I saw this movie when it was first released in Honolulu at the Cinerama theatre in the true Cinerama format. I remember nearly falling out of my seat as the astounding race sequences played out before me. This is a truly organic race film, there are real drivers of the F1 era mixed in with the mostly European cast, though James Garner and Eva Marie Saint break the cross Atlantic barrier. This film is a wonderful technical masterpiece. It even has some fine dramatic moments in between the melodrama. Some might say this is the film’s greatest short coming. That is true, but also where it really mirrors the emotional high that F1 has always worn on it’s sleeve. F1 is a soap opera that is played out across the world, where the wealthiest mingle, though not too closely, with the proletariat for a few hours of high rev mania. Many of the courses in the film are still in existance, but they have been smoothed out and plundered of passion. Often the races held these days resemble a parade, but once in a while things go terribly wrong and a race ensues. And it is in capturing those glorious moments that the film really soars. You will feel the ripping of the air as a car tears through the streets of Monaco, and be stunned by the speed and savagery of a huge racetrack like The Spa in Belgium or the amazing high banked corners at the old track in Monza, Italy. The camera work is a virtuoso masterpiece of technical achievement. Many of the shots that we take for granted today on our live TV races were the brain children of the camera men who worked on the film. This film is the one all of that work we see on modern TV broadcast racing strives to emulate. You are in the race, in the cockpit, in the mind and the heart of the greatest racers in the world. And for those who know the history of the sport, the real greats of the sport in that era are on hand. Jack Brabaham. Graham Hill. Jim Hill. Bruce McLaren. Richi Ginther. Many of the great names that are featured in this film did not survive the harshness of the sport and succumbed to death because of failure of both man and machine. This film is a treasure. It may be out dated. It may be melodramatic. It may also be the greatest racing film ever, but some debate that the much more restrained, almost catatonic Steve McQueen film, Le Mans is the superior. I see them as equals, representative of the two types of mind sets in racing. The passionate, fiery visrtuoso who crashes as much as he wins, and the technician, the cool headed pro, who always finishes, and manages to win more than a few in the process. Which is better? You see these movies and figure it out for yourselves. I have.
Was this review helpful to you?
“Grand Prix” is the finest racing movie ever produced. The story involves the pursuit of the Formula 1 World Championship by four men: Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand), an aging former champion who grows weary from the acute physical demands of the sport and team politics; Nino Barlini (Antonio Sabato), a brash, fearless young lion; Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford), a man broken in body yet driven to match the legacy of his deceased brother; and Pete Aron (James Garner), a stoic, pragmatic American fighting to restore a faltering career. The Ferrari Team Manager comments during the film, “Everyone wants to win…there is no distinction in that.” What distinguishes these four men from others is the sheer force of will each exhibits to overcome his personal demons and to achieve his final destiny.
The drama unfolds amidst many of the great racing circuits of Europe…the narrow, twisting streets of Monte Carlo; the rain-slickened expanse of Spa; and the tortuous, high, concrete banks of Monza. John Frankenheimer’s inventive split-screen imaging and on-board cameras put you inside the cockpit where you sense the raw power and road-pounding vibrations from these sleek racing machines. You are at once deafened by the high-pitched whine of superbly tuned engines as they roar off the starting grid…and then mesmerized by Maurice Jarre’s soft, eloquent musical score set to compelling visual images of cars rising, falling, and turning through the racing circuit in a ballet of speed, grace, and beauty. I agree with an earlier review that DVD would materially enhance the appeal of this production and I sincerely hope DVD will be forthcoming. Regardless, “Grand Prix” will forever serve as the quintessential racing movie.
Although racing films in general have never enjoyed overwhelming commercial success Grand Prix stands alone as the best racing film of all time!
The storyline isn’t brilliant by any means and there are a few `unexplained’ bloopers such as Jean Pierre Sarte’s mysterious helmet change from one race to the next – which was due to John Surtees leaving the Ferrari team at mid-season and signing with Cooper for a bit before eventually signing with Honda – but if you’re a diehard Formula 1 fan this film is a true blessing.
I already own the Laser disc and still own one of the original programs that were sold at the movie theaters and I have been waiting for this film to come out on DVD for ages, simply in the hopes of viewing the treasure-trove of behind-the-scenes footage.
Although the film did not receive the critical success many felt it deserved the historic importance of this film should not be underestimated because it’s the only clear color film footage available anywhere in the world where you can see; Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Jimmy Clark, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Richie Ginther, Jochen Rindt, Bruce McLaren, Maurice Trintignant, Mike Parkes, Joakim Bonnier, Lorenzon Bandini, Chris Amon, Guy Ligier and even the great Juan Manuel Fangio together on the big screen and in their crowning glory. – Be sure to watch closely during the Spa Francorchamps drivers meeting when Jochen Rindt playfully reaches out and trips Graham Hill (aka `Bob Turner’) as he’s trying to step past Rindt.
For fans and students of cinematography the camera angles and the technology invented to achieve many of those angles are a testament to the ground-breaking achievements that underscore the unique and visionary genius of John Frankenheimer. And of course there’s a wonderful cast of outstanding actors including the great Toshiro Mifune, Brian Bedford, Yves Montand, Antonio Sabato, and of course, James Garner who was inspired by his role in the film and went on to enjoy moderate success as an amateur racer.
Grand Prix is a must have for every motorsports fan and required study for any cinematography student who someday dreams of shooting a film with cars of any type, let alone racing!