Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pit Stop (1969)

Director: Jack Hill
Notable Cast: Richard Davalos, Sid Haig, Brian Donlevy, Ellen Burstyn, Beverly Washburn, George Washburn

Arrow Video Features:

  • New High Definition digital transfer supervised and approved by director Jack Hill
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
  • Original mono 1.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • New audio commentary with Jack Hill moderated by his biographer Calum Waddell
  • Crash and Burn! – Jack Hill on the making of Pit Stop
  • Drive Hard – actor Sid Haig speaks about his experience of acting in Pit Stop
  • Life in the Fast Lane – producer Roger Corman on the genesis of Pit Stop
  • Restoring Pit Stop – restoration demonstration by Technical Supervisor James White
  • Original trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Glenn Kenny and musicologist and writer Gray Newell on the film’s soundtrack, illustrated with original stills and artwork.

  • Racing films have not seen generous coverage here at Blood Brothers and when they do, we seem to favor the ones that act more like action films then true racing films. Fast Five or Death Race, for example. Even with an iconic cult director like Jack Hill behind the film, it was hard to muster up any kind of excitement for the late 60s stock car racing film Pit Stop. However, leave it to this Roger Corman developed film to make me a believer in the art form of racing cinema. Brutally nihilistic with a dark subtext about the racing world, Pit Stop is more of a character film than a racing one. It’s a film where the character work sticks with the viewer much longer than the races or eventual car destruction seen on screen.

    The glare!
    For a lone wolf drag racer like Rick (Davalos) the road to the top was destined to be a rough one. With the help of corporate sponsor Grant Willard (Donlevy), he has a shot. He’ll have to go through the crazy Hawk (Haig) and the figure eight track to make it there. However, there’s more to be lost than just a race when you start putting everything on the line to win.

    For those looking for a racing film, you’re going to find that in Pit Stop. Whether it’s the genre tropes of unsure underdogs, corporate villains, extensive racing tension, or enough wrecks to shack a muffler at, those are all part of the film experience here. What starts off as a seemingly generic opening with drag racing and a bit of jail time for our James Dean-like rebellious hero, quickly moves the film into these classic racing film bits as he is introduced to the ‘real’ racing world and the various characters he will have to beat in order to be the best of the best. Hell, Pit Stop even throws in a nice little romantic subplot (which features the scene stealing charisma and subtle acting work of Beverly Washburn) that gives some proper depth to our hero and some stakes to be added to the rest of the racing sequences and character beats. From there it’s a lot of races, a bit of rivalry with fellow team mates, and plenty of crashes. While the film was only made for a measly $35,000, it never seems to hinder the overall style of the film. Thanks to a ridiculously cleaned up version of the film painstakingly touched up (which is featured in a nice special feature on this release), this Arrow Video Blu Ray shows it off too.

    However, it’s the direction and writing of Jack Hill that makes Pit Stop such a remarkable film on top of its tried and true structure. As was mentioned, this film is strangely (and sometimes horrifyingly) nihilistic in how it goes about the story of its characters. Throughout the entire film our hero Rick is always on the edge of the abyss, playing a game that not only could take his life during one of the vicious car wrecks, but potentially losing his soul as the prospect of winning becomes closer to being a reality. The stakes are raised for his spiraling decent into greed and pride thanks to the previously mentioned romantic subplot and the strange relationships he builds with his boss and his fellow teammates/competition. Crisp black and white visuals and the artistic balance of wrecks to thoughtful dialogue only further craft this nihilistic atmosphere for the film. Even characters that are meant to be fun and wild (Sid Haig’s rival Hawk is gloriously antagonistic throughout the runtime) feed into this tone.

    Sid Haig being Sid Haig.
    Pit Stop is not your usual racing film. This is how you should make a racing film. Jack Hill and his talented cast and crew craft a film that is artful grindhouse out of what should have been just another cash in for Corman. It’s not a perfect film, not that it was ever meant to be with its tone and characters, but the entertainment value and shockingly thoughtful approach make it a true gem of cult cinema. This film comes with the highest of recommendations.

    Written By Matt Reifschneider

    So jump on the track and race down to the links below and grab a copy of Pit Stop, courtesy of our friends at Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment!

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