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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

DOWNHILL RACER (1969)

Michael Ritchie flirted with major director status for much of his career, but never quite made it.  Even here, in his first feature, the strain of heightened expectations bumps up against a bad case of missed opportunities.  Robert Redford plays a sort of anti-golden boy on the American ski team who joins late and sticks to his own game plan.  But can his winning ways make up for his self-centered narcissism?  The film is at its best, and its funniest, when Bob comes up against a European beauty (Camilla Sparv) he can’t trample over.  (She turns out to be a bigger shit than he is.)  But the dramatic structure demands we get back to the quasi-documentary racing scenes with opponents to demolish, team members to rub the wrong way & some unwanted advice from plain-talking coach Gene Hackman.  Here the low-budget both hurts and helps with nice unfaked racing footage to set against the painfully unconvincing atmosphere on what must be the tinniest Winter Olympic Games ever seen on screen.  Maybe a younger leading man would have made this play. At 33, and looking every day of it, Redford is a decade too old to get away with this much rotten behavior just cause he's the good-lookin' new kid on the block.  He’d be eaten alive before he got out of the starting gate.

DOUBLE-BILL: Watch Redford’s sometime co-star & pal Paul Newman go thru similar trials (holding a cue stick instead of a ski pole) in THE HUSTLER/’61.

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