Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
Cleveland Press July 2, 1971
The first 20 minutes is purely visual and a good 40 minutes has gone by before Steve McQueen has his first line of dialog and all he says is "OK."
"Le Mans" is a racing film that concentrates on the racing. The story is minimal, just enough of it sketched in to keep the movie from being a long documentary.
THOSE FIRST COUPLE of reels set the stage. This is Le Mans, a place in France where every year a 24-hour race is held. There is the quiet countryside; the curving roads that are picturesque when empty, then frighteningly dangerous with powerful racing cars zipping along them.
That familiar loud speaker voice, indigenous to sporting events, tells you what you need to know -- the speeds, the stops, the reasons for what is about to happen. The camera lingers on the crowd -- quiet, patient, people of all ages.
No racing movie has ever come up with an adequate story. Most of them are cliche ridden. Maybe it is for the best that "Le Mans" holds its story down to almost nothing.
SO INSTEAD of stock formula you have a spare, lean script that says little except t o establish characters. Cliches? Well, yes and no. The movie looks as though it started out to have them, then tossed them out.
There is the driver who tells his wife that this is the last race, that after this he is quitting. "Yep," you say to yourself, "watch that fellow get killed or maimed next time around."
But he doesn't. And neither do the leading man and leading lady end up in a steamy embrace, nor does the top billed star emerge as a super champion in the closing seconds.
AND THERE IS no funny mechanic sidekick, no aging driver, no young hotshot, no punches thrown.
"Le Mans" turns out to be a movie that you like for what it lacks.
As for what it has, this may be a film that is mostly for racing buffs. Even if you know nothing about the sport, however, matters are explained simply enough that you can understand and enjoy.
McQUEEN, WHO DID his own driving for the movie, is kind of a solid presence; someone you can identify and follow even if you never really get to know him.
Siegfried Rauch is his friendly rival and Ronald Leigh-Hunt the team manager.
Elga Andersen is the widow of a racing driver killed the previous year at the same race. There is a suggestion that she and McQueen are drawn together but no attempt is made into turning this into a romance during the brief period of the race.
Photography is outstanding and it has been done from every possible angle. The movie uses slow motion, instant replay and freeze frames to generally good effect.