Grand Prix Movie Review
John Frankenheimer crafts a surprisingly rich and interesting movie that's set during the rise of auto racing. Not only does it capture the spectacle of these tiny little open-air cars hurtling around European village streets (no ovals here), it also builds an interesting story of rivalries, friendly and otherwise.
The story alone is enough to almost make you become interested in auto racing. Pete Aron (James Garner) gets into a wreck with his teammate Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford), leaving the latter fighting for his life and the former quickly fired from the team. While Scott convalesces, Pete takes a shine to his wife (the lovely Jessica Walter) and starts driving for a Japanese team (owned by Toshiro Mifune). Meanwhile, subplots track relationships among two other drivers, played by Yves Montand and Antonio Sabato (no, not "Jr.").
As intricate as the relationship tangles are, Frankenheimer does even better work on the track. Putting the camera on the hood, over a wheel, and in the driver's seat, he captures the spirit of racing way before network TV figured out the same tricks. Helicopter shots give us the big picture, then we're thrown right into the thick of it. A few big crashes are impressive (and vital to the story, mind you), but Frankenheimer's overzealous use of split screen dates the picture quite badly in some places. There are also a few problems with telling who's who in a race, and even in a few instances of figuring out who actually won.
But that's a minor quibble. For a three-hour film, Grand Prix is surprisingly engrossing and never less than exciting, even when Stoddard is confined to a hospital bed. I'm less thrilled about the new DVD's putting the film on two discs, but tons of extras (including a half-dozen new and vintage featurettes) make up for most of these drawbacks.