During the 1920s, a World War I veteran and deserter Charlie (Steve McQueen) wants to be the first person to win a transnational motorcycle race. Romance and adventure ensues as Charlie picks up a woman (Brenda Vaccaro) and her son as he pursues the big win.
Wait . . . what? That’s not Steve McQueen on the poster.
McQueen, who loved his motorcycles and did his own stunts in The Great Escape, would have been perfect as Charlie, but could you imagine McQueen in a Roger Corman-produced movie? But McQueen was notorious for bringing in his own writers and doing rewrites himself. He probably would have had Corman-protégé Steve Carver for lunch . . . then shat him out on the set of Tom Horn.
It’s more than likely McQueen passed because he was in production with his pet project and eventual box-office bomb An Ememy of the People (1978), which he made as his follow up to the box-office bonanza that was 1974’s The Towering Inferno. Don’t forget, McQueen is the guy who took a $200 job as an uncredited motorcycle stuntman in the hicksploitation romp Dixie Dynamite (1976; also reviewed this week) starring Warren Oates — all because of his love of motorcycles. So, yeah. If not for his four-years-in-production pet project, he would have definitely jumped on the WW I-era bike and burned rubber.
Steve Carver directed the mobster pics Big Bad Mama with Angie Dickenson (Prey for the Wildcats) and Capone with Ben Gazara (Yep! Brad Wesley of Roadhouse fame!) for Roger Corman. He’d direct two for Chuck Norris: An Eye for an Eye and Lone Wolf McQuade, and even worked with Fred Olen Ray (A Christmas Princess) on Bulletproof starring Gary Busey. Oh, and how can we forget the Pam Grier classic where blaxploitation meets ancient Rome in 1973’s The Arena. The script was the feature film debut for skilled ’60s television scribe Michael Gleason (police procedurals and westerns; he also banged out a half-dozen TV movies as he worked his way up to 94-episode run as the head writer on the ’80s spy-romance drama, Remington Steele).
On the press junket for the film, Brenda Vaccaro explained she was forced to make the movie under her contract with Universal. She would have never done it otherwise (Not wanting to work with Corman or the inexperienced Carver? The loss of McQueen?), but was glad she did and she had a fun time on the project.
Fun indeed. Because in addition to David Carradine, who’s great in the role intended for Steve McQueen, we also get all those great ’70s character actors we love: L.Q Jones (Brotherhood of Satan and A Boy and his Dog), R.G Armstrong, Terry Keiser, and Jesse Vint.
While it was shot as a theatrical feature, the film didn’t live up to its expectations (due to the loss of Steve McQueen), so this one never played in theatres (a very limited drive-in run); Universal Studios opted to broadcast it as a TV movie with their deal through NBC-TV.
If you dug this excerpt, then you can watch the full movie on You Tube.
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