Grand Prix speeds away with win

WE'VE examined the duds and crowned our petrolhead movie winner, the 1966 classic Grand Prix.

Well, yes, it's a silly film, too.

That said, it's also a terrific one, as various correspondents pointed out after our Le Mans column.

Grand Prix suffers from all the cliches: the romantic triangle, the women in love with the men in love with danger, the big hospital scene, the newborn aliens tearing their way out of people's stomachs.

Hang on, maybe not that last one but certainly the first three are there in all their hackneyed glory.

Yet the 1960s formula one footage is some of the best ever.

Much of it was shot during the real 1966 world championship and the spliced-in fictional bits, sometimes with F3 cars dummied up as F1 cars and running on the circuits just before the real races, can be pretty convincing, too.

Motor-racing films provide the perfect avenue for racial stereotypes: the licentious and duplicitous Latinos, the plum-mouthed but stoic Englishmen, the cold and calculating Germans and the clean-cut, heroic Americans (they're like that because they're the ones paying for the film).

Grand Prix also included the overly serious Japanese who work too hard, with the fictional Yamura team clearly modelled on the new and fairly novel Honda outfit. But let's forgive the lack of 2011 sensibilities. It was 45 years ago.

Real drivers who appeared in Grand Prix included Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Richie Ginther, Jochen Rindt, Lorenzo Bandini, Jim Clark and Kiwi Bruce McLaren.

The last three in that list would all die behind the wheels of race cars within a few years (Bandini in 1967, Clark in 1968 and McLaren in 1970), a reminder they didn't need special effects in those days to make things look dangerous.

Just check out the exposed light poles around the Monaco circuit in the film, for a start.

The American F1 world champ of 1961, Phil Hill, drove the camera car, a modified Ford GT40.

Juan Manuel Fangio is also said to have had a walk-on part (I think I missed it); if correct it gives you at least six F1 world champions in one film.

Italian-French song-and-dance man Yves Montand played ''former world champion'' Jean-Pierre Sarti.

At one point he tells journalist Louise Frederickson (Eva Marie Saint): ''When I see something really horrible, I put my foot down hard because I know that everyone else is lifting his.''

''What a terrible way to win,'' she says.

''No. There is no terrible way to win. There is only winning.'' Immortal dialogue, or what?

Grand Prix director John Frankenheimer was responsible, 32 years later, for Ronin, with its famously manic car chases through urban and rural France.

If Grand Prix is the best motor racing film ever - and I'll stick my neck out and say it is - then what is the worst?

Nominations usually include Days of Thunder, the film in which Nicole Kidman, aged 22, was presented as a brain surgeon and NASCAR as a sport.

There was the ghastly Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies, a sort of sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, without the magnificence (or the flying machines).

It was supposedly based around the Monte Carlo Rally but not even the brilliance of Peter Cook could save it.

Al Pacino starred in a formula one film called Bobby Deerfield. It could almost have been a 10th-anniversary redux of Grand Prix because some of the footage was shot during actual races during the 1976 F1 season.

But most reviews called it a corny melodrama even by the standards of motor-sport films (the champion's love interest has a fatal disease, so it's a bit of a race to see who goes first).

I haven't managed to find a copy but some of the action scenes on YouTube - with McLarens, six-wheel Tyrrells and Pacino ''driving'' a Brabham Alfa - look pretty cool.

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