directed by Jack Hill
starring Brian Donlevy, Richard Davalos, Ellen Burstyn
There’s drag racing, there’s short-track racing, and then there’s Figure Eight racing. In the first two you go fast and try not to crash, in the last you try really hard not to get T-boned. Absolute speed isn’t as important as timing and pure dumb luck. Rick Bowman (Richard Davalos) races short track with greased up hair and some skill; then he’s approached by the creepy old guy Grant Wood (Brian Donlevy). Grant wants him on the figure eight track, but terms aren’t very favorable. Rick negotiates, and soon we are in the junk yard where even the junk man is trying to do a bad deal with him. But he’s tough and fast and lucky and soon he draws the scrawny attention of Ellen (Ellen Burstyn). Now Rick is torn between speed and sex; why can’t he have both? It’s a big race to the finish against the maniacal Hawk Sidney (Sid Haig) who may be faster but he’s also much more interesting to watch. Rick wins through hard work while Hawk acts his way to victory screaming: “I’m the dingiest there ever was!” Damn square.
As late ’60s race movies go, this one stands out. Along with the Blu-ray quality made from the original negative and the sharp, fresh sound, this entire film has a vintage look that can’t be replicated today. Every stunt, every crash, every fisticuff is real and visceral. The lost looking females know they are destined to a life of abuse and dissolution yet even they negotiate for an incrementally better deal up to the last. Grant Wood is smooth and slimy as snot on a door knob, you suspect he secretly wants to star in a nudie cutie or a wife swapping epic. While he waits for his off-screen break you respect his sleaze: he’s here to exploit the stupidly brave and universally desperate. This film is as late ’60s L.A. as they get, and totally engrossing. It brings back the days of leaded premium, optional seat belts, and a steering wheel column that could kill.