johnlink ranks SPEEDWAY (1929)

While I’ve seen my share of Keaton and Chaplin, William Haines is one silent era star whom I’d never caught on film. I’d always heard his name in those circles, but hadn’t seen him. Admittedly, watching this film for Haines was a bonus, I DVRd it because it features actual cars, and the actual track, of the Indy 500 way back in 1929. While I’m no racing fan (I’ve never watched an Indy 500), I thought it would be pretty cool to see those cars in a contemporaneous setting.

I watched SPEEDWAY (1929) on 6.1.11. It was my first viewing of the film.

When I first saw Keaton and Chaplin, I instantly knew why each was so famous. Same goes for Fatty Arbuckle, actually. But with Haines, it is a little different schtick. His character is an arrogant blowhard who talks big and bumbles through life unaware of his idiocy. Then, something happens wherein he realizes the error of his ways and is humbled, while still doing something heroic or favorable. In SPEEDWAY, he is a mechanic who is sure he would be the world’s best racer. His adoptive father is the racer, and when they butt heads Haines goes to work for the enemy.

The plot here is typical of the silent era’s generic films, which is to say the Indy 500 merely serves as a backdrop for anecdotal events to take place. Haines has a scene in a restaurant which is fairly funny, but also fairly mundane. An excuse is made to get him up in an airplane with the girl he is wooing/annoying. She is the pilot, trying to terrify him with her aerial tricks as Haines tries to keep a good face.

And those faces are his problem. Where Keaton was expressive with so little, and Chaplin always let us in on the joke, Haines is over acting, as if he is on a stage and we are a hundred yards away. Lots of mugging for the camera, lots of archetypal facial expression. He’s witty, he’s funny, but he needed to calm down the overacting.

The highlight of this film is the race, which takes place at the climax. It is magnificently shot, and the action was intense (particularly for a 20s film). I came away impressed, and it is also Haines best scene as he is finally asked to just…be…normal. I also particularly liked Ernest Torrence as his father and boss. He was better than the star.

If you like old cars, check this out. I’m fairly certain the way the race goes is unrealistic, but seeing these cars zip around (and they used real Indy drivers too) is certainly cool to watch.



The bonus is for the camerawork. Those cameras in the 20s weren’t very nimble, but they did some great work here, particularly in the plane/parachute sequence and in the intensely created final race.



~ by johnlink00 on June 1, 2011.

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