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  Pit Stop Smash And Bash
Year: 1969
Director: Jack Hill
Stars: Brian Donlevy, Richard Davalos, Ellen Burstyn, Sid Haig, Beverly Washburn, George Washburn, Titus Moede, Ted Duncan, Robert Krist, Steve Pendleton, Ray Thiel, Don White, George Barris
Genre: Drama, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Grant Willard (Brian Donlevy) is a businessman in the motor racing trade and tonight he is doing his own scouting, pulling up at this Los Angeles street to witness the illegal racing of cars before the police notice and take an interest. One driver captures his attention more than the others, Rick Bowman (Richard Davalos), because he is simply the best at what he does, and when the race begins, with his opponent so lacking his control that he careens off the road and into a house, Rick is able to power ahead far better than anyone else. That doesn't stop him getting arrested, but once in jail Willard pays his bond and he is released... naturally, there is a catch, as he wants Rick to work for him now.

Pit Stop, originally known as The Winner but when it was finally released it was a title too close to the Paul Newman racing picture Winning, hence the hasty change, was the first time director Jack Hill worked with legendary filmmaker Roger Corman, his tiny budget efforts garnering his attention in much the same manner as Willard becomes interested in Rick. Hill, a gentle soul, had no interest in stock car racing however, but the money was there, the profit potential was there also, and once he found out about so-called "Figure 8" contests he realised here was a chance for both an exciting series of action sequences and a gritty backdrop to tell the story of a man, in Hill's words, winning races but losing his soul.

For that reason Pit Stop is that touch too dour to be truly enjoyable, as it looks by the end that not one of the characters is having any fun at all, not even Rick's eventual rival, the superbly named Hawk Sidney played by the even more superb Sid Haig in a role written especially for him. Haig would essay the wild man part many times in his career, but at this fairly early stage he displayed a depth to his most typical roles that illustrated why he gained such a following among exploitation fans: he was just really good at what he did, and that brings respect. Hawk has a few great scenes, such as our introduction to him as the oft-times winner of the races where he leaps out of his still-intact vehicle and makes sure to passionately kiss the beauty queen handing over his trophy.

Twice! Once Rick gets in on the act Hawk finally has a serious rival, and his new opponent tends to put him in his place once he has the hang of the ridiculously dangerous Figure 8 track, which as the name suggests is shaped like that number meaning there is a junction where the track crosses over itself, so if there's a car coming the other way (and there is) all you can do is pray it won't hit you. Hill and his crew ventured down to an actual event and shot a whole load of footage to be edited into the storyline, which boosted the drama with an authentic energy as although we were well aware it was not the cast members doing the driving, we can tell the smashes and narrow escapes alike are genuine, and this documentary tone is something many a higher budgeted sporting movie would envy.

Davalos will forever be the brother who was not James Dean in East of Eden back in the fifties, but he worked fairly consistently for a number of years aftwerwards, and if you don't know him from that, you may know him as the cover star of The Smiths' last album Strangeways Here We Come. He has a certain muted charisma here, not exactly glowering his way through the plot as he does have his lighter moments, but with a troubled demeanour as befitting a character who is putting his life on the line for a chance at a better job racing in the better leagues which he hopes Willard will provide should he prove his worth. This was Donlevy's last film, and it's obvious he was just there for the money, showing up for a couple of days, but a star name didn't hurt these enterprises though you imagine if anyone was drawn to Pit Stop it would be for the crash footage. Ellen Burstyn made an early appearance too, a mechanic under the name McCrae, and Beverly Washburn was Rick's bubbly girlfriend, but it was those stark black and white images of the action you remembered.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Jack Hill  (1933 - )

American writer and director, an expert at exploitation movies. He worked for Roger Corman (Hill was one of the directors of The Terror) before making his own films, beginning with Spider Baby. Come the seventies, he tried "women in prison" (The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage), blaxploitation (Coffy, Foxy Brown) and others (The Swinging Cheerleaders, Switchblade Sisters), but unfortunately his credits petered out in the eighties. He also "discovered" cult favourites Pam Grier and Sid Haig.

 
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