So William Asher (who took a slasher ’80s shot with Butcher, Baker Nightmare Maker) did a pretty good job with Fireball 500, Fabian’s first racing flick for the Roger Corman stable — and it made bank. So it was decided to get Fabs behind the wheel of the “real star” of that movie once again: the 1966 Plymouth Barracuda customized by George Barris (The Batmobile, The Monkeesmobile, The Munster’s Koach) dubbed Fireball 500.
That planned film, Malibu 500, became this fourth movie (after Rebel 500 was also rejected) — after Hell’s Angels on Wheels with Jack Nicholson (on his way to Easy Rider) — directed by Richard Rush (of one of my dad’s favs: Freebie and the Bean!). And yeah, as with most race flicks: we have another racer causing an accident that places his career — and love life, since he can’t drive — in jeopardy. Does it all sound like the romantic polygons from Red Line 7000, where everyone is trying to bed everyone? Yep. Is this just an ol’ A.I.P. beach movie minus the sand and plus the asphalt? Yep.
So Fabian’s stock car racer Tommy Callahan is forced to join Pete Madsen’s (Jewish “borscht belt” comedian Jan Murray?) thrill circus to make a buck after his blackouts cause a fatal accident that gets him thrown off the circuit. Ah, but career redemption is to be found in his romance with Madsen’s daughter Francie (Annette Funicello), as he teachers her boyfriend, Eddie Sands (ubiquitous ’70s and ’80s TV actor Warren Berlinger), everything he knows about stock car racing. Then Eddie has to go and romance Tommy’s lady, Annie Blaine (Diane McBain, of Spinout with Elvis and later, Maryjane with Fabs). And, you know the next part of the story . . . as Sam, the chief cook and bottle washer at B&S Movies would say: “a fierce rivalry on the track between Tommy Callahan and Eddie Sands, ensues.”
And I have to add: “The discovery of an old childhood trauma that causes the blackouts, ensues.”
So, let’s get to the meat (or is that rubber) of the matter: Is this better than Fireball 500? Thanks to all of the stock car racing footage already shot by producer Burt Topper during the course of three years that Rush was forced to cut into the film, yes, as process shots in racing flicks, simply put, sucks exhaust vapors. Is it better than Fabs third racing romp, The Wild Racers? Hella-no. That Grand Prix-instead-of-stock cars romp is the best of Fabian’s three A.I.P. fast and furious rubber romps. But as with anything Corman touched — between tight budgets and pre-sale deals — Thunder Alley made bank. So A.I.P. hired Rush to direct Psych-Out and The Savage Seven.
Oh, the film’s true claim to fame: The song “Riot in Thunder Alley” by Eddie Beram also appears in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof. Now, if we can only convince The Q to give Fabian the same touch he gave to John Travolta and get Fabian back on the screen.
I can’t think of one my favorite actors more deserving.
You can watch Thunder Alley on You Tube.