When Roger Corman approached Jack Hill to make a film about stock car racing, Hill was hesitant; he hated both stock car racing and movies about stock car racing. The fact that Pit Stop is such a marvelous example of 1960s independent art cinema is a huge testament to Jack Hill’s tenacity and talent.
Starring the ridiculously sexy Dick Davalos, Pit Stop is a genuine gem of a film. You may recognize Davalos from East of Eden or a certain Smiths album cover. Here he plays Rick Bowman, a street racer who crosses paths with racing impresario Grant Willard, portrayed with contemptible elegance by Brian Donlevy. Willard wants Bowman to try his luck at stock car racing, but not at any old track. No, Willard thinks Bowman might be cut out for the Figure 8 racing at Ascot.
When Bowman witnesses first hand what Figure 8 is all about—a racetrack that features an intersection—he seems hesitant to say the least, and who could blame him? After an encounter with the current bad boy champion Hawk Sidney (the incredible Sid Haig), Bowman feels his competitive spirit flare up and determines that not only is he going to race at Ascot, but he’s also going to show Hawk Sidney how its done.
The IMDB description of Pit Stop (originally titled The Winner) describes the movie as a tale of “the rise and fall” of Rick Bowman, but you’re going to have to watch the whole thing to see just how it plays out. But don’t worry: not only is Pit Stop a thrilling stock car racing movie that uses zero stock footage, it’s a sharp character study as well.
For a film that was shot for $35K, Pit Stop looks impeccable. Prevented from using Technicolor for the night shoots by its budgetary restrictions, the black and white palette gives Pit Stop a moody, noir vibe that perfectly suits its subject matter. Hill certainly knew how to light a scene. In the beginning of film, Davalos is lit from below, which not only makes him look cool and badass, it also provides subtext for his character.
Hill also has a way with framing. When Bowman is working on his future racecar, Hawk Sidney shows up to intimidate him. The scene is shot from above, with Haig’s crotch filling up most of the left half of the screen. It’s both subtle and outlandishly obvious and a far better indicator of what’s happening than the dialogue.
That said, the dialogue, which was also written by Hill, is dynamic in its own right. There’s a lot that’s said and unsaid, which makes Pit Stop a pretty riveting ride from the start. The soundtrack, provided by The Daily Flash and John Fridge, is also intoxicating, a late ’60s pastiche of blues, rock, and proto-punk that fits the film like Rick Bowman’s jeans and pompadour.
The restoration process, supervised by James White, is astonishing. Pit Stop looks as fresh today as it did back in 1969. Arrow’s pristine package includes a host of wonderful featurettes, in addition to a newly recorded commentary track with Jack Hill and Sid Haig. “Crash and Burn” is a delightful interview with the humble, intelligent Jack Hill, while “Drive Hard” includes an equally impressive chat with Sid Haig. Producer Roger Corman provides his insights (and a brilliant mini-class on moviemaking) in “Life In The Fast Lane.” There is also a short featurette on the restoration process itself along with the theatrical trailer.
Arrow Films is synonymous with quality; they’ve been reissuing lost, forgotten, or should’ve-been classics for years in the UK. Envious cineastes on this side of the pond are grateful for Arrow’s recent foray into the North American market as Arrow Video. Pit Stop is another excellent release from a company who seeks to provide the best in Blu-Ray reissues and frequently succeeds. Don’t let this one pass you by.
Pit Stop was released by Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment Group on June 30.