GRAND PRIX has a great ring to it as a title of an event or a movie. In this iteration we get breathtaking cinematography (credit Lionel Lindon), good sound effects and a couple of hair-raising crashes. And…that’s it. Numbingly dull drama of the European racing circuit would be a ranked contender for most boring movie of any given year, and its running time–four minutes shy of three hours–makes it a contest. I confess that auto racing has as much fascination for me as reading about the history of tables. It must be fun inside the car.
The camera dazzle gets to be repetitive fairly soon, and most of that is limited by watching at home anyway–all the once novel split-screen stuff suffers. In 1966, splashed across Cinerama in 70mm, with tons of hype of the $9,000,000 production, it drew crowds, making back twice its cost, and lapped three Oscars–Film Editing, Sound and Sound Effects. John Frankenheimer directed, in a sudden right turn from his previous thrillers, all shot in black & white, all fairly subversive.
The international cast is okay, but their stories are so leaden in presentation that none of them raise a jot of concern or empathy. Much was made of James Garner’s actual racing skills. He proudly and eagerly did all of his own driving in the film. His seizing this role, in this type of picture, out from under his next-door-neighbor Steve McQueen resulted in being cold-shouldered by the touchy, uber-competitive McQueen—for four years. Garner loved this movie and really enjoyed the experience: he devotes ten pages to it in his frank, very entertaining autobio “The Garner Files.” *
With Yves Montand, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Bedford (renowned Shakespearean stage actor who had never driven a car before), Jessica Walter (prior to psycho-glory in Play Misty For Me), Francoise Hardy (legendary French pop singer), Adolpho Celi (‘Largo’ from Thunderball), Claude Dauphin (130 movies and as a Free French soldier, one of the first liberators to enter Paris), Genevieve Page (evil princess in El Cid ). Toshiro Mifune’s voice is dubbed by Paul Frees–from ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’ fame, which rather undercuts his impressive demeanor.
* Garner: ” Making Grand Prix was the most fun I’ve ever had on a movie. Hell, it was the most fun I’ve ever had, period! Six months with the best cars and the best drivers on the best circuits in the world…for a guy who’d always loved cars and racing, it was a fantasy come true.”