Friday, 11 April 2014

Blu-ray Review: Pit Stop

Shot on a $75,000 budget, Jack Hill's 'Pit Stop' was originally titled 'The Winner', only to be changed due to a Universal title starring Paul Newman that was slated for release around the same time.
In 'Pit Stop', Dick Davalos takes the role of Rick Bowman, a headstrong driver who escapes jail when ex-Marine Grant Willard (Brian Donlevy) puts up his jail bond and persuades him to become involved in the hazardous world of Figure 8 racing. Bowman raced against and beat a Chevy belonging to Willard in an introductory race, and his talent behind the wheel has 'winner' stamped all over it. Although unimpressed by his first view of this chaotic racing genre (the track intersects itself), Bowman agrees to take part; a decision that puts him up against Hawk Sidney (Sid Haig), whose dangerous, hell-for-leather technique makes him an unpopular winner and a real menace to everyone on the track.
With gum-chewing girlfriend Jolene (Beverly Washburn) in tow, Sidney has all the dash and swagger of a cult anti-hero, and his apparent invincibility is underlined when he sees off Bowman in his first two races. After talking to an ex-driver willing to pass on a few tricks of the trade, Bowman beats Sidney in the very next race, only to fall victim to a very sore loser in a violent off-track assault. Undeterred, Bowman gets back in the saddle and is enlisted to drive as backup to hotshot Ed McCleod (George Washburn) who forms a double-act with his wife Ellen,played by Ellen Mcrae who is much better known as Ellen Burstyn.

Jack Hill responded to Roger Corman's request for a racing picture by suggesting an art racing film, and 'Pit Stop' emerged as a winning combination of the two,utilising the monochrome film stock to produce some spectacular night-time footage, packed with thrills and tension, while boasting a cast that deliver straight down the line. You can go through the performers one by one, and there's hardly a likeable character amongst them yet their personalties and situations command rapt attention: Bowman's arrogant, self-serving race ace; Sidney's violent rage at losing a race; Willard's view of drivers as an expendable commodity en route to the next in a line of victors... even the leading ladies cheat on their partners, lured by the adrenalin and sweet smell of success, only to discover that coming first dispels the better angels of human nature.

Arrow Video's 2013 release of Jack Hill's 'Spider Baby' turned out to be one of last year's finest home video releases. A 24 carat cult classic, presented via a stunning transfer and an array of valuable extras. It's pleasing to report Arrow have followed suit with a 'Pit Stop' special edition that will delight Jack's supporters and newcomers alike. While it was simply not possible to remove every ounce of print damage and debris, 'Pit Stop' looks in fine fettle here,with nice grain textures and deep blacks. The film comes with the option of listening to a Jack Hill commentary track, moderated by Calum Waddell, who wrote a book on Hill which has sebsequently jumped to the top of my must-read list. The result is a steady stream of information and anecdotes, revealing Jack enjoyed viewing Japanese, Italian and French films, which influenced his perception of cinema; that 'Pit Stop' saw him in control 100%; why he left filmmaking behind in the '80s, and his experiences working with Boris Karloff. It's a thoroughly engaging chat that also takes in Sid Haig, 'Track Of The Vampire', his brief experiences with Hollywood, Ellen Burstyn, the wonderful Beverly Washburn and much more.

The commentary is followed by a 15 minute feature, 'Crash And Burn: Jack Hill On The Making Of Pit Stop'. This is another success story for the High Rising Productions team of Calum Waddell and Naomi Holwill. Here, Jack recalls Roger Corman viewing 'Mondo Keyhole' and suggesting a racing film where the 'hero' wins the race and loses his soul. We also hear how Peter Bogdanovich saw Ellen Burstyn in 'Pit Stop'; Sid Haig's solid contributions and how Jack dreamed about folks in other countries one day seeing his film and witnessing America at its nuttiest.
Next up is 'Drive Hard: Sid Haig Remembers Pit Stop'(16m 48s). Another High Rising Productions gem, and Sid is an absolute pleasure to listen to as well. Sid tells of the special bond between Jack and himself, and what makes him such a good director, and reveals no stock footage was used for any of the scenes. He also has a lovely story to tell about Quentin Tarantino, and calls 'Pit Stop' "Guerilla filmmaking at its best". 'Pit Stop' features a top-notch performance from Sid, and his reaction at the end of the film brings humanity to his character and compels the viewer to see him in a different light.

'Roger Corman On The Genesis Of Pit Stop' is another High Rising Productions feature, being 11 min 36s of Roger Corman talking about AIP, New World, 'Dementia 13' and his admiration for Jack's work. It's always a joy to listen to Roger and a nice way to (almost) end this batch of extras.
There is one more feature to tell you about, which is a 3m 53s look at 'Restoring Pit Stop'. Here, Arrow's James White talks over a video demonstrating the restoration process. It's exciting news indeed that James recently joined the Arrow team on a full-time basis, and bodes well for the future. A theatrical trailer for 'Pit Stop' rounds off this special release.

'Pit Stop' is available to buy now and is highly recommended. The racing footage reminded my wife of attending evening race meetings during her life in America, and fans from all over the world can enjoy this film's depiction of those high adrenalin events because this release is Region Free.

As a sidebar to this review, I'll soon be posting a short piece on proposed changes to government legislation regarding 'extras'content on Blu-ray/DVD to be classified. As the BBFC charges to classify material, this would make life very hard for labels to produce the in-depth extras we enjoy so much. The UK has some of the finest 'boutique' labels in the world, and we value highly the work they do. I hope you will read my piece, click on the link and sign the petition against this proposal. Thank you.

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