Before there was Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, there was 1955’s The Fast and Furious starring John Ireland and Dorothy Malone.
Written by the legendary Roger Corman, shot in just ten days on a $50,000 budget and released in 1955, this is the 1950s B-Movie at its best. By comparison in today’s dollars that budget would be about $450k. It has everything going for it. The film is laden with cliches, car chases, stock footage, cheap special effects, bad dialogue and equally bad acting.
Canadian actor John Ireland plays the lead role of Frank Webster, a callous tough-guy but innocent man wrongly imprisoned for murder who has broken out of jail and is on the run. Ireland’s career is littered with appearances on TV westerns, but is most famous for his 1960 role of gladiator Crixus in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. He also was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the 1949 film All the King’s Men.
The female lead is Dorothy Malone, who plays Connie Adair, a free-wheeling and independent modern woman who drives a very sexy white Jaguar XK-120 V8 racing roadster – an essential element to this movie. This movie was toward the end of Malone’s B-Movie career, and she would win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress the next year for Written on the Wind.
|The guards come down and the flirting begins|
Corman was known for his creative ways of squeezing the most out of his sparse budgets. Actor John Ireland also doubled as co-director so that Corman could entice him to do the movie for a lesser fee, and Corman himself did some of the stunt driving. The movie also features some pretty obvious product placement with rather curiously inserted dialogue about Jaguar cars. This was done in exchange for receiving cars for the movie from Jaguar.
The music alone makes this movie worth watching, with the over-the-top film score by Alexander Gerens and jazz music by the incredible Chet Baker Quartet. In ’55, Baker’s star was burning bright and hot, having toured with Stan Getz and Charlie Parker, and beating out Miles Davis in jazz magazines’ readers polls. At this point in his career, Baker was described as having the looks of James Dean, the voice of Frank Sinatra, and the musical chops of Bix Beiderbecke. We can hear the Chet Baker Quartet playing in the background of the opening breakfast diner scene.
|Rescue from a smoking wreck!|
The plot is not complicated. It takes all of six minutes for the opening credits and a brief exposition, for Webster to knock out a guy, steal his gun, kidnap Connie, hijack her car and be on the run for Mexico. While on the run, they quarrel, he pleads his case of innocence, she encourages him to fight for his innocence, they quarrel some more, the tough guy and independent woman facades come down, they become romantically connected, avoiding cops the whole way, you know the story. The roads in the movie are far more twisty than the plot.
The special effects are priceless. Movies shot on low budgets always have to get creative with their FX work, and this one is no exception. For a good part of the movie, our fugitive and his “captive” join a road race that conveniently is going to Mexico. Much of the race footage is actually stock footage of an actual road race at Monterey, California, also provided by Jaguar. I know they had great hair spray in the 1950s, but the way Malone’s hair stays perfectly still while doing 50 miles per hour in an open-cockpit roadster with no windscreen only makes the projected background even more cheesy. It is especially noticeable during the front-facing scenes as the road twists and turns crazily behind them while Ireland lazily turns the steering wheel and the two remain perfectly still in their seats instead of being thrown from side to side. It’s not all projection, though, the movie uses a mix of multiple methods for the race scenes. There are some nicely-shot scenes of the actual car, actually driving, on actual roads, at actual speed, filmed from a chase vehicle. Then there are the scenes that are obviously sped-up footage shot at a much lower speed. The best, though is a split second scene at the end of the movie where a car is run off the road, and you see an obvious miniature model car (maybe 1/18 scale) tumble over the hill and come to a sudden, crashing stop on an obviously miniature set. I actually had to back it up and watch it a few times to really enjoy the quality of it.
|Our heroes embrace as police sirens draw near|
The Fast and the Furious is connected, but only loosely, to the 2001 film of the same name. The newer film’s producers bought the rights to the name, reportedly in exchange for more stock footage, and that’s about as far as it goes.
This movie is a lot of fun to watch and an entertaining way to spend an hour and fifteen minutes. There are many Roger Corman movies that have received the MST3K treatment, and this is not one of them. That needs to change.
Roger Corman’s The Fast and the Furious is in the Public Domain and can be watched in its entirety or downloaded from the Internet Archive.