Arrow Video: Red Line 7000 (1965) - Reviewed

Images courtesy of Arrow Films

Howard Hawks, it goes without saying, was a legendary Old Hollywood film director responsible for not just some but many of Tinseltown’s most beloved and enduring classics.  Ranging from everything to Scarface to Sergeant York, The Big Sleep and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as well as producing the original Christian Nyby directed The Thing from Another World, Hawks was a cinema giant spoken of the same breath as Louis B. Mayer or Darryl F. Zanuck, dangerously close to becoming a mogul himself.  One of his very first movies, the 1932 pre-code racing drama The Crowd Roars, fulfilled his longstanding childhood passion for racecar driving, including but not limited to using a professional auto racing driver Harry Hartz in the film for authenticity.  Thirty-three years later, nearing the end of Hawks’ career, the moviemaking genius would revisit his lifelong passion once again and usher in The Godfather actor James Caan in his first starring role with the ensemble auto racing saga Red Line 7000.
Set in a racing team managed by Pat Kazarian (Tora! Tora! Tora! actor Norman Alden), the film opens on an auto-race gone bad when one of Kazarian’s drivers dies in an accident, breaking the heart of his girlfriend Holly McGregor (Gail Hire) and leaving driver Mike Marsh (James Caan) disillusioned.  Meanwhile a new young driver named Ned Arp (John Robert Crawford) joins the team and seeks to date Pat Kazarian’s sister Julie (Laura Devon) while a third Dan McCall (Skip Ward) arrives from France with his French girlfriend Gabrielle (Marianna Hill) but soon takes an interest in Holly.  Complicating matters, apathetic stoic Mike takes an interest in Gabrielle while Ned suffers a debilitating injury that threatens the remainder of his career.  All of this is interspersed with documentary footage of real-life racing and/or brutal car crashes on the racetrack.

A film seemingly about racecar driving that’s actually a chipper romantic drama about the women in love with race car drivers and all of the baggage that comes with such a relationship, Howard Hawks’ Red Line 7000 co-written by George Kirgo and produced by Hawks is one of the top racing films of the 1960s not directed by John Frankenheimer or Peter Yates.  An ensemble piece where no one takes the center stage except for a little while per vignette, a tense racing drama and action-thriller of sorts about the thrill and terror of being betrothed to a professional racer whose life could end in the blink of an eye, it is also a time capsule of then mod-60s culture.  A big portion of the film takes place in a dance club frequented by the racers with Holly having her moment to shine in song and Gabrielle a chance to dance her feet off. 

Shot with crisp precision by All About Eve cinematographer Milton Krasner before being replaced by Haskell Boggs, the look of the world of Red Line 7000 is sharp and often brightly lit, even in the darker dance club scenes.  The racing footage incorporated into the narrative, carefully edited and blocked by Stuart Gilmore and Bill Brame, has a noticeable shift in image quality but that’s to be expected given the source.  The score by Nelson Riddle is a mostly fine jazzy score and features an original song Let Me Find Someone New on the soundtrack.  The cast of characters is strong though sadly outside of Norman Alden, James Caan, George Takei (pre-Star Trek) and Teri Garr none of the newcomers found star power following this film, an aspect of the production Howard Hawks lamented for years.  James Caan as a young hothead smitten by Marianna Hill is wonderful and shows early on some of his angry bark and bite that would come up in The Godfather.

Though a theatrical success with critics and audiences, its key members Howard Hawks and leading man James Caan felt otherwise calling it a “joke” while Hawks said “I don’t think I did a good job”.  Despite some noting later on the character of Mike Marsh was reprehensible, the film did show up as a favorite of cult director Quentin Tarantino years later who remarked if he were to direct a racing film it would be in the style of either Grand Prix or Red Line 7000.  In addition to being sort of a viral promotion for the Holiday Inn hotel chain, Red Line 7000 has the feel of a shaggy dog hangout movie in the mold of a racing actioner. 

Previously released on a now out-of-print Kino Lorber blu-ray disc, this new Arrow release ports over the commentary track from Twilight Time people Julie Kirgo and the late Nick Redman as well as newly filmed extras including visual essays on the film replete with a booklet, double-sided sleeve and poster-art.  If you already own the expensive Kino Lorber disc, there’s not much reason to pick this up other than obtaining the new extras.  But if you’re new to this, Red Line 7000 is an underrated racing gem by an already established master of Old Hollywood studio filmmaking.

--Andrew Kotwicki