Le Mans (1971)

le mans 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Car race of endurance.

Le Mans is a car race held annually in France in which the test is to show not only how fast the vehicle is, but also its reliability as cars are forced to drive for 24 straight hours with a minimum of pit stops. Michael Delaney (Steve McQueen) is the driver who represents the American team and who is under a great deal of duress because of the fact that he caused an accident that killed another driver just a year before.

The film’s first thirty minutes may be its most captivating and has been described by many fans as being their favorite part of the movie. I loved seeing the empty stands fill up with people as it gives the viewer an authentic race day feeling. Every little facet of the race gets captured almost like it is a documentary with the emphasis more on ambience and the adrenaline it creates instead of a story and in fact no one utters a single line of dialogue until almost 40 minutes in. Watching the cars whizz by with the camera set directly on the pavement just inches away was enough to make me flinch and the wipeouts are particularly graphic and up close.

The film has very little of a backstory to the characters and one gets propelled into the race without much distinction between the various drivers, or even any emotional stake for who wins. Normally I’d say this is a good thing because the dramatic elements in these types of films can get overly drawn out and soap opera-like, but it also makes it a rather detached experience like watching a football game with no concern for either team, or the outcome. The drama that does get played out is boring with dialogue that is only on a conversational level. It also gets confusing as to which driver is in the lead and the constant shots of loud cars speeding by eventually becomes tedious.

Things manage to recover by the end with an exciting finish between three of the race’s drivers that even features a very dramatic tire blow-out. Unfortunately the middle half bogs it down so much that by the time it gets there you feel pretty worn out already. It also wastes the acting talents of McQueen. Granted I was impressed that he did his own driving, but the script doesn’t give him enough to do outside of that.

The film was known for its troubled production in which John Sturges the film’s original director left after being unable to deal with McQueen’s constant meddling and replaced with Lee H. Katzin. Katzin was mainly known for doing TV-Movies and I honestly don’t think had the skill to create the movie’s impressive visual style. I believe it was McQueen’s presence that forged that and I almost feel he should’ve been credited ultimately as the being the director, or at least co-director. The irony is that McQueen ended up not receiving any salary for his work here, or even a percentage of the profits and in fact refused to even attend the film’s premiere.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 23, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated G

Director: Lee H. Katzin

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

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