Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Racing Cars Star in "Grand Prix"

Cleveland Press February 8, 1967

Fasten your seat belts for "Grand Prix," a movie about automobile racing that makes the best use of Cinerama since that roller coaster ride many years ago.

Director John Frankenheimer has moved his cameras out onto the great tracks of the Grand Prix circuit -- Monaco; Spa, Belgium; Brands Hatch, England; and Monza, Italy -- for the most authentic and exciting racing sequences ever filmed.

As long as he keeps the cameras there -- which he does most of the time, thankfully -- the picture is a wild and gripping affair.

It is when he gets off the track that the movie does too.

The film follows the fortunes of the handful of elite drivers qualified to drive in the Grand Prix events, the men who drive the Formula One cars. These are the autos created for one purpose and one only, to compete with each other.

It concentrates on four drivers -- American James Garner, Frenchman Yves Montand, Englishman Brian Bedford and Italian Antonio Sabato.

When the movie is not concerned with the racing of Formula One cars, it is concerned with that other Formula One -- the one about the men who live dangerously and the women who weep and wait for them, etc.

The women in this case are Eva Marie Saint as Montand's mistress, Jessica Walters as Bedford's faithless wife and sometimes girl friend of Garner, and Francoise Hardy as a girl picked up by Sabato.

The dialog is cliche-ridden, the situations predictable but every time matters start to limp somebody revs up the motors and the movie is on its way again.

Director Frankenheimer has not cheated in offering his audience the thrills of auto racing. There is no use of rear projection screens with scenery rushing by in back of a stationary actor in a stationary car. The actors drove and while they may not have been clipping along at 180 mph the closeup footage is authentic enough to match the genuine racing sequences.

Nor has there been any monkeying with camera and projector speeds.

In "Grand Prix" audiences get a drivers-eye view of racing. Cameras on racing cars mounted just inches from the ground create the effect of the track rushing at you so fast you want to duck. Alternating with these scenes are others taken from a helicopter, scenes that give the whole awesome picture of fast cars twisting around these dangerous roads.

The picture goes a trifle far in realism in one respect. It has a deafening soundtrack filled with the roar, screech and scream of high speed engines. On top of this is Maurice Jarre's noisy musical score.

When Frankenheimer does resort to trick photography it is of a type that enhances the movie. He has partially licked the problem of Cinerama in dealing with closeups by using a split screen, keeping the image small and multiplying it many times.

Or sometimes he splits the screen two, three or four ways and not always evenly offering contrasting sequences, different length shots, a scene with dialog played as counterpoint to a panoramic racing shot.

Only once does he abandon realism and in an effective sequence the scene becomes hazy and the cars seem to float languorously and there is a little bit of quiet. And then sight and sound explode once more.

There are some fine acting portraits in minor roles -- Jack Watson as a racing car owner, Adolfo Celli as an Italian industrialist, Claude Dauphin as a wealthy racing enthusiast. Toshiro Mifune in his first English-language part seems to be speaking by rote, otherwise he emotes acceptably.

As for the leads -- Garner is rugged and stoical, Bedford is sensitive and stoical and Montand is disillusioned and stoical. Montand comes off best.

Ignore the actors -- the autos have the best parts.