Movie Critic - Grand Prix (1966)
The “Grand Prix“ is a racing movie made in 1966, directed by John Frankenheimer, starring James Garner and famous French singer/actor Yves Montand. It is a story about imaginary 1966 season of Formula One, track battles between the drivers and their off track lives, broken marriages and intrigues. The plot of the movie was not directly based on any real events and people, however, circuit names and some team names are real (Ferrari,BRM). The main character, Pete Aron (J.Garner) starts racing for Yamura team, a Japanese outfit that is clearly inspired by Honda Formula One efforts in 1965. Even the Yamura Team chief, Izo Yamura, is based on Soichiro Honda. In the beginning of the movie there is a scene when Garner crashes at the Monaco and his car is thrown into the sea. That scene is clearly inspired by 1955 Monaco Grand Prix accident of Alberto Ascari when he crashed into the harbour.
The “Grand Prix“ was the first major motion picture about Formula One and life of GP drivers. During the shooting, Garned did all of his driving by himself and few of the actual Formula One drivers helped the filming crew. The camera car used on the tracks was a Ford GT40 driven by Phil Hill. Cameras were mounted on the GT40 with front and rear body panels being removed as necessary. The cars used for the movie were, in fact, Formula Three single seaters but with body panels as Formula One cars. Since the spec between two series were not that different, the cars look very realistic. However, there are some actual Formula One racing footage used in the movie.
The plot, action, international cast and filming locations were very appealing to the audience and the movie was big block buster in 1966. It won three academy awards for the best sound, best editing and effects. Critics praised the innovative production, camera and photography and the very realistic and dynamic racing action but they did not think much about the plot or about supporting roles. This movie should be seen as a perfect window into the racing past with marvelous photography and sound, a way to see history (with a little differences) of Formula One in full color and in professional production. The plot and relations between the characters are secondary and not important to racing fans. Beside that, “Grand Prix“ was big success because it presented the Formula One to worldwide movie audience, featured racing scenes which were filmed ahead of its time and inspired James Garner to become real racer. Definitely a racing classic and number 5 on our Top 10 list of best racing movies ever made.
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