Monday, January 11, 2016

The Wild Racers

This dull AIP racing drama is one of Roger Corman’s least known pictures. He produced THE WILD RACERS without credit and assigned Charles B. Griffith (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) to write the script with director Daniel Haller (Max House, surely a pseudonym, gets on-screen credit). Haller (BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY) shot it on various European locations, and likely the lure of a quick overseas vacation brought Corman over to direct a few sequences, including at least one auto race.

THE WILD RACERS is also notable for a pair of debuts. Spanish-born cinematographer Nestor Almendros, who went on to win an Oscar for DAYS OF HEAVEN, shot his first American feature. Acting in her first film ever is Talia Shire, later a two-time Oscar nominee, whose brother Francis Ford Coppola had worked with Corman on low-budget features, including DEMENTIA 13 and THE TERROR. Her second film was THE DUNWICH HORROR, which Haller directed after this one. Another future Oscar winner, Verna Fields (JAWS), was one of the editing team tasked with assembling so much racing footage into something coherent and exciting.

Quentin Tarantino has called THE WILD RACERS his favorite racing film, partially because of the artsy European approach Haller and Almendros bring to it. Fabian was probably cast because he had just starred in two racing movies for AIP, FIREBALL 500 and THUNDER ALLEY, so the costumes already fit. Griffith gives him the unlikely moniker of Jojo (“‘Cause I got the mojo”) Quillico, who’s as successful with the ladies as he is on the racetrack. AIP did not want to release it once they saw the film, which is a big “no duh,” though THE WILD RACERS did see play on the back half of double bills.

Half the backstory is provided via a cacophony of voiceover laid over (literally) blazing stock car footage (an example of that arty approach Tarantino digs so much). The plotless exercise alternates between Fabian driving cars and Fabian making out with sexy birds. Hired as a backup driver to a big-shot Formula One driver, JoJo isn’t thrilled to lose and keeps pissing off his boss by winning races. Corman regular Dick Miller (A BUCKET OF BLOOD) dubs actor Warwick Sims, cast as Jojo’s mechanic Charlie.

To save money and time (Corman and credited producer Joel Rapp had no permits, so many shots were run-and-gun), Haller shot without sync sound, which contributes to the film’s Continental mood, but also lends it an artificiality that does it no favors. While THE WILD RACERS is ahead of its time visually and thematically, it isn’t thrilling, and it could use more cars and less Fabian frolicking in sun-glanced fields. Mike Curb’s Sidewalk Records released a soundtrack album featuring Davie Allan and the Arrows.

1 comment:

TN said...

One minor correction: Talia Shire was nominated for Best Actress for "Rocky," but lost to Faye Dunaway in "Network."