Hell On Wheels (1967)
If Paul Newman can make movies like Winning and become a race car driver than surely Marty Robbins can sing classic country music and make a low budget film titled Hell on Wheels and become a racing enthusiast behind the wheel as well.
This rather schlocky stock car racing film features Marty Robbins starring as Marty Robbins. He’s the king of the stock car racing circuit and finds time to entertain at a local club when not burning rubber on the track. Joining him in this venture is a figure of cult status in the exploitation market. None other than John Ashley.
The two star as brothers on the racing circuit. Marty does the driving while John is his star mechanic getting all the horses he can from the souped up engines. The trouble is John wants some of the adulation for himself that Marty enjoys. The two are about to go there separate ways due to John’s jealousy.
Then there’s Marty’s mother in the film who points out to him, “When you sing even the birds stop to listen.” This aimed at the fact that she would prefer he give up racing and focus mainly on his singing career.
Marty soon takes to the stage at the local nightclub for a trio of numbers including the old country standard The Shoe Goes on the Other Foot Tonight and also featured are The Stonemans and a young Connie Smith who is still a member of the Grand Ole Opry today.
Ashley gets himself mixed up with some backwoods moonshiners and keeping there cars prepped up to run afoul of the law. Marty’s on to him but the stubborn Ashley wants out from big brothers shadow. The film takes a turn to Thunder Road territory when the duos third brother who is a G-Man is assigned to take out local moonshiners including the toughs that Ashley has been working for.
This is all going to head towards a big race and an eventual showdown between the brothers and the moonshiners. It’s just a matter of whether or not our warring boys can put their differences aside both on the track and off.
Marty is sure to take to the stage again for another trio of songs on the way to the fade out featuring his smooth voice and wonderful harmonies with his back up group.
In real life Marty was an avid racer competing in numerous events throughout the seventies while maintaining his career as one of the Grand Ole Opry’s biggest stars. His Nascar career continued to the year of his death in 1982. I never had the chance to see him sing live although my Father did and I recall him and my sister being quite excited about the show.
This low budget effort from director Will Zens fits right into the filmography listings for John Ashley. Here’s an actor who appeared in everything from Frankenstein’s Daughter to being Frankie Avalon’s main competition for Annette’s hand in the Beach Party films from A.I.P. Eventually he wound up making a whole slate of thrillers in the Philippines including the werewolf favorite Beast of the Yellow Night. He even holds an associate producer credit on Apocalypse Now.
While this is strictly drive in fare it does offer some vintage performances from Marty and for racing car fans it serves as a window to the past with some authentic racing footage from the sixties on the stock car circuit.