Racing & Relationships

James Garner in Grand Prix (1966)

Three years after leaving Ferrari Pete Aron (James Garner) is now racing for BRM and has not won a single race in those 3 years, his team mate Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford) has to deal with his wife Pat (Jessica Walter) who whilst loves the lifestyle struggles with the knowledge that at any time he could crash and end up dying like his brother did. Then there are their main rivals; Ferrari drivers Jean-Pierre Sarti (Yves Montand) and Nino Barlini (Antonio Sabato) who are at different ends of the spectrum with Jean-Pierre having twice been champion is thinking of quitting whilst the young Nino is more daring and risk taking.

When gear trouble inadvertently causes a crash between Pete and Scott during the Monte Carlo Grand Prix it leaves Scott hospitalized and Pete blamed for causing the accident by the team owner. But whilst Scott is hospitalized and will take a long time to recover his wife Pat starts an affair with Pete and plans to leave her husband for him. Meanwhile Jean-Pierre Sarti finds himself having an affair with American journalist Louise Frederickson (Eva Marie Saint).

Eva Marie Saint in Grand Prix (1966)

Having watched "Grand Prix" for I think maybe the fifth time in my life I feel conflicted as to how I feel about this movie which scrapes in at just under 3 hours. It is a conflict which I know many other movie fans have with the movie having discussed it and it is this conflict which causes me to not rate it as highly as I would love to.

So what is the conflict? Well let me tell you what works about "Grand Prix" and that is quite simply the cinematography with the opening 20 minutes establishing what to expect. We are taken to race day in Monte Carlo, one which I have to say is very different to race day now, and we are thrown right into the middle of the preparations with the press swarming around the cars as they go through the last minute checks before the race starts. And then we have actual footage of the race combined with clever cinematography to show the actors in race cars. It is simply glorious from the old shots of the race when it was dangerous to on board footage of the drivers. If you love Formula 1 you will appreciate the footage and be awe struck for a movie over 40 years old how powerful it is.

Part of that power comes from the sound and the phenomenal roar of old race cars is deafening but it builds the atmosphere perfectly to the point that you feel like you can feel the vibrations of the cars roaring past and the smell of petrol in the air. Purely on a technical level "Grand Prix" is the best movie about formula one and car racing ever made and nothing to date has come close to recreating the atmosphere and excitement of the sport as well as this does.

But then you have the not so good and that are the various storylines away from the track as it focuses on the drivers romantic relationships. I suppose if the racing scenes weren't so incredible the romantic subplots would be good but they end up weak and boring in comparison despite each having conflicts and issues. The annoying thing is that the acting throughout this part is okay with Jessica Walter working well with James Garner but unfortunately the movie works best when James Garner and the other actors playing drivers are behind the wheel of their cars.

What this all boils down to is that if you want to watch the best racing footage ever to appear in a movie then watch "Grand Prix". But at the same time be prepared for the soap opera style romantic plot lines which draw it out and slow it down. It means as a whole "Grand Prix" ends up only okay but would be a 10/10 if it was cut down to just the racing parts of the movie.

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