Fast Film Friday: The Speed Kings (1913)
When making a Top 10 list of great racing movies, director Ron Howard’s 2013 Rush is at top of mind. Set in the golden age of Formula 1, but with modern day special effects to re-tell the Hunt V Lauda story in a manner never before possible. Then there’s classics like John Frankenheimer’s 1966 Le Mans that forever changed the way on-boards were shots.
Directors have been making racing films for over 100 years. In the early days before special effects, or even practical effects, the first ‘action movies’ were racing films. Exhilarating, fast and breathtaking. Incredible footage could be shot at the local short track, or the famed Indianapolis Motors Speedway, as long as the cameraman could keep up!
Case in point ‘The Speed Kings‘
A 1913 silent film, which at only 8 minutes long, is just right for YouTube, but too long for TikTok. It’s a comedy filmed at actual races in the summer of 1913. It tells the story of young Mabel (Mabel Normand) and her over-protective papa (Ford Sterling)/. Mabel’s dad trying to halt her growing infatuation with a racer by scheming and sabotaging his race..because nobody loves a loser!
Mabel is in love with Teddy Tetzlaff, who happened to be a real life Indy 500 racer. Tetzlaff competed in the first four Indianapolis 500s, with a highest finish of second in 1912. He earned the nickname “Terrible Teddy” due to his rough treatment of his race cars and \wide-open throttle racing style would either win, blow up an engine or crash.
It’s hard to review a movie like this. The acting is totally over-the top and silly, as was often the case in silent films. This is exacerbated by placing the over-acting Papa in front of a crowd assembled to watch the race. They seem almost normal…he looks like a clown. There are stock characters like the helpless female, Mabel, and in another scene, overweight actor ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle is (named long before body-shaming became a thing) is the butt of the joke. Just remember, this was filmed 110 years ago, and thanks to Keystone Studios, we’re lucky enough to have footage from those vintage races.