Here’s a ‘B’ movie that’s worth watching. Produced by low-budget legend Roger Corman, this was supposed to be a race car film. Corman had recently seen Figure 8 racing for the first time, and wanted to document the spectacle before people smartened up and banned it. He hired young director Jack Hill for the project, but Hill wanted to make an art film out of it. The result is completely unique.
1960’s motion picture cameras were not able to film at night without extensive lighting. Since Pit Stop’s budget was very low, the decision was made to film in black and white, which didn’t require the same lighting. This makes the movie look older than its 1969 release date. Actually filmed in 1967, the movie remained unreleased because so few theatres were willing to show black and white movies.
What makes the movie so odd is that the protagonist, Rick Bowman, just isn’t the hero you expect him to be. Bowman (Dick Davalos, who played James Dean’s brother in East of Eden) is the Fonzie of the film. Cool and calculating, the movie follows his rise from illegal street-racer to rising star on the Figure 8 track where he bests the film’s villain, Hawk Sidney. Rick flips over Hawk’s new car, beats him in the race after stealing Hawk’s girlfriend! Director Hill has taken archetypes and turned them around to attack viewer’s preconceived notions of good and evil.
The movie includes cameo appearances by automotive legends like George Barris, and gives a glmpse inside the car scene in Southern California in the 1960’s.
Originally titled ‘The Winner’ the title had to be changed before release, when Paul Newman’s race car movie ‘Winning’ was released in 1969 and studios wanted to avoid confusion. It’s important to keep the title in mind through the last painful scenes of the movie, as winning is really all that matters to the hero.