September 1st, 2013

One Side

Crossing the Hallowed Line

Few would expect a NASCAR movie directed by Howard Hawks to be an exploration of evolving gender roles. Fewer still would expect it to feature George Takei doing a goofy dance.

But that's 1965's Red Line 7000, a movie with an ensemble cast headed by a young James Caan but which mostly focuses on the female characters. Possibly this is because so much of the movie is dialogue about what ought to be expected of men and women in relationships and the men in this movie aren't the sorts of fellows who'd be too loquacious on the subject. It's a good film and a strange film--part progressive social statement, part amazing race car movie with some of the best cinematic car action to be shot before 1968's Bullitt.

Of Hawks' previous films, Red Line 7000 may best resemble Only Angels Have Wings as it mostly features characters in dialogue during downtime between the men performing their death defying jobs. The film begins with Holly (Gail Hire) arriving from California on the expectation of meeting up with her race car driver fiancé only to find he's recently died on the race track.

James Caan plays Mike Marsh, another driver and friend of Holly's fiancé. He comes back to his hotel from the funeral to find another friend has left the distraught woman in his room--his friend took her there to get her more booze after they'd run out of drinks in his room. When Mike arrives, Holly's out cold from sobbing and drinking. So he does the only sensible thing and takes her clothes off before putting her to bed.

Well, no, this of course actually doesn't make any sense except from the point of view that Mike is acting on sexual urges masked from himself by his belief in his own virtue--much like James Stewart in the similar scene from Vertigo which I believe inspired this one.

He doesn't end up with Holly but with Gabrielle (Marianna Hill), a Frenchwoman brought to the country by another driver, Dan, who ends up with Holly. This is a problem for Mike who in one scene talking to another friend about his hesitance to go out with Gabrielle explains, "This shirt is new! These shoes are new!" pointing to what he's wearing. The idea being he needs to be the first man in any girl's life he goes out with. He expresses disdain for the film's embarrassing version of contemporary rock music and is generally meant to represent the insensible old fashioned way of doing things.

There are two other relationships explored in the film--Dan and Holly's and Ned and Julie's.

We first see Julie (Laura Devon) when she drives up on a moped to meet Ned (John Robert Crawford), a beefy farm boy looking to be race car driver. When he sees her on the bike he remarks how he thought she was a boy and the two have an argument throughout the film, sometimes playful sometimes earnest, about how well she embodies the socially accepted conception of a woman.

"I don't want you to go on thinking I'm a boy," she says before a scene cuts to the two of them in bed together. She questions him about the other women he's been with, wants to know what they're like, particularly wanting know what, in his opinion makes a girl "sexy" or not. Ned's the first guy she's been with and when he leaves her without a word after winning a big race she refuses to lose faith he'll return to her. Here Hawks seems to reward one traditional form of behaviour in relationships as Julie's steadfastness is portrayed at first as pathetic but then as noble.

Dan and Holly's relationship is far less challenging than the others--their plot mainly revolves around how Holly thinks she's jinxed because she's loved three men before Dan and all three have had untimely deaths. Dan gets close to being the fourth to die in one spectacular scene where his car is sent soaring over the side on one of the track's turns.

I'm not sure how much of what's in the film is stock footage but it all looks pretty seamless other than Hawks' general reliance on set cars with rear projected backgrounds for close-ups on the drivers. When Holly's fiance dies at the beginning of the film, we see him crawling out of his over turned car, both man and car completely covered in flame.

George Takei's role is pretty small--he plays Kato, the head of the pit crew. It's nice to see that the movie doesn't portray him as an Asian stereotype, though, and the drivers seem to have confidence in and respect for him.