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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Action > Skiiing.Sports > Comeptition > Olympics > Downhill Racer (1969/Criterion Collection DVD)

Downhill Racer (1969/Criterion Collection DVD)

 

Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Film: B-

 

 

Skiing has been around for thousands of years, remaining a popular sport and recreation, but for whatever reason in film, the late 1960s was a peak time to see it in narrative films.  Spy films (the James Bond classic On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Double Man) had them and more naturalistic documentaries in general were being made, but one drama of note became a film fan favorite and is considered one of the most realistic looks at the sport ever: Downhill Racer, now on DVD from The Criterion Collection.

 

Michael Ritchie was an able-bodied TV director of shows that included action like Felony Squad, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and Run For Your Life when he made this distinctive feature film debut.  An on-the-rise Robert Redford plays a hotshot skier with issues that does not know what to do with his life.  He may be afraid of success and also does not know how to find happiness.  When he joins up to be on a U.S. team that could win a Gold Metal if they work hard enough, he gets along well enough with the team, but it’s coach (Gene Hackman in a solid early performance) is not sure about him at all.

 

While that goes on, David (Redford) does his usual womanizing and in between, we see some of the best skiing and ski footage still in cinema history with a realism worthy of John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix (1966, reviewed elsewhere on this site) and though I think the film can be awkward and uneven at times, more of it holds up than expected versus my last screening of it decades ago.

 

The film is dead on about a situation that has become worse in all sports and that is the cut-throat win-at-all-costs mentality that has ruined them to some extent and Redford chose wisely in making this film and how to make those points.  It is a minor classic of sports cinema and maybe more, but certainly one worthy of the Criterion treatment.  Camilla Sparv, Dabney Coleman, Oren Stevens, Karl Michael Vogler, Jim McMullan, Kathleen Crowley, Jerry Dexter, Joe Jay Jalbert, Tom J. Kirk and Norman Pitlik also star.

 

 

The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image is impressive throughout despite some moments where the film quality is not great, but most of the time, this has fine depth, good detail for the format and the color is close to what you would expect from a film originally issued in three-strip, dye-transfer Technicolor.  Director of Photography Brian Probyn (Badlands, The Mango Tree) delivers some of the best work in his career and he was joined by eight additional cinematographers and camera operators (including Arthur Wooster, later of the James Bond franchise) making for some remarkable moments.  A fine grain positive print master was used for the transfer and the results are impressive.

 

The Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono is from a 35mm magnetic master and the results are good overall, but some dialogue cannot be heard, while the music by Kenyon Hopkins (12 Angry Men, The Hustler) is one of the clearest sonic elements.  His score is good, but some sections date the film in ways that work against it, while others work very well.

 

Extras include a booklet inside the DVD case with tech info, illustrations and Todd McCarthy essay, while the DVD has the 12-minutes original How Fast? featurette, audio excerpts from a 1977 American Film Institute seminar with Director Ritchie, the original theatrical trailer and new interviews with Redford, Screenwriter James Salter, Editor Richard Harris, Production Manager Walter Coblenz and co-star Jalbert (who was a skier in real life as well), who additionally was a Technical Advisor, Ski Double and one of those eight Cameraman.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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