Like A Wheel – Special Edition
Sound: C+ Extras:
B+ Film: B-
Heart Like A Wheel is a solid entry in the
overcoming-great-odds-to-become-a-champion biopic. It wasn't the
first of its kind and it certainly wasn't the last, but this one is nicely
done and worth a look.
It's the story of the first female drag racer,
Shirley Muldowney (Bonnie Bedelia), who overcame lots of sexist attitudes
in an otherwise all-male sport to become an unlikely champion. The film
chronicles Shirley's rise to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s.
Shirley started drag racing as a young woman in the late 1950s to
make a few extra bucks. Because she was a woman, she wasn't supposed
to succeed, but she ended up winning a lot of amateur drag races, and decided
to turn pro against the advice of practically every male she came across.
Married to her high-school sweetheart, Jack Muldowney (Leo Rossi),
Shirley started out racing just on weekends with Jack as her mechanic, but did
well enough in competition that she eventually wanted to make it a
full-time pursuit. Her determination to
become not only the first woman racer in the National Hot Rod
Association (NHRA), but a champion as well, eventually was too much for Jack
to handle, leading to the dissolution of their marriage. With Jack
out of the picture, Shirley, by this time nicknamed "Cha Cha," began
a long relationship with fellow hot rodder, Connie Kalitta (Beau Bridges), who
turned out to be an incorrigible, lying womanizer.
Even those who never heard of Shirley Muldowney and know
nothing of the world of hot-rod racing (put me in that category) will find
the story arch of Heart Like A Wheel
familiar -- it's always in the back of your mind that this is the
type of true story that wouldn't be being told unless Shirley became a
champion or at the very least far exceeded expectations. However,
the quality of writing and acting here maintains our interest on a scene by
scene basis. The underrated Bedelia is especially good in a performance
that got her a Golden Globe nomination despite the fact 20th Century Fox only
gave the film a limited U.S. release in the spring of 1983.
But from a few items that I read after the fact, Muldowney's rough
edges have been softened to make her more palatable for audiences.
Just as Sally Field was reportedly a lot more ingratiating as the real-life
character she played in Norma Rae, one
of the best films about a brave woman challenging the status quo, you get
the feeling Bedelia's own personality also made the screen version
of Muldowney easier to like. The real Muldowney, who's supposedly a
sometimes harsher woman than she's portrayed, mentions in an interview in
the extras that Jamie Lee Curtis was her first choice to play her, but had to
settle for Bedelia when Curtis wasn't available.
Anchor Bay has given Heart
Like A Wheel a decent 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer
with some grain visible during a couple of the nighttime scenes. The
Dolby Digital Mono sound is standard. For fans of the film itself,
there's an audio commentary by director Jonathan Kaplan (The Accused, Unlawful Entry), some deleted
scenes, the theatrical trailer and a poster and still gallery. However,
this special edition also aims to please NHRA fans with two in-depth
documentaries featuring interviews with Muldowney, Kalitta and Muldowney's
longtime friendly rival, Don Garlits, talking about the film and their
careers. Conspicuous by their absence, though, are any interviews with
Bedelia, Bridges, Rossi or any other cast members.
- Chuck O'Leary