kirk’s and Hathaway’s career it isn’t that bad. It’s just not memorable. Surprisingly it’s their only film together and not every film can be a classic. With Douglas, Romero, Cobb and Roland one could do a lot worse in selecting a film to check out. I have this on an old VHS tape so it’s out there for those willing to look.

5 Comments »

  1. I’d never even heard of the film before reading this – more proof that I need to get stuck into that Douglas autobiography asap – but it sounds like it’s at least worth a look. Hathaway, Douglas and a supporting cast as impressive as that can’t be all bad.

  2. Caught this on TCM last year and it made me laugh a wee bit too much. The acting is fine and all, as are the real racing bits and that Saul Bass credit sequence. But the rear-screen stuff made me crack up because it’s so silly-looking, particularly the wrecks. Granted, you don’t want to see anyone really hurt in a racing film. But I’m betting John Frankenheimer was taking notes of what NOT to do when he later made Gran Prix…

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