Car racing has never drawn me in, but I’m a sucker for car racing movies. I’m not even a big fan of automobiles, not even knowing how to change my oil, yet show me a flick with revving engines and I’m all in! And given the chance to review an early Jack Hill film from 1969 with a young Sid Haig? Hell, it’s time to be off to the races!
“Now listen here, boy. You know why I’m the winner? Cos I’m the dingy-est there is. So when they see me coming through that intersection, they just naturally back off, cos they know I ain’t gonna stop for nobody. So when you see me coming… you best get out the way. Cos I’m the dingy-est there is!
Welcome to the world of Figure 8 racing. Stock cars facing off on a dirt track that makes you do more than just turn left. They even turn right! But the doozy about a Figure 8 track is the intersection. And there isn’t any red light/green light action, either. Just hit the gas and pray that there isn’t someone coming around the other way about to T-bone your ass! Where some car races, you get amped up about the wrecks, but with Figure 8, a driver making it out intact is all the more awe inspiring.
Richard Davalos (EAST OF EDEN, COOL HAND LUKE) is Rick Bowman, new in town, and ready to make some serious money driving. After quickly impressing a race team owner at an illegal street race, Bowman is recruited into the wild world of Figure 8 racing; quickly setting his sights on taking out the cocky Hawk Sidney (Haig), the perennial champ with a screw loose. The race team owner is played by Brian Donlevy (DANGEROUS ASSIGNMENT, KISS OF DEATH) and when he looks at both Bowman and Sidney, he only sees dollar signs.
The film shows a wild side of American racing, previously not glamourized, in an almost pornographic nature. The audience is thrust deep into the dangerous races, with Jack Hill taking the camera down on the track to get up close. They utilized actual race footage to determine what will happen in the film footage, using similar cars to pull off scenes with the actors. This adds to some confusion as to what’s happening in a few of the races, but as long as you pay attention to the announcer you should be good and just enjoy the auto armageddon.
Davalos as the lead makes me wonder why he wasn’t a bigger star. From the moment he steps on screen, you are drawn to him. He’s overflowing with charisma, making it all the more believable that people fall head over heels for him (both women and sponsors) and how he could rub the wrong way with the competition. And Haig as Sidney is completely deranged at the beginning, but shows the largest range throughout the story, as we see Bowman slip ever further into the abyss.
The supporting cast is extremely strong, including a young Ellen Burstyn, the wife of Bowman’s racing team member and potential love interest. Burstyn’s character is a multifaceted one where it could have been a superficial character, but she gives it enough gravity to elevate the performance of herself and those around her.
While I highly enjoyed the film, I even more appreciated the work that Arrow put into it. The film looked and sounded amazing, and this was put even more on display by a few of the extra features on the Blu-ray disc. There is a featurette with Jack Hill about the film including a very informative commentary track by him. Included are interviews with Sid Haig (always a treasure to listen to) and Roger Corman about PIT STOP and how it tied into his company after a split with American Pictures. The most impressive feature though was about the restoration process itself that Arrow Video did, showing in many situations a side by side comparison of frames or clips, showing a stark contrast from the before and after restoration. I was blown away by how in depth the feature gets for only being less than 5 minutes long. I think that any film fan would get something out of viewing that feature alone.
Even if you’re not already a fan of PIT STOP or Jack Hill’s work, I recommend that you check out this release. And while there is also another release of this through Code Red, this version is the one that is approved by the director himself, rather than the production company. .
PIT STOP is available on a 2 disc DVD/Blu-Ray set by Arrow Video as of June 30th, 2015. Get it directly from MVD here!