The Fast and the Furious (1954)

Before “Racer X,” the 1998 Vibe magazine article that detailed an illegal street racing circuit operating within New York City . . . before Vin Diesel and Paul Walker . . . there was this tale of romance and cops-on-the-case originally known as Crashout, written by Roger Corman.

In a deal similar to the one Corman made with Ron Howard years later on Grand Theft Auto: John Ireland agreed to star only if he could direct. And in nine days on a budget of $50,000, Ireland (The Shape of Things to Come, Incubus) directed his first feature film, Corman had his second producer’s credit (after Monster from the Ocean Floor), and the newly-incorporated American Releasing Corporation (which would become American International Pictures) had their first feature film. For Ireland’s co-star, Corman was able to get a down-and-out Dorothy Malone, who was without talent representation at the time, for an affordable price.

In the pages of his 1990 biography, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, Roger Corman states that producer Neal H. Moritz and Universal Pictures approached him to licensed the title for 2001’s The Fast and the Furious after Moritz learned of Corman’s 1954 film while watching a documentary about American International Pictures. At the time, Moritz toyed with the idea of retaining the Racer X title from the Vibe article, along with the titles of Race Wars and Street Wars. One of Moritz’s rejected titles, Redline, was later used by one of the many F&F rip-offs, a 2007 film starring Tim Matheson and Eddie Griffin. (And another of the knockoffs, 2008’s Street Racer from Asylum Studios, sounds suspiciously like a portmanteau of Mortiz’s others rejected titles.) The deal that got it done: Moritz could have Corman’s title-by-trade: all he had to do was give Corman some stock footage to use in his later productions.

Universal welcomed Corman into the fold again when he got the idea to make his own sequel to 1975’s Death Race 2000. The idea came to fruition when an Italian journalist interviewing Corman commented The Hunger Games shared similar social and political themes explored in Death Race 2000. So Corman reached out to Universal, who produced Paul W. S. Anderson’s 2008 remake, with a plan to bring back the dark, sociopolitical satire of the original — and the killing of pedestrians. Universal was on board: the studio co-produced the film that became Death Race 2050 with Corman’s New World for the home video streaming market.

As you watch Corman’s ’54 car racing drama, you’ll notice the plot bears a striking resemblance to the glut of low-budget indie knockoffs made in the wake of F&F 2001’s success: We have another ne’er-do-well charged with a murder he did not commit and his salvation lies on the quarter mile.

Broken out of jail and on the run, someone recognizes Frank Webster (John Ireland) in a small, roadside coffee shop. To facilitate his escape, he kidnaps a customer, Connie (Dorothy Malone), and hits the road in her white Jaguar sports car. To elude police, and courtesy of Connie’s sleek ride, Frank easily slips into a cross-border sports car race into Mexico. Cops, guns, crashes . . . and love, ensues.

You have a couple of streaming choices. You can watch this on TubiTV or on You Tube HERE and HERE. The quality on all three uploads is about the same, but the Tubi upload carries ads. You can also watch it over on the Internet Archive, which is turning out to be a great repository for hard-to-find and classic films.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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