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Speed Racer is Elvis

A quick look at movies for car enthusiasts. Part one...


Have you ever seen the movie Viva Las Vegas? In it, Elvis Presley plays a racecar driver in a city-to-city race, in between songs. The music isn't to my tastes, but the cars, a collection of mid- to late-1950s sports-racers, many with considerable history, are. And the plot, such as it is, was familiar. Point-to-point race over the open road, good guys versus bad guys. I hadn't seen Viva Las Vegas before viewing it on TV about 20 years ago, as Elvis never made my musical radar screen, but I had seen Speed Racer cartoons. Instant flash of recognition!

Viva and the Speed Racer cartoons share the same basic action-filled "plot." There is even some similarity in cars. And Speed Racer looks more than a little like an anime version of Elvis in his prime, even though he doesn't sing. Which might be for the best.

A gearhead classic that was underground for many years is now readily available over the counter. That's C'etait un Rendezvous by Claud Lelouch, better known just as Rendezvous. It's expensive, intense, and worth every penny. There is no real plot, merely action of the "kids, don't try this at home" variety.

The legend goes like this: With profits from the movie Un Homme et Une Femme (A Man and A Woman), Lelouch bought a Ferrari 275 GTB and one of the first gyro-stabilized movie camera mounts. And put the two together for a wide-open romp through the early morning streets of you didn't know that the roundabout surrounding the Arc de Triomphe was a skidpad. There is some controversy as to whether the car involved was the 275 GTB or a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, but the soundtrack is pure ripping-canvas V12, and any sound-dubbing was done perfectly. There is also some controversy as to who was driving, whether Lelouch himself or a hired Formula 1 hotshoe--and les gendarmes wanted a serious talk with the driver of the car.

Why? Well, let's just say that: a) there were no permits involved and the roads were not closed, nor is there any stunt driving by any other drivers, and b) any actual obedience to French traffic laws during the time of the movie was strictly accidental. It runs about 9 minutes because that was the length of one reel of film for the camera. It's pure cinema verite, no special effects, and long before any computer graphics.

If you ever need a quick jolt of adrenaline, "Rendezvous" will do the job at least as well as a triple espresso. Of course, since this is the 21st Century, it's been posted to YouTube: