This mid-1950s B-movie has little in common with the more celebrated recent blockbuster series other than its name and a general fascination with all things vroom-vroom, but it isn’t very well known and a lapsed copyright means it is in the public domain, so I thought I’d give it a spin. The producers of the Vin Diesel-led fast cars behemoth bought the rights to the title of this picture, which is co-directed by Edward Sampson and star John Ireland, but unsurprisingly left the rights to the story well alone (although it was remade as the dismal Charlie Sheen film The Chase back in the early 1990s).
Though its plot is basic, The Fast And The Furious is only 73 minutes long and there’s enough in writer-producer Roger Corman’s rat-a-tat script to sustain interest. Ireland plays Frank Webster, a man who has broken out of jail after being charged with a murder he didn’t commit, like all good Hollywood heroes. We don’t see the jailbreak, sadly, but we do see Webster attacking a have-a-go-hero at a roadside diner before kidnapping Connie Adair (Dorothy Malone), a young woman who happens to be driving her Jaguar towards a race across the US-Mexico border. ‘Perfect’, thinks Frank, who can almost taste the tequila already.
Unfortunately this is the movies and things do not quite go to plan. The first half of the film sees Connie repeatedly trying to engineer an escape from her captor’s clutches, while the second half sees the pair gradually falling in love after Frank’s innocence is established, before the race begins. The final fifteen minutes is largely made up of cars driving fast, with some nifty stunt driving on narrow, winding roads.
The two leads are enjoyable to watch, mainly because they both get to play livewires forced to spend the entire film in close proximity to one another. Ireland snarls his way through much of it and he has a couple of choice lines: ‘You must’ve gotten up on the wrong side of the car’ Frank drolly barks at Connie on one occasion. Malone’s character, meanwhile, is all feisty snap and crackle, slapping her captor and refusing to bow to his intimidation. There’s not much to their relationship other than that, and the film’s dalliance with love (or rather it’s dalliance with Stockholm syndrome) feels disappointingly contrived, and isn’t examined with any kind of thoroughness.
However we’re firmly in B-movie territory, and the main draw here is the cars, not the characterisation. As such there are countless shots of vehicles whizzing by, often with cameras panning in the opposite direction to enhance the feeling of speed (indeed from what I’ve seen of the present Fast and Furious series very little has changed in that respect). All the while engines roar and you can almost smell the gasoline in the air. There’s not much to The Fast And The Furious other than that, although I perhaps ought to point out that either age or something else has caused the film stock to show more than its share of wear and tear, and that some of the editing is decidedly ham-fisted, with at least one actor cut off mid-line. It’s a throwaway B-movie but it benefits from the ability of its two leads: Ireland, Oscar-nominated a few years earlier for his work on All The King’s Men, had fallen foul of McCarthyism in the early 1950s and had even successfully sued a couple of producers who had taken promised roles away from him, while Malone was a rising star who picked up the Best Supporting Actress award the following year. Albeit not for this piece of petrolhead fluff.
Directed by: John Ireland, Edward Sampson.
Written by: Roger Corman, Jean Howell, Jerome Odlum.
Starring: John Ireland, Dorothy Malone.
Cinematography: Floyd Crosby.
Editing: Edward Sampson.
Running Time: 73 minutes.