Editor’s Note: Thanks for joining us on our three-day “Drag Racing Week” tribute to the funny cars and rails speeding down the quarter mile during the ’60s and ’70s. Let’s wrap it up with this bioflick on the two biggest stars of the sport. Search for “Drag Racing Week” to find ’em all.
Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen were gods to the wee-lads of the ’70s. I was, myself, funny car crazy, with centerfold tear outs of “The Snake and The Mongoose” on my walls, right alongside magazine rips of champion motorcrosser Roger De Coster. I had the draggin’ duo’s matching Hot Wheels cars. I had their respective model kits: both funny and rail. When the ABC Wild World of Sports held one of Prudhomme and McEwen’s drag or funny car races on a Saturday afternoon, the neighborhood streets cleared: everyone sat in front of the TV. In terms of asphalt sports idols, The Snake and Mongoose were matched only by Richard Petty and Evel Knievel. They were the “Muhammad Ali” of racing. Everyone loved them.
But why did Hollywood never produce a film about the famed racers? Well, they did, finally, or you wouldn’t be reading this review. But it’s not the film an ol’ racing fan, such as myself, wanted. I expect this from a dramatic B-Movie dragger of the Crown International variety, like Burnout. But not this.
Now, you think those battling asphalt warriors would be ripe — like daredevil cyclist Evel Knievel, who had not one, but two movies about his life: the first, Evel Knievel (1971), starred George Hamilton; the second (and worse) dramatization, Viva Knievel (1977), starred Evel as himself — for a ’70s era theatrical film. Drag racing was so hot, so hip, and so trendy, the industry pumped out the early ’70s documentaries Funny Car Summer, Wheels of Fire, Wheels on Fire, and Seven Second Love Affair, and dramatic pieces, such as Drag Racer. Even exploitation coming-of-age drive-in flicks, such as the The Young Graduates, which wasn’t even about drag racing, tossed in a drag racing subplot to get us rubber-burning fans into the speaker and mosquito coil farm. Even George Lucas tossed in a drag racing subplot in the box office flounder that is More American Graffiti. If Elvis hadn’t gotten out of film, we probably would have gotten a hip swingin’ drag racing film — complete with Prudhomme, McEwen, Muldowney, and Garlits cameos — to go with his stock car racing flick trio of Viva Las Vegas, Spinout, and Speedway.
You’d also think that after producing a hit film about Shirley Muldowney (Bonnie Bedelia), the First Lady of Drag Racing and the first woman to receive a license from the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) — and even having “Big Daddy” Don Garlits (Billy McKinney) portrayed — in the film Heart Like a Wheel (1983), Hollywood would have responded with an ’80s theatrical film. Not even after David Cronenberg gave us the 1979 drag drama, Fast Company.
Nope. Denied again.
Instead: We got this years-too-late-TV movie (with a limited, 20-city theatrical release that failed to catch a box office upwind) starring Jesse Williams (star of TV’s Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19) as Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, and Richard Blake (guest roles on TV’s NCIS: Los Angeles and CSI: Crime Scene Investigations) as Tom “Mongoose” McEwen. Rounding out the cast are the always serviceable TV faces of Noah Wyle (who, I always felt should have been on the A-List with his fellow ER castmate, George Clooney) and the always game for-anything-the-SyFy Channel-throws-at-him, Ian Ziering. Also on deck are the always on point Tim Blake Nelson, Fred Dryer, and John Heard.
As you can see from the trailer, it’s all put together well enough. But this is a TV movie, after all, and it’s not Days of Thunder starring Tom Cruise. So, there’s lots . . . and lots . . . of stock footage spliced into the film — which was the same production weakness that plagued those Evel bio-flicks all those years ago. Honestly, if I wanted to watch old, classic clips of the races, I can pull those up on You Tube, ad nauseam. If I am pulling up a pop corn bucket, you have to give me more than old ABC Wild World of Sports clips in what ends up as a companion piece to the lightweight Disney Channel drag racing bio, On the Right Track (which, again, is serviceable enough, but it is an against-the-budget cable flick with TV actors). Even updated CGI cars would have been better serving than grainy ’70s clips. At least the CGI draggin’ would have matched to the rest of the dramatic footage.
But if you need a quick way to get down and dirty into the tale of the mutual friendship (and fake rivalry) and marketing brilliance of two guys — who put this kid on a hook and took him for several hundred laps on the bright orange track — then this is worth your time. It’s a serviceable B-Movie that, while too late to the track, it — finally — gets is all on record. (All the Hot Wheels images of the Snake and Mongoose you can handle are a Goggle click away.)
If Hollywood only made this bio-racer during the prime of Tom Cruise and George Clooney as the Snake and Mongoose, we’d have something special.
Oh, well. Que rubber, oil.
Credits: Poster Banner Top: All courtesy of Garage Art Signs. Center: Left (Lions): Binnza Henzhi Amazon, (Big Daddy) 1-79 Supersport Tumblr. Poster Banner Bottom: From Left, courtesy of American Hertiage USA, Garage Art Signs, Landis Publication Etsy, Repo Racing Posters.