While browsing Netflix for something to watch the other night, I stumbled across The Fast and the Furious, a 1955 picture with John Ireland and Dorothy Malone. But something was wrong—they weren’t driving a rice burner in an urban apocalypse, but a Jag XK-120, with a racing windscreen–not exactly an image associated with a film bearing this title.
The story involves Dorothy Malone, the owner/driver of a “race-prepped” Jag XK-120. She’s driving through Southern California en route to participate in a road race, part of which will take place in Mexico. Meanwhile, John Ireland, an independent truck owner/driver, has busted out of prison, where he was being held on manslaughter charges; he allegedly ran off the road a truck belonging to a big trucking company, killing its driver. The story line is typical cornball Hollywood–and just what one expects from producer Roger Corman, whose reputation as the king of B-movies (or The Pope of Pop Cinema), did not prevent him from being awarded an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. But let’s not let cinematic values stand in the way of that for which we are here: Car porn.
Naturally, the star of the movie is the Jag XK-120 commandeered by Ireland. I’ve got to give Ireland (as one of the directors) credit for using actual Jag exhaust sounds rather than generic Buick-grunting-away with-first-gear-whining noise.
But the eye porn wasn’t limited to early ‘50s sports exotica. Since Ireland was on the lam, the obligatory police roadblocks had been set up, and all of the movie’s cop cars were ’53-54 Nash Statesmans. I have a hard time imagining a Nash six pursuing a V8 of that era, unless it was equipped with one of Nash’s optional Le Mans Dual Jetfire OHV sixes or the Dual Jetfire Powerflyte flathead six. Those engines were optional on the Ambassador and not the Statesman, but maybe the cops could still get the good stuff.
The race track on which the cars competed ran through a forest of pine trees; that tells me that if part of the course ran through Mexico, it would have been one very long race. It’s more likely that the racing shots were filmed in Northern California, probably around Pebble Beach, since the Pacific can be seen in the background.
The competitors Ireland races against include early 1950s Singers, Aston Martin DB-2s, Porsche 356s, MG-TDs, Kurtises, Allards, Nash-Healeys, Austin-Healey 100-4s and a Triumph TR2.
Even an OSCA (Officine Specializzate Costruzioni Automobili – Fratelli Maserati SpA) shows up. Cool stuff.
I have to give the movie credit for not substituting shots of a ’47 Ford rolling and bursting into flame when the subject car was in fact some Italian exotic. But this film, like Bullit, did have some continuity lapses: In some shots, Ireland’s Jag had black wheels, although it started the race with silver wires. Also, Ireland’ nemesis (in a dark-colored Jag XK-120) ran donut whites with no rear wheel spats, yet had the spats in several other scenes. Maybe he pitted for a quick aero adjustment?
I won’t spoil the ending of the movie for those of you who choose to watch it, except to say that Ireland vindicates himself, wins over Malone, and then presumably bangs her brains out until her nose bleeds. At least that’s how I see it.
In any event, I give the film a thumbs up and four stars. And if you have seventy minutes to spare, here’s the whole thing: