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Grand Prix/1966

Sport and cinema do not mix.

Quite simply a sport star is not an actor – nor an actor a sportsman or woman.

There are exceptions – like Robert de Niro in Raging Bull and Richard Harris in This Sporting Life – but John Huston’s regrettable Escape to Victory with a pot-bellied Michael Caine captaining a team of footballers who scuttle down an escape hatch in the dressing room is more the norm.

One film which does succeed is Grand Prix.   

Much of this is due to the literal and actual drive of John Frankenheimer. His most famous film was The Manchuria Candidate and he also directed the Train.  

Grand Prix stands as a documentary about motor racing in the Sixties.

There is a story.  Jean Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand) is the acknowledged leading driver but American Pete Aron (James Garner) is sacked from his team and joins up with a new Japanese team run by Izo Yamuna played by Toshito Mifune, Japan’s best film actor, who started his career in Kurasawa’s Seven Samurai.

Sarti has an affaire with American journalist Louise Federickson (Eva Maria Saint), a cool elegant intelligent blonde in the style of Faye Dunaway.

Pete has an affair with Pat (Jessica Walter), the wife of rival driver Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford).

Nino, a Sicilian driver (Antonio Sabaio), has a girlfriend Lisa (Francoise Hardy).

In the style of the times the racing driver is a dashing womaniser.

The film begins at the Monaco Grand Prix and continues on the cycle through Clermont Ferrand, Spa, Brands Hatch and Monza.

Real-life drivers like Dan Gurney , Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt appear.

The sensation of speed is conveyed by a film car following the drivers.

It must have been a nightmare to make, but somehow Frankenheimer got Ferrari on board with scenes from their workshop.

It is a valuable memoir of a different epoch in motor racing where the drivers – and not the car and/or all the state of art technological stuff creating it – were the sport.

It was also highly dangerous.

The 60s claimed the lives of Bandini, Jochen Rindt and the driver rated best of all – Jim Clark.

The film is no apologia but risk of death was clearly a staple force.

Add to this a film score by Maurice Jarre and you have a highly-watchable film.

At three hours it’s on the long side but it has something you don’t see now – an intermission. At 45, Yves Montand looked a bit old to drive but the youthful, lissom Francoise Hardy in her first film role was some compensation.

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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts