Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pit Stop [dir. Jack Hill]

Jack Hill's Pit Stop may lack the sophistication of the benchmark noir films, but in its scruffiness is a little gem. Set in the dangerous world of figure eight and drag racing, the film's protagonist (Dick Davalos) is an impetuous maverick who gets persuaded by race promoter (Brian Donlevy aka Quatermass) into pitting himself against current champ (a young and energetic Sid Haig). Davalos does that only to bear the brunt of Haig's fragile ego and destructive temper. Later the two team up to run interference at the Nationals for another champion racer (George Washburn). Washburn's initial arrogance puts off Davalos to the extent that he aims to show up the champ and makes a play at Washburn's neglected wife (Ellen Burstyn in an early role, already charismatic). In his quest to rise above his circumstances our hero ends up selling his soul.

Large swathes of footage are devoted to the races themselves, which look downright dangerous. Hill shot footage at actual figure-eight races - using up to 5 cameras, and himself manning the one in the most hazardous position - and edited them together selecting the most spectacular crashes, then had the actors' cars made to look like the participants. The actors take their work seriously too, with Haig's character undergoing a stark but believable transformation when he turns from foe to ally for Davalos. Brian Donlevy (whose footage was apparently captured in a few days, but carefully edited to make him appear throughout the film) perfectly conveys the ruthlessness of the promoter for whom winning counts more than anything else. The gritty high-contrast B&W visuals lend a documentary realism to the film. The soundtrack is also a live-wire mix of blues-jazz guitar with a dominant presence in the film. Pit Stop may be simple in structure, but its energy and earnestness make it memorable.

Arrow's blu-ray comes off an in-house restoration job sourced from Jack Hill's personal 35mm film print. Under James White's supervision, we get a beautiful image with gorgeous contrast, detail and grain, very faithful to the history of this vintage low-budget feature. The lossless mono track is clear and impressive in its reproduction of the flashy soundtrack and audio cues. Extras include video conversations with Jack Hill, Sid Haig and producer Roger Corman.

1 comment:

  1. Just like movie ( I haven't seen), this review is crisp and compact, easy to comprehend for outsiders like us!!!